Metropolitan Water Board

  (Redirected from Metropolitan Water Board (London))

The Metropolitan Water Board's headquarters at New River Head. Now residential (2005).

The Metropolitan Water Board was founded in 1903 to bring the nine private water companies supplying water to London under a single public body. The members of the board were nominated by the various local authorities within its area of supply. A Royal Commission had reported in 1899 on the need for such controls. The board was abolished in 1974 and control transferred to the Thames Water Authority, now Thames Water.


Water supply in the London area was regulated by local acts and royal charters on a piecemeal basis from 1543.

Through amalgamation, by 1830 there were six companies supplying water north of the Thames:

  1. The New River Company incorporated in 1619
  2. The Hampstead Water Company, incorporated around 1730
  3. The Chelsea Waterworks Company, incorporated 1723
  4. The West Middlesex Waterworks Company, incorporated 1806
  5. The East London Waterworks Company, incorporated 1807
  6. The Grand Junction Waterworks Company, incorporated 1811

and four to the south of the river

  1. The Lambeth Waterworks Company, incorporated 1785
  2. The Kent Waterworks Company, incorporated 1809
  3. The Southwark Water Company, incorporated around 1760
  4. The Vauxhall Water Company, incorporated 1805

Following complaints, a Royal commission was set up in 1827 to investigate the quality of supply. The commission found that the water was of poor quality and cleanliness, and was in need of improvement. A select committee endorsed this view in 1828 and recommended that a scheme should be devised by Thomas Telford, to supply the whole metropolis with clean water. Telford reported in 1834, and despite several outbreaks of cholera, little action was taken until the Metropolis Water Act 1852 introduced regulation of the supply companies; including minimum standards of water quality for the first time. A further Royal commission reported in 1869 and recommended that the supply should be taken into public management. The Metropolis Water Act 1871 introduced further regulation, but fell short of taking the supply into public control. In the meantime the corporations of major provincial towns such as Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds began operating their own municipal supplies. The Metropolitan Board of Works promoted several unsuccessful bills between 1878 and 1886 which would have allowed them to offer a municipal water supply; with a further eight bills promoted by the London County Council in 1895. During the course of a further series of commissions, set against the backdrop of continuing supply problems, the county councils of Middlesex, Essex, Kent and Surrey indicated they would not accept any scheme which allowed the London County Council authority over their areas in respect of water supply. It was therefore decided that the Metropolitan Water Bill would create an entirely new body to supply water to the greater London area.[1]


The board was created by The Metropolis Water Act 1902 (2 Edw. VII, c.41). The board as originally constituted in the Act had 67 members; 65 of these were nominated by local authorities, who appointed a paid chairman and vice-chairman. The nominating bodies were:

The first Metropolitan Water Board retired on 1 June 1907, with a new board being nominated every three years thereafter. As local government changes took place, the nominating bodies changed.

Undertakings acquiredEdit

The board compulsorily acquired the following water companies:

Also acquired at no cost were the water undertakings of Tottenham and Enfield Urban District Councils

Area of the boardEdit

The board's area, described as its "limits of supply" was considerably larger than the administrative County of London: 559 square miles (1,450 km2) as opposed to 116 square miles (300 km2). The limits were to be the same as the area supplied by the various undertakings acquired with the addition of the parishes of Sunbury, Middlesex and Chessington, Surrey. It comprised the entire county of London and much of Middlesex, with outer boundaries at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, Loughton and East Ham in Essex, Dartford and Foots Cray in Kent, and Malden, Surbiton, Esher and Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica described "Water London" as an irregular area extending from Ware in Hertfordshire to Sevenoaks in Kent, and westward as far as Ealing and Sunbury.

Water sources and suppliesEdit

The Metropolitan Water Board abstracted water from the River Thames; the River Lea; from springs and wells in the Lea valley, Kent, and in the southern district; from the Hanworth gravel beds; and from Hampstead and Highgate ponds. The daily and total volume of water supplied by the MWB in 1912–13 and 1920–21 was as follows:[2][3]

MWB water sources and supplies 1912–13 and 1920–21
Source River Thames River Lea Springs and wells Hanworth gravel beds Hampstead and Highgate Ponds Total
Lea Valley Kent Southern district
Year 1912–13 (million gallons)
Total volume supplied 51,366 20,607 6,738 7,538 294 299 47 86,889
Average daily supply 140.7 56.4 18.4 20.6 0.81 0.82 0.13 238.1
Percent from each source 59.1 23.7 7.8 8.7 0.3 0.3 0.1 100.0
Year 1920–21 (million gallons)
Total volume supplied 59,458 22,335 7,195 9,754 395.3 107.5 46.5 100,292
Average daily supply 162.9 63.9 19.7 26.7 1.1 0.3 0.1 274.7
Percent from each source 59.28 23.27 7.17 9.73 0.39 0.11 0.05 100.00

Note: 1 million gallons is 4546.1 m3.

The Thames Conservancy placed limits on the abstraction of water.[3] The average daily abstraction was limited to 300 million gallons per day (15.785 m3/s). When the flow of the Thames over Teddington Weir was less than 170 million gallons a day (8.945 m3/s) no abstraction was authorised except with the permission of the Local Government Board. If the flow was less than 140 million gallons (7.366 m3/s) no abstraction was allowed. If the flow over Penton Hook weir was less than 285 million gallons a day (14.996 m3/s) no abstraction above Penton Hook was allowed. The maximum abstraction from the river in any one day was limited to 1,200 million gallons (63.140 m3/s).[3]

The MWB gave a water supply to the Croydon Corporation, Richmond Corporation, Cheshunt Urban District Council, and the Hertfordshire and Essex Water Company.[2][3]

MWB supplies to water undertakings outside the Board's area
Year Croydon Corporation Richmond Corporation Cheshunt Urban District Council Hertfordshire and Essex Water Company
Million gallons per year
1911–12 431.5 182.6 30.9 0.117
1912–13 426.2 187.9 26.3 0.065
1919–20 437.6 204.6 56.6 0.429
1920–21 469.1 200.7 46.5 0.515

Final years (1965–1974)Edit

Upon the reorganization of local government in Greater London in 1965, the board’s constitution was amended by the London Government Order 1965 (SI 1965/654) and from 1 November 1965 until its abolition on 1 April 1974, the board had 39 members, appointed by the constituent authorities:

The Greater London Council appointed six members, while the Common Council of the City of London, 26 of the London borough councils, the county councils of Essex, Kent, Surrey and Hertfordshire, the Thames Conservancy and the Lee Conservancy Catchment Board all appointed one member each.

While there were a number of local authorities wholly or partly within the board’s area which were not directly represented on the board, they were indirectly represented through either the Greater London Council or appropriate county council.

The term of office of members of the board was three years. The chairman and vice-chairman were elected by the board on an annual basis.


The various public water boards and local authority water undertakings in England and Wales were reorganised by the Water Act 1973. Ten large water authorities were established based on river basins and catchment areas. Accordingly, in 1974, the assets of the Metropolitan Water Board passed to the Thames Water Authority governed by a 60-person board, and covering the area from the source of the Thames in Wiltshire to the Thames Estuary.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Robson, William (1939). The Government and Mis-government of London. London: Allen & Unwin. pp. 100–120.
  2. ^ a b London County Council (1915). London Statistics 1913–14 vol. XXIV. London: London County Council. p. 524.
  3. ^ a b c d London County Council (1922). London Statistics 1920-21 vol. XXVII. London: London County Council. pp. 249 262.
  • London's Water Supply 1903–1953. A Review of the Work of the Metropolitan Water Board. Edited by W. S. Chevalier Clerk of the Board. Published by the Board in 1953
  • The Water Supply of London. Edited by S. D. Askew Clerk of the Board. Published by the Board in 1961
  • Metropolis Water Act 1902
  • A brief description of the Undertaking with Notes on the Works at Ashford Common, Hampton, Walton, Stoke Newington and Deptford published by the MWB in 1965