Catalogue description Chelsea Waterworks Company: Corporate Records

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

Details of ACC 2558/CH
Reference: ACC 2558/CH
Title: Chelsea Waterworks Company: Corporate Records
Held by: London Metropolitan Archives: City of London, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Chelsea Waterworks Company, 1723 - 1904

Administrative / biographical background:

The Company was established by letters patent in 1723 "For the better supplying the City and Liberties of Westminster and parts adjacent". Its supply was taken from the Thames into low canals (around the present site of Victoria Station) and was retained at low tide by sluices. Reservoirs were set up in Green Park and in Walnut Tree Walk in Hyde Park.


Its expansion was initially assisted by its ability to supply the royal palaces, a responsibility which also forced it in 1742 to introduce an atmospheric pumping engine after severe shortages during the winter of 1739-40.


In 1809 it obtained powers to take water direct from the Thames (as the other companies already did) but the source was particularly polluted and liable to turbulence. This led the Company's chief engineer, James Simpson, to introduce the slow sand filtration system in 1829, a system still in use in 1974. In 1856, following the enforcement of the 1852 Metropolis Water Act, the intake was removed to Surbiton where new filter beds and a pumping station were built.


The Chelsea Water Works Company was incorporated by letters patent in 1723 to supply water to the City of Westminster and adjacent places.


Under Royal Warrants of 1725 two ponds in Green Park were converted into reservoirs and a third reservoir was constructed in the Walnut Tree Walk, Hyde Park. The supply to these reservoirs was obtained from a system of small canals extending from the north of Victoria Station to the Thames at Chelsea. In 1742 the company introduced the first economically successful steam pumping engine in London.


In 1809 the company obtained an Act of Parliament empowering them to construct new works on land adjacent to their original works by the Thames, and to lay a suction pipe in the bed of the river. In the 1820s James Simpson, the company's engineer, began experimenting in filtration of the water. The first slow sand filter bed was brought into use at the company's works in January 1829.


The deterioration in the quality of the water supply resulted in the company closing its works and moving from the tideway. In 1856 a new intake, filter beds and a pumping station were opened at Seething Wells, Surbiton. The filtered water was pumped to service reservoirs on Putney Heath. Water continued to be drawn at Surbiton until 1877 when an intake and four reservoirs were opened at Molesey, the water being pumped from here to Surbiton for filtration.


The Cheslea Water Works Company was the smallest of the Metropolitan water undertakings acquired by the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904, following the Metropolis Water Act of 1902.


Prior to their transfer to the Greater London Record Office, the records of the Chelsea Water Works Company were housed in muniment rooms at Thames Water premises, Seething Wells, Surbiton and at New River Head, Rosebery Avenue, EC1.


The records of the metropolitan water companies fall into the following series;


Corporate records; Accounting records; Staff records; Records relating to water supply and distribution; Purchase records; Property records and Miscellaneous items.


Before consulting any legal papers readers should read page 27.

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