Skip to navigationSkip to content

Lost Springs, Coming Spring

Documentary drawing from New River Head by Sharpay Chenyuè Yuán

I’m attracted to stories about the past, especially when they have continuity with what I see in the moment.

This film was created by Sharpay Chenyuè Yuán in 2021 when she was Engine House Graduate Illustrator in Residence. It shows a scrolling drawing in which the past meets the present.

Sharpay visited our derelict waterworks New River Head and drew its silent spaces and abandoned machinery. She added scenes from the 400-year history of the site, using archival drawings and photographs as reference.

Pencil drawing of railings with spikes at the top
Pencil drawing of concrete blocks with plants growing through them

In Sharpay’s drawing, uniformed soldiers from 1780 and gas masked staff from the 1940s are ready to defend London’s water supply from attack. The site’s maintenance workers are seen alongside the women who staffed the kitchens in the 1920s. Horses are at work driving water pumps and ghostly geese commemorate the natural pond that existed at New River Head before it became an industrial site.

The film’s text is drawn from a poem read at the New River's 1613 opening ceremony. It includes the motto of the New River Company, “I will rain upon one city”, a piece of text taken from the Hebrew Bible and Christian Old Testament.

Pencil sketch showing industrial interior with a woman in 1920s dress, people in old military dress and people in gas masks and exterior scene with crash barriers and working horses

Sharpay Chenyuè Yuán is an illustrator whose work explores social histories by combining drawing with field and archival research. Her editorial illustration has appeared in The New York Times and Die Zeit. Sharpay's heritage projects include Pearl’s Daughters, a book exploring the stories of women working in factories in China in the 1980s and 90s.

Film and images © Sharpay Chenyuè Yuán

Our residency programme invites illustrators to explore heritage and is generously supported by the Barbara and Philip Denny Trust.