London Hydraulic Power Company

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The London Hydraulic Power Company was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1883 to install a hydraulic power network of high-pressure cast iron water mains under London. It was the successor to the Steam Wharf and Warehouse Company, founded in 1871 by Edward B Ellington. The network covered an area mostly north of the Thames from Hyde Park in the west to Docklands in the east.


The system was used as a cleaner and more compact alternative to steam engines, to power workshop machinery, lifts, cranes, theatre machinery, and the backup mechanism of Tower Bridge. It was also used to supply fire hydrants, mostly those inside buildings. The water, pumped straight from the Thames, was heated in winter to prevent freezing.

Pumping stations[edit]

The pressure was maintained at a nominal 800 pounds per square inch (5.5 MPa) by five hydraulic power stations, originally driven by coal-fired steam engines. These were at:

Short-term storage was provided by hydraulic accumulators, which were large vertical pistons loaded with heavy weights.


From about 1904, business began to decline as electric power became more popular. The company began to replace its steam engines with electric motors from 1923. At its peak, the network consisted of 180 miles (290 km) of pipes, and the total power output was about 7,000 horsepower (5.2 MW).

Modern times[edit]

The system closed in 1977. The company, as a UK statutory authority, had the legal right to dig up the public highways to install and maintain its pipe network. This made it attractive to Mercury Communications (a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless) who bought the company and used the pipes as telecommunications ducts. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, the last of the five to close, is now an arts centre and restaurant.

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