Reference NumberB/LHP
Alternative Reference NumberSTE/819-STE/822
TitleRecords of the London Hydraulic Power Company
DescriptionCorrespondence, plans, drawings, tracings and blueprints, accounts and papers relating to the conversion from steam to electric drive of Wapping Pumping Stations Numbers 1 and 2.

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Extent5 boxes, 283 technical drawings
AdminHistoryThe London Hydraulic Power Company was established by Act of Parliament in 1883/84 to install a network of high-pressure cast iron water mains under London. The Act was sponsored by the railway engineer Sir James Allport. The Act merged the Wharves and Warehouses Steam Power and Hydraulic Pressure Company, founded in 1871 by Edward B. Ellington, and the General Hydraulic Power Company, founded in 1882. The network expanded to cover most of central London, and at its peak comprised some 180 miles of pipes and total power output of about 7,000 horsepower. The system was gradually replaced by electricity, with the final pumphouse at Wapping closing in 1977. The building in Wapping was converted to a restaurant and arts centre.

The hydraulic system was used as a cleaner and more compact alternative to steam engines, to power workshop machinery, lifts, cranes and notably theatre machinery (including revolving stages at the London Palladium and the London Colliseum, safety curtains at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, the lifting mechanism for the cinema organ at the Leicester Square theatre and the complete Palm Court orchestra platform), and the backup mechanism of Tower Bridge. The system was also used to supply fire hydrants, mostly those inside buildings. The water, pumped straight from the Thames, was heated in winter to prevent freezing.

Water pressure was maintained across the London network by five pumping stations at:
- Falcon Wharf (Bankside), opened in 1883
- Kensington Court and Millbank, opened in 1887
- Wapping, opened in 1890
- City Road Basin (Islington), opened in 1893
- Renforth (Rotherhithe), opened in 1904

The system pumped 6.5 million gallons of water each week in 1893, a figure which had grown to 32 million gallons by 1933. From as early as 1904 business began to decline as electric power became more popular. The London Hydraulic Power Company started to replace its steam engines with electric motors from 1923.

The system finally closed in June 1977. As a UK statutory authority, the company had the legal right to dig up public highways to install and maintain its pipe network. This made it highly attractive to Mercury Communications (a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless), which bought the company and used the pipes as telecommunications ducts.
CustodialHistoryDeposited by the London Hydraulic Power Company (Renforth Street, London SE16 1JJ) in September 1982.
RelatedMaterialThe company's main archives are at the London Metropolitan Archives (ref. B/GH/LH).
Access StatusOpen
RequestNO - This does not represent a physical document. Please click on the reference number and view list of records to find material available to order at file or item level.


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