Title page of Arthur Shadwell's "The London water supply" - 1989

The London water supply / by Arthur Shadwell – London : Longmans Green & Co, 1899.

Water supply and water quality have been in the news recently. It is perhaps not surprising that the question of water supply in London has been a much-debated topic for over a century.

Shadwell’s book was published one year after an extreme shortage of water in the East End and at a time when Parliament was due to debate the whole question of supply and ownership of water. A taste of this is given in the foreword:

“It does not seem probable that the Royal Commission, appointed to enquire on the expediency of purchase … will be able to report on that very important aspect for some considerable time to come; but the London County Council have resolved to proceed at once with Bills for the purchase of the water companies’ undertakings …”

Shadwell provides a chronology beginning with the building of the London Bridge waterworks by Peter Morys in 1582, to the “New Purchase Bill and scheme for bringing water from Wales”, promoted by the London County Council; and the “Joint bill providing for intercommunication and intersale” brought in by the water companies in communication (both 1898)

Shadwell appears not to advocate for public ownership per se, but suggests instead that the quality and quantity of water supply is a national issue and advocates for a new Ministry of Public health to be responsible for distribution of supply, protection of resources and enforcement of legislation. The various Acts pertaining to water do date of publication of the book are summarised in the appendices.

It will be interesting to speculate what will happen to an industry that was nationalised, then privatized, under different political regimes in the 20th century.

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