Metropolitan Water Board

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The Metropolitan Water Board's headquarters in Finsbury. 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. 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 acquired[edit]

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 board[edit]

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.

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 also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Robson, William (1939). The Government and Mis-government of London. London: Allen & Unwin. pp. 100–120.
  • 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