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.