Reference NumberB/SHA
Alternative Reference NumberSTE/200
TitleRecords of the Shadwell Waterworks Company
DescriptionFinancial records

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Extent1 volume
AdminHistoryThe beginnings of the Shadwell Waterworks can be dated to about 1669. The works were initiated by the speculator Thomas Neale, groom porter to King Charles II, and from 1678 to 1699 Master of the Mint. Neale leased land beside the Thames in Shadwell from the Dean of St Paul's and installed a pump operated by horses to raise water from the river for distribution to houses in the vicinity. In 1679 the works were enlarged and a second horse mill was added. A year later Neale obtained letters patent from Charles II authorising him 'to maintain, erect or new-build his Water-works and Waterhousel' near the River Thames in the parish of Shadwell and to make ponds, pipes, and cisterns to take water from the river to supply inhabitants within the Manors of Stepney and East Smithfield. Neale divided the undertaking into 36 shares, most of which he sold. An act of Parliament in 1692 incorporated Neale and his partners as the 'Governor and Company of the Water-works and Water-houses in Shadwell'. Neale became the first governor.

For the next 50 years or so the Company remained a profitable going concern, but the situation changed following the establishment of the West Ham Waterworks by Resta Patching and Thomas Byrd in about 1743. In 1745 they rented land in West Ham on the road between Bow in Middlesex and Stratford in Essex. An atmospheric engine was used to pump water from a creek branching from the River Lea. This was then sent east to Stratford and west to Bow, Bromley, Old Ford, Mile End Old Town, Stepney, Limehouse, Ratcliffe and Shadwell. Keen competition between the two waterworks continued to the profit of neither, until they came to an agreement in 1785 as to the demarcation of their respective districts. This arrangement was put into effect in 1792 when the Shadwell Waterworks Company purchased the mains, pipes, and other personal property of the proprietors of the West Ham Waterworks, in Stepney, Limehouse, Ratcliffe, Shadwell, St George-in-the-East, Ratcliffe Highway, Wellclose Square, Wapping, the Hermitage, and parts of the parishes of Aldgate, St Katherine's and Whitechapel.

The Shadwell Waterworks Company replaced their horsemills with an atmospheric engine in 1750, and by 1756 two 'fire engines' were in operation. In 1778 these were replaced by a Boulton and Watt steam engine, a second engine being provided in 1784. In 1798 a new Watt double-acting engine was installed in the waterworks in Labour in Vain Street. By this date the existence of the waterworks was threatened by a scheme to build wet docks in Shadwell, which would require the demolition of over 2,000 houses in the area; this would have rendered the waterworks uneconomic and the water mains would also have been cut by the entrance to the docks. In 1800 the London Dock Company agreed to purchase the Shadwell Waterworks for £50,000. This was put into effect by an Act of Parliament. The London Dock Company also purchased the West Ham Waterworks in 1807, and in the same year the East London Waterworks was constituted by a private Act of Parliament authorising the construction of waterworks on the River Lea at Old Ford. Another Act of Parliament in 1808 enabled the East London Waterworks Company to purchase the Shadwell and West Ham Waterworks from the London Dock Company (which had continued to supply water to the Shadwell area until that time).

At the time of the purchase by the London Dock Company of the property of the Shadwell Waterworks Company, the then owners of two of the 36 shares could not be traced. The sum of £2,777 15s 6d, which was reserved in the hands of trustees for the owners of these shares, was not successfully claimed until 1869.

Until the turn of the 20th century, water rates were known as 'rents'; these rents were collected by 'collectors' who were paid a percentage of the proceeds - a 'poundage'. Collectors carried a small notebook with them on their walk, or round, to keep a record of payment or non-payment. These notebooks included standardised information: the tenant's name, the annual rent, quarterly payments and sometimes brief notes of other relevant information. Collectors' notebooks were used by the clerks to make up company account books and lists of arrears. The Shadwell Waterworks Company employed two rent collectors: William Walker covered the western end of the area served by the Company, from Tower Hill to Shadwell.
CustodialHistoryDonated to Stepney Metropolitan Borough Library by Mr Jonson Jeffrees of Old Copper Mills, Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow in 1926, via Mr George Edward Johnson Roebuck (1877-1953), librarian and antiquary: see reports in the 'East End News and London Shipping Chronicle', 10 December 1926, and the 'East London Advertiser', 8 January 1927. (George Edward Johnson Roebuck had been librarian of St George-in-the-East 1902-06. His papers are at Waltham Forest Archives (ref. W96).)
RelatedMaterialSee LC. 631 for a typescript name index, compiled by Sylvia Law.

The main archives of the Shadwell Waterworks Company are at the London Metropolitan Archives (ref. ACC/3077 and ref. ACC/2558).
Water companies
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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