Resume of the Talk given by Helen Gibson at our February Meeting on "The New River"


Helen Gibson returned to Much Hadham to give an account of Hugh Myddleton and the New River. In Elizabethan times London obtained much of its water from the Thames or local wells such as Clerkenwell. The river was highly contaminated and Londoners mostly drank beer. Edmund Colthurst in about 1600, planned to bring clean spring water from Ware, where there was an abundant supply. Elizabeth I was in favour, but it fell to James 1st to grant Colthurst a Charter to proceed. By 1604 his canal had progressed abou 3 miles when an Act of Parliament granted the Mayor and Citizens of the City to bring water from the Springs of Chadwell and Amwell and to make terms with landowners to permit a water course through their lands. The Act gave the City greater powers than Colthurst’s Charter. Then, in 1609 an offer to improve and complete the work, by Hugh Myddleton MP, a member of the Goldsmith’s Company and long term supporter of the venture, was accepted. Hugh, an excellent organiser, was brought up in Denbigh by his influencial family and had learned the Goldsmith’s trade in Antwerp.

Remarkably the water course, the New River, was formally opened in 1613. At a slope of only 3inches per mile it had many bends to maintain this constant incline and many sluices and cisterns were built along it to equalise the flow. In times of poor rainfall, additional water was diverted from the River Lea at Ware. At the terminus near Saddler’s Wells “The New River Head”, water was stored in a large round reservoir to even out the flow and provide a head of pressure. A cistern below below directed the water into distribution pipes, which were made from bored out elm trunks. To achieve this 400 years ago and still supply about 10% of London’s water, is an amazing tribute to the Jacobean engineers, surveyors and men. Helen's presentation was well illustrated with much contemporary and recent material and was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.