William Sandys 'Waterworks Sandys'

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William Sandys of Fladbury (1607–1669) was known as Waterworks Sandys to distinguish him from his cousin, the spendthrift 'Golden Sandys'. His principal fame was as the waterworks engineer, who improved the River Avon, Warwickshire, England, and the River Wye, and who was involved in various ways in several other river navigation schemes.

He was born at Fladbury, the second son of Sir William Sandys (later also of Miserden), Gloucestershire. He entered Gloucester Hall at Oxford University in 1623 at the same time as his cousin William Sandys of Ombersley, with whom he is sometimes confused. After that he became a barrister of the Middle Temple, but left London in 1633 to live at Fladbury with his new wife Cicely, daughter of Sir John Stede, with whom he received a handsome portion. They settled at Fladbury, where the lease of the manor (under the Bishop of Worcester) was settled on them.

In 1635, supported by petitions from many towns and from the counties affected, Sandys was authorised by Order in Council and Letters Patent, (in 1636),[1] to improve the river Avon. Within a few years, he had made the river navigable at least to Stratford upon Avon, and possibly beyond. This was done by constructing 'sluices', which seem to have been pound locks (not flash locks − as often supposed). The navigation was complete to Stratford by 1640, but its cost had stretched his resources. He had had to mortgage his estates and the navigation, and these passed into the hands of his creditors.

Sandys also had a patent to farm a new duty imposed by the king (without Parliamentary sanction) on coal exports. This project was a failure and he surrendered the grant, but the fact that he had taken it at all was later held against him. He was elected to the Long Parliament, but was expelled as a monopolist. Not long after he went into exile.

During the English Civil War he acted as a Royalist agent purchasing munitions at Dunkirk. Later he travelled trying to raise money to finance the restoration of Charles as king. He was a supernumerary gentleman-usher at the exiled court, but was discouraged from attendance.

After the Restoration, he was again elected to the House of Commons and was a particularly active member for the rest of his life. This interests included the promotion of navigation schemes. He attempted to recover the river Avon, but his claim was probably bought out. He and Windsor Sandys (probably his son rather than his great nephew) improved the River Wye up to Mordiford (the confluence of the River Lugg), partly using finance raised for the purpose during the Interregnum, but this evidently did not pay its expenses and the river was eventually surrendered to the county. He and Windsor were also partners in the River Wey Navigation in Surrey, but the nature of their interest (eventually sold by Windsor Sandys) is not clear. In all, he was concerned in about seven schemes, but most did not pass the initial hurdle of an Act of Parliament being passed.

Due to his loss of this estates and his inability to profit from the Avon, he had little property at his death (on 24 November 1669, apart from his navigation interests. His widow Cicely had difficulty in recovering the interest (as jointure in the manor of Fladbury, which she thought she had retained under arrangements made in the 1630s.


  1. ^ Shill, Ray Silent Highways 2011 p10 The History Press, Stroud ISBN 978 07524 5842 7

Further reading[edit]

C. Hadfield & J. Norris, Waterways to Stratford (2nd edn, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1968); M. Chrimes, 'Sandys, William' in A. W. Skempton et al. (eds.), Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers I (2002), 592-3; B. D. Henning, The House of Commons 1660-90: III Members M-Y (1983), 389-91; P. King, 'The River Teme and other Midlands River navigations' Journal of Railway and Canal Historical Society 35(5) (July 2006), 349-50; cf. M. Chisholm, 'Locks, Sluices, and Staunches: confusing technology' Trans. Newcomen Soc. 75 (2005), 305-16.