|Details|| ||Today we take water for granted. Turn a tap and the stuff gushes out. But for centuries London struggled to supply its citizens with reliable, clean drinking water.
Nick Higham tells the story of London’s water from the middle ages to the 20th century. It’s a tale of remarkable technological, scientific and organisational breakthroughs. The picturesque New River, a state of the art aqueduct built in 1613, is still part of London’s water supply: the company that built it was the first modern business corporation. London water companies were early adopters of steam power for their pumps and the Chelsea Water Company was the first in the world to filter the water it supplied its customers.
But it’s also a story of greed and complacency, high finance and low politics. London’s 19th century water companies operated a cartel which worked in their interests, not their customers. The water they supplied was overpriced, deficient in quantity and frequently filthy – described by one scientist as “diluted sewage”. The companies represented some of the worst excesses of Victorian business, and their behaviour spawned one of the very first organised consumer lobbies. It took the best part of a century of campaigning to bring them to heel.
Nick is a former BBC correspondent who is now researching a history of London’s water supply.|