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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 ACC/3077
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1673-1869
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 0.33 linear metres
Name of creator(s): Shadwell Waterworks Company


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Shadwell Waterworks were started in about 1669 by Thomas Neale, who was groom porter to King Charles II and from 1678 to 1699 Master of the Mint. He leased land beside the River Thames in Shadwell from the Dean of St Paul's and installed a pump operated by horses to raise water from the Thames which was then distributed to neighbouring houses. In 1679 the works were enlarged and a second horse mill was added.

In 1680 Thomas Neale obtained letters patent from Charles II authorising him "to maintain, erect or new-build his Water-works and Waterhousel" near the River Thames in the parish of Shadwell and to make ponds, pipes, and cisterns to take water from the river to supply inhabitants within the Manors of Stepney and East Smithfield. Neale divided the undertaking into 36 shares most of which he sold. An act of Parliament in 1692 incorporated Neale and his partners as the "Governor and Company of the Water-works and Water-houses in Shadwell". Neale became the first governor.

The profitability of the Shadwell Waterworks vanished on the establishment of the West Ham Waterworks by Resta Patching and Thomas Byrd in about 1743. In 1745 they rented land in West Ham on the road between Bow in Middlesex and Stratford in Essex. An atmospheric engine was used to pump water from a creek branching from the River Lea. This was then sent east to Stratford and west to Bow, Bromley, Old Ford, Mile End Old Town, Stepney, Limehouse, Ratcliffe and Shadwell. Competition between the two waterworks was continued "with great virulence" and to the detriment of the profitability of both, until they came to an agreement in 1785 as to the demarcation of their districts. This was put into effect in 1792 by the purchase by the Shadwell Waterworks Company of the mains, pipes, and other personal property of the proprietors of the West Ham Waterworks, in Stepney, Limehouse, Ratcliffe, Shadwell, St George-in-the-East, Ratcliffe Highway, Wellclose Square, Wapping, the Hermitage, and parts of the parishes of Aldgate, St Katherine's and Whitechapel.

In 1750 the Shadwell Waterworks Company replaced their horsemills with an atmospheric engine. BY 1756 two "fire engines" were in operation. In 1778 these were replaced by a Boulton and Watt steam engine, a second engine being provided in 1784. In 1798 a new Watt double acting engine was installed in the waterworks in Labour in Vain Street, Shadwell.

By this date the existence of the waterworks was threatened by a scheme to build wet docks in Shadwell, which required the demolition of over 2,000 houses in the area which would have rendered the waterworks uneconomic. In addition the water mains would have been cut by the entrance to the docks. In 1800 the London Dock Company agreed to purchase the Shadwell Waterworks for 50,000.

This was put into effect by an Act of Parliament 39 and 40 George III c.47. The London Dock Company also purchased the West Ham Waterworks in 1807. In the same year the East London Waterworks was constituted by a private Act of Parliament authorising the construction of waterworks on the River Lea at Old Ford. Another Act of Parliament in 1808 enabled the East London Waterworks Company to purchase the Shadwell and West Ham Waterworks from the London Dock Company, which had continued to supply water to the Shadwell area until that time.

At the time of the purchase by the London Dock Company of the property of the Shadwell Waterworks Company, the owners of two of the 36 shares could not be traced. The sum of 2,777 15s 6d which was reserved in the hands of trustees for the owners of these shares was not successfully claimed until 1869.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Shadwell Waterworks Company, 1673-1869, including records relating to the establishment of Shadwell Waterworks, agreement with West Ham Waterworks, opposition to proposed London Docks, purchase of Waterworks by London Dock Company, papers concerning unclaimed shares and ownership of a share in the Shadwell Waterworks.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:


Conditions governing access:

Available for general access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

The papers listed below appear to have remained in the hands of Edmund Estcourt, who was solicitor to the Shadwell Waterworks Company in the 1790s and a trustee until 1813. They passed eventually to his great nephew, Arthur Harbottle Estcourt, who was a principal partner in the 1860s in a solicitor's practice in Newport, Isle of Wight. The papers were found with the records of the practice when they were deposited in the Isle of Wight Record Office. The Times of 4 December 1869 referred to a court case in 1866 when it was stated that "The trustees after the lapse of half a century, considering, as it was alleged, most inadvisably, that the old documents relating to the formation of the company were not of any value, had destroyed a great number".

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in 1992

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other records of the Shadwell Waterworks Company passed into the possession of the East London Waterworks Company and thence to the Metropolitan Water Board. Their archives which were deposited at London Metropolitan Archives by Thames Water in 1938 include records of the Shadwell Waterworks Company amongst the legal papers of the East London Waterworks Company and amongst the "Exhibits" found with the records of the Clerk's Department of the Metropolitan Water Board. Both of these classes of records have been listed in alphabetical order and are not easy to use. In both cases records of the Shadwell Waterworks Company appear to have been confused with records of West Ham Waterworks. Amongst the legal papers of the East London Waterworks Company most records relating to the Shadwell and West Ham Waterworks appear to have the references ACC/2558/EL/A/2/B28.01(1-12). Amongst the M.W.B. Clerk's Department "Exhibits" records of the Shadwell Waterworks Company have the references ACC/2558/MW/C/15/18, ACC/2558/MW/C/15/92-98, and ACC/2558/MW/C/15/215/1-2.

Publication note:

For further information about the history of the Shadwell Waterworks see Water Supply of Greater London by H.W. Dickinson (Newcomen Society 1954, LMA Library ref 24.21 DIC).

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
July to October 2009

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