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The Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company was a utility company supplying water to parts of south London in England. The company was formed by the merger of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Companies in 1845 and became part of the publicly-owned Metropolitan Water Board in 1903.




Southwark Water Company

The Borough Waterworks Company was formed in 1770, originally supplying water to a brewery and the surrounding area, which spanned the distance between London and Southwark Bridges. The adjacent area was supplied by the London Bridge Waterworks Company. London Bridge Waterworks was dissolved in 1822, and its water supply licence was purchased by the New River Company. The Borough Waterworks Company purchased the licence from the New River Company later that same year, and it was renamed the Southwark Water Company. The company extracted water from the River Thames using steam engines to pump it to a cistern at the top of a sixty foot high tower.[1]

Vauxhall Water Company

The South London Waterworks Company was established by private act of parliament in 1805. The company extracted water from the Thames beside Vauxhall Bridge. In 1833 the company supplied 12,046 houses with approximately 12,000 gallons of water.[2] In 1834, the company was renamed the Vauxhall Water Company.[1]


On 10 January 1845 the two companies submitted a memorial to the Health of Towns Commissioners proposing amalgamation. The memorial noted that since 1834 competition had increased between Southwark, Vauxhall, and Lambeth Water Companies and that the "results of that competition were as inconvenient to the public as they were disastrous to the companies, and afforded the very strongest illustration of the truth of the doctrine... that the principle of competition cannot with advantage be applied to the operations of water companies." The effect of competition on the companies was described as "an immense expenditure of capital in utter waste - double or treble sets of mains and pipes being laid down in districts where one set would better have served the inhabitants. An enormous annual outlay, equally in utter waste, -in the salaries of canvassers and commission to agents, who procured tenants; in the bills of plumbers, who changed the service pipes of the tenants from one set of mains to another; in the charges of taking up and relaying roads and pavements on the like occasions; in double and treble sets of turncocks and pipe-layers; and, as the climax of absurdity, a payment of all parochial and district rates in every parish on all the pipes of all the companies, in proportion to the capital expended on assumed profits or interest, which it is needless to say had no existence."[2]

The bill promoted by the two companies successfully passed through parliament, and the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company formed later that year.[1] The area supplied by the SVWC was centred on the Borough of Southwark, reaching east to Rotherhithe, south to Camberwell and in the west including Battersea and parts of Clapham and Lambeth.[3]


The amalgamated company established waterworks at Battersea Fields with two depositing reservoirs with a capacity of 32 million gallons; and two filtering reservoirs holding 11 million gallons.[3] In 1850 the company's water was described by the microbiologist Arthur Hassall as "the most disgusting which I have ever examined".[1] The Metropolis Water Act 1852 was enacted in order to "make provision for securing the supply to the Metropolis of pure and wholesome water. Under the Act, it became unlawful for any water company to extract water for domestic use from the tidal reaches of the Thames after 31 August 1855, and from 31 December 1855 all such water was required to be "effectually filtered".[4] Accordingly, new waterworks had to be constructed further up river.

In the meantime, an outbreak of cholera in 1854 led to the deaths of 286 people supplied by the company.[5] The Stain Hill Reservoirs were constructed in Hampton in 1855, with a 36-inch diameter main to Battersea. A third reservoir was opened later in the year between Nunhead Cemetery and Peckham Rye.[1] In 1903 the SVWC supplied a population of 860,173 in 128,871 houses of which 122,728 (95.3%) had a constant supply.[6]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Southwark & Vauxhall Water Company - Brief History during the Snow era, UCLA Department of Epidemiolgy
  2. ^ a b Joseph Fletcher, Historical and Statistical Account of the present System of Supplying the Metropolis with Water in Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 8, No. 2. (Jun., 1845), pp. 148-181.
  3. ^ a b John Weale, The Pictorial Handbook of London, London, 1854
  4. ^ An Act to make better Provision respecting the Supply of Water to the Metropolis, (15 & 16 Vict. C.84)
  5. ^ John Snow Cholera and the Water Supply in the South Districts of London, in 1854, Journal of Public Health, (1856), UCLA School of Epidemiology, accessed 6 March 2008
  6. ^ Percy Ashley, The Water, Gas, and Electric Light Supply of London, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 27, Municipal Ownership and Municipal Franchises (January 1906), pp. 20-36


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