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Politics of water

A report on London’s early water infrastructure by Elly Robson

New River Head is the site of our future home in Clerkenwell, London. It was the place where fresh water from Hertfordshire was collected in ponds for distribution to the City of London. It was also the headquarters of the New River Company.

The New River Company started supplying water to paying customers in 1613. It was one of the UK’s earliest water supply companies and quickly became the most successful in London.

Dr Elly Robson’s report explores the impact of the New River and other water supply companies on London in the 17th and 18th centuries. She details the lively culture of public conduits (taps) and explains how the idea of water as a free resource was challenged as private companies made it into a commodity for sale. Elly describes the social order of the changing city, and how water scarcity and unequal distribution resulted in protest, subversion and collective action.

Read the report(9 MB)Read the report in large format(6.1 MB)
Woodcut illustration of a busy scene showing women talking to each other doing various activities at the bakery, water conduit, ale house, market and river
Logo: image of hand with crossed finders and the words 'Made possible with Heritage Fund'

If you have comments, questions or suggestions on our plans to research and share the stories of New River Head, email