I can’t honestly remember what prompted me to look into this subject further, but I have had great fun recently learning about what is called the New River.
Strangely, it is neither a river, nor is it new; it is in fact a man-made construction which has supplied London with fresh drinking water for nigh on 400 years.
When Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was on the throne, London’s population reached about 180,000. Although watered by the Thames, the city had, since medieval times, been troubled by the amount of pollution which was ending up in the river and the consequent health problems. In 1388, the first statute relating to public health in England was passed by Parliament:
……. So much dung and filth of the garbage and entrails as well as of beasts killed, as of other corruptions, be cast and put in ditches, rivers and other waters…… that the air there is greatly corrupt and infest and many maladies and other intolerable diseases do daily happen…..
Various plans were made to provide the city with clean water, but it wasn’t until 1606 that a Parliamentary Act granted the Corporation of London the power to make a “New River for bringing water to London from Chadwell and Amwell in Hertfordshire”.
Although the distance from Hertford to Islington (in North London) is only 24 miles, the actual course of the New River was nearly 40 miles when it was built. Over its course, there was a gentle gradient to promote the flow of water – which averaged 5.5 inches (8cm/km) per mile. The impressive feat of engineering was completed in 1613 when a formal ceremony took place at the Round Pond in Islington; this is sited near the present New River Head, just below Sadler’s Wells Theatre.This was the original termination point but it currently ends somewhere in Stoke Newington.
The New River remains an essential part of London’s water supply, carrying up to 220 megalitres (48 million gallons) daily for treatment; this represents some 8 per cent of London’s daily water consumption.
Importantly, it comes with a path and I intend to walk the length of it this coming autumn/winter. Hopefully with Mr Bee to keep me company.
Since 1992, Thames Water has worked with local people and partners to create a 45 km [28 mile] long-distance footpath that follows the course of the New River, linking the inner city to the open countryside. The route follows, wherever possible, the historic water channel, as well as some straightened and piped sections between the New River`s starting point near Hertford to its original end in Islington. The route is waymarked throughout its length and all signs display the Path logo ~ Thames Water
There is a good book called “Exploring the New River” by Michael Essex-Lopresti ( buy the book from Amazon ) and also a very helpful leaflet issued by Thames Water which has detailed maps and suggested walks (Thames Water leaflet ). Wikipedia has an entry on it too: wiki info.
Funnily enough we used to live in Highbury and spent many an afternoon walking a very small section of the walk in Canonbury, making sure the baby Bees didn’t fall in! At that time I had no idea this artificial waterway existed. Now I live in Hertfordshire, so there is no excuse not to have a go at walking its length. I have no doubt there are some very pretty pubs along the way which will make the task that bit easier.
I will let you know how I get on.
Annie Bee x