Southwark Water Company
Two powerful steam engines were
erected by Vaughn at his Southwark Water Company site to pump river
water through iron pipes, varying in diameter from three to 16
inches. The company extended a large iron main along the bottom of
the middle of the River Thames, eight feet below the low water mark to
a location by the London Bridge. The opening of the pipe, or mouth,
was situated a short distance up-stream from the old and later the
new London Bridge. The mouth was covered with an iron semi-sphere,
perforated with many small holes. Inside was a mesh screen to catch
particles that may have passed through the small holes. The company
used no reservoirs but instead pumped river water to a cistern at the
top of a sixty-foot high tower. The water then flowed by gravity to
the consuming houses. Among consumers of the Southwark Water Company,
the reputation for quality was poor, as depicted in a widely
circulated caricature by George Cruikshank.
1839 and 1849 many changes took place in the water-supply of London.
The Southwark Water Company united with the South London Waterworks
Company (merger occurred in 1845) to form a new water works under the
name of the Southwark and Vauxhall Company. The water works at London
Bridge were abolished, and the united company derived their supply
from the Thames at Battersea Fields, about half-a-mile above Vauxhall
- Snow, John. Communication of
Cholera, 1855, p. 60
"..in every district to which the
supply of the Southwark and Vauxhall .. Water Company extends, the
cholera was more fatal than in any other district whatever."
- Snow, John. Communication of
Cholera, 1855, p. 64
Vauxhall Water Company
The South London Water Waterworks
Company was renamed the Vauxhall Water Company in 1834. At the
same time, the company acquired some of the water distribution area
that was formerly served by the Lambeth Waterworks Company. As a
result some areas south of the River Thames were supplied by both the
Vauxhall Water Company and the Lambeth Waterworks Company.
Later this intertwining distribution of water would be used by Dr.
John Snow in conducting the grand experiment of 1854.
Thereafter in 1845 the Vauxhall
Water Company and Southwark Water Company merged to form the
Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company.
Southwark and Vauxhall Water
The intake and reservoirs of the
merged company, established at Battersea south of the River Thames,
covered nearly 18 acres of ground. Their steam engines had the power
to force water to a perpendicular height of 175 feet, thus enabling
them to supply Thames river water to Brixton and the surrounding
higher areas. Yet all was not well. Arthur Hassall, in his 1850
book, Microscopic Examination of the Water Supplied to the
Inhabitants of London, wrote of the company, "It is water the most
disgusting which I have ever examined. When I first saw the water of
the Southwark Company (before the merger), I thought it as bad as it
could be, but this far exceeded it in the peculiarly repulsive
character of living contents."
In 1855, new waterworks were
established at Hampton (i.e., 22 miles up-river from the Vauxhall
Bridge, even further than the Chelsea and Lambeth Waterworks
Companies), as was required by the 1852 Metropolitan Water Act of
Parliament (see 1855 picture below). Parliament in this act declared
that no water company after August 31, 1855 should take its water from
the River Thames below Teddington Lock. The company complied, but not
until close to the August 1855 deadline. Two reservoirs were
constructed by Southwark and Vauxhall in the Hampton area along with a
36 inch diameter water main
for conveying the cleaner water to the company's Battersea site in
London. With this change, the quality of the company's water greatly
improved, although as late as 1874 the filtration system was still
criticized as unreliable by Hampton residents (who also received the
water). By 1869, Southwark and Vauxhall had installed a modern
percolation filtration system at the Battersea site in London, adding
to the general improvement of the supplied drinking water.