BRIEF HISTORY DURING THE SNOW ERA (1813-58)
"It will be observed [based on cholera deaths in 1849], that the water of the...Southwark [and] Vauxhall, and Lambeth [companies], is by far the worst of all those who take their supply from the Thames."
- Snow, John. Communication of Cholera, 1855, p. 64
"Between 1839 and 1849 many changes took place in the water-supply of London. ... The Lambeth Water Company continued to obtain their supply opposite to Hungerford Market; but they had established a small reservoir at Brixton."
- Snow, John. Communication of Cholera, 1855, p. 60
"London was without cholera from the latter part of 1849 to August 1853. During this interval an important change had taken place in the water supply of several of the south districts of London. The Lambeth Company removed their water works, in 1852, from opposite Hungerford Market to Thames Ditton; thus obtaining a supply of water quite free from the sewage of London."
- Snow, John. Communication of Cholera, 1855, p. 68
The Lambeth Waterworks Company was founded in 1785 to supply water in south and west London. The company was established in the site of a former garden of the Belvidere House adjacent to the River Thames. The original water intake of the company from the River Thames was on the south side of the river (actually east at this point), across from Hungerford Market and adjacent to where the Hungerford Bridge would later be built. At first, water for residents of the area was taken directly from the river. Following complaints about the foulness of the water, the intake was moved to the center of the river, assuming the water would be less polluted. In 1802 the company expanded to supply Kennington (also south of the River Thames). During this time, the company replaced its wood pipelines with iron.
The exact location of the Lambeth Waterworks Company next to the Belvidere House by the River Thames is seen in the 1806 map (see below). A picture of the Lambeth Waterworks in 1826 is also shown below. For some while the Waterworks stored reserve water for controlling fires in a 15,000 gallon cistern. Then in 1832, the wooden cistern was abandoned a reservoir was constructed by the Lambeth Waterworks Company in Streatham Hill, further south of the main city. Two years later the company built a new headquarters and additional reservoirs in Brixton, also in the southern region of London. During the same year, the site adjacent to the original Lambeth Waterworks was leased to the Lion Brewery. The property for the Hungerford Bridge, just south of the Lambeth Waterworks Company, was purchased in 1840 and a suspension bridge was built and opened for traffic in 1845 (see 1845 panorama and 1846 map below).
By 1847 the company decided to move the water intake to a position upriver, above the tideway by Seething Wells and away from the heavily polluted area where it had been (see Seething Wells pictures and maps below). The recommendation for this move was made by James Simpson (1799-1869), the engineer to the company (see picture at right, he was also engineer for the Chelsea Waterworks Company). This they accomplished by 1853 (see initial opening in 1852 below), the first of the London water companies to do so. Parliament in 1852 had pasted an act that declared that no water company after August 31, 1855 (with one exception -- Chelsea Waterworks -- which was granted one additional year to comply) should take its water from the River Thames below Teddington Lock. Thus the other water companies subsequently had to move as well. Besides the improved water intake for the Lambeth company, Simpson also installed filter beds in the new Seething Wells location. Finally, in 1853 the original site of the Lambeth Waterworks Company was purchased and incorporated into the Lion Brewery (see picture below). The Belvidere House had earlier been demolished, to be replaced with Belvedere Road, using the name of the house but with a minor change in spelling.
See below for comments by the editors of The Lancet in 1848 on the proposed up-river move by Lambeth Waterworks Company, and on the general state of the supply of water in London.
Further details on the locations of the Lambeth Company sites are presented elsewhere. Additional information on the role of the Lambeth Company in the 1831-2, 1848-9 and 1853-4 epidemics is presented in part 2 and part 3 of John Snow's book. The intake to the River Thames is not shown on the 1859 map but is located adjacent to the Hungerford Bridge in the bottom left section of M17. The exact site of the intake is identified in a 1806 map, seven years before the birth of John Snow (see full view and close-up below), and later in Cruchley's map of 1846. The company site is no longer seen in Stanford's map of 1862 or the detailed Old Ordnance Survey map of 1871 (having moved in 1853), but the historical location is marked in both. The new location of the company is seen in the Ordnance Survey maps (see those mentioning Seething Wells).
Dickinson HW. Water Supply of Greater London, 1954.
Graham-Leigh J. London's Water Wars, 2000.
London County Council. Survey of London, Southbank & Vauxhall, 1951.
Roberts H, Godfrey WH (eds). Survey of London, South Bank & Vauxhall, Volume 23, Lambeth Part 1, London County Council, 1951.
Weinreb B, Hibbert C (eds). The London Encyclopaedia, 1993.