Catalogue description New River Company: Corporate Records

This record is held by London Metropolitan Archives: City of London

Details of
Title: New River Company: Corporate Records

The bulk of the New River Company archives has been catalogued according to the classification scheme used for the archives of the other water companies. Two groups of archives containing much 17th and 18th century material had been separated from the main part of the archives, apparently to be used as exhibition items or to be consulted for research. The first such group of archives has been catalogued as "Additional Records" of the New River Company ref. Acc 2558/NR13/1-316. The "Additional Records" have been arranged in an approximation of the order in which the main section of the archives were classified. The second group of archives has been catalogued as part of the records of the Metropolitan Water Board Clerk's Department ref. Acc 2558/MW/C/15, known as "the Exhibits". The numbering of the Exhibits is random. They are arranged in the list in alphabetical order according to whatever element was used first in the description of the document. They include the licence to cut the New River granted to Edmund Colthurst in 1604, agreements between the Corporation of London and Sir Hugh Myddelton 1609-1611, a few of the original compensation receipts 1610-1618, documents relating to the laying of pipes and to the replacement of wooden pipes by iron pipes 1692-1898, papers and reports concerning horse and steam engines 1694-1857, papers relating to Sadlers Wells Theatre 1759-1832 and to Bush Hill and Highbury Frames 1691-1797.

Held by: London Metropolitan Archives: City of London, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

New River Company, 1619 - 1904

Custodial history:

Many of the archives of the New River Company were badly damaged or destroyed by a fire at the New River Office in Bridewell Precinct on 24 December 1769. For a report compiled in c.1951 on the charred remains of the minute books 1619-1769 and other documents salvaged from the fire see Acc 2558/NR13/1/1. All the surviving fragments of the minute books have now been repaired and have been catalogued as Acc 2558/NR13/2-5. Many deeds and other legal documents survived the fire, though some are fragile and incomplete.

Publication note:

For further information relating to the history of the New River Company see The New River: A Legal History by Bernard Rudden 1985 (GLHL 24.215 NEW) and Exploring the New River by Michael Essex Lopresti 1986 (GLHL 24.215 NEW).

Administrative / biographical background:

The New River was constructed between 1609 and 1613 by Sir Hugh Myddelton to bring water from Amwell and Chadwell in Hertfordshire to the City of London. The River terminated at the Commandery Mantles in Clerkenwell where ponds and a cistern house were constructed. From New River Head the water was distributed by pipes. The New River Company was incorporated by letters patent in 1619.


By 1660 it was necessary to supplement the flow of water in the New River by extracting water from the River Lee below Hertford. In 1709 an Upper Pond was built in Claremont Square some two hundred yards further up the hill from New River Head, to provide a greater head of water. Initially water was pumped to the Upper Pond from the Round Pond at New River Head by a windmill. This was replaced in 1720 by a "horse mill" which was in turn replaced in 1767 by a steam engine.


During the 19th century the original circuitous forty mile course of the New River was shortened and straightened by the construction of aqueducts, tunnels and underground pipes. Reservoirs were built at Stoke Newington in 1831 and 1833 and at Cheshunt in 1837. The Metropolis Water Act 1852 required water companies to filter all domestic water and to store it in covered reserviors. The New River Company built filtration works at Stoke Newington, Hornsey and New River Head.


The New River Company had purchased Sir Edward Ford's Waterworks at Durham Yard on the River Thames, and at St Marylebone and Wapping in 1667 (see Acc 2558/NR13/227-250). In 1818 and in 1822 the Company acquired the York Buildings Water Works and the London Bridge Water Works. Both of these enterprises had pumped water from the Thames. The New River Company ceased to extract water from the Thames for normal use, but maintained a steam engine at Broken Wharf for use in emergencies until 1850. For records relating to the York Buildings Water Works see Acc 2558/NR13/70/1-8 and page 53 of list of Metropolitan Water Board "Exhibits" (Acc 2558/MW/C/15). For records of the London Bridge Water Works see Acc 2558/LB/1-4, the list of Metropolitan Water Board "Exhibits", pages 11-13 and 27-28, Acc 2558/NR5/51-58 and Acc 2558/NR13/57-59. In 1859 the New River Company purchased the Hampstead Water Works, including the Hampstead and Highgate Ponds, which continued to supply unfiltered water until 1936. For records relating to the Hampstead Water Works see Acc 2558/NR5/22, Acc 2558/NR13/60-69, Acc 2558/MW/C/15/202/6 and Acc 2558/MW/C/15/337.


To provide additional water the Company sank twelve wells worked with steam pumps along the course of the New River. The first of these was Amwell Hill Well sunk in 1847 and the most recent was Whitewebbs Well sunk in 1898. By that date the possibilities of further supply from the Lee Valley seemed to be near exhaustion. In 1896 the New River Company combined with the Grand Junction and West Middlesex Companies to obtain powers to construct two new reservoirs at Staines to store water from the River Thames. The New River Company's Act of 1897 authorised the construction of two storage reservoirs, filter beds and a pumping station at Kempton Park to utilise the water from the Staines Reservoirs and pump it through a 42 inch trunk main 17 miles long to covered reservoirs at Fortis Green. These works were under construction at the time of the transfer of the metropolitan water undertakings to the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904.


The New River Company estate in Clerkenwell was developed as a residential area in the early 19th century, including the church of St Mark, Myddelton Square designed by the New River Company surveyor, William Chadwell Mylne.


In 1904 the New River Company (Limited) was formed to take over the property interests of the New River Company in Clerkenwell, Islington, Enfield and other parishes in the vicinity of the New River. The archives of the New River Company (Limited) have been deposited separately in the Greater London Record Office as Acc 1953. They include records dating from before 1904 mainly relating to the ownership and management of property.

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