New River Walk, New River Head (no.1)

Mr Bradshaw says ‘..A walk through Highbury, noticing its picturesque little church, finished in 1848, and past the Sluice-house and the New River, to Horney Wood House, will give the stranger an agreeable idea of the picturesque character of this vast appurtenance to the mammoth city..’. Well, that sounded like an invitation to undertake the New River Walk!

The New River is a water supply into London, not a river. In 1606-07 an Act of Parliament agreed to the construction of a channel to bring fresh water into the City from springs in Chadwell and Amwell. In 1609 Hugh Myddelton, a Goldsmith and entrepreneur in the City, undertook to complete the work in four years. The cost was beyond his means and he persuaded the King, James I, to pay half the cost in return for half the profits. (The King waived this condition.) Until this date London’s water was taken from the Thames, or springs or wells in the City, and was often contaminated.

‘The New River followed the 100ft contour of the Lee Valley… The total fall on the 62km (39 miles) of the original course was only 5.8m…’. The channel was dug, edged the banks and built bridges, and banks were raised and lined with clay to prevent leaks. Hollowed-out elm pipes brought the water to the City. The project was completed in 1613 and the New River Company created in 1619 with Hugh Myddelton as the first Governor.  (More details here.)

In 1852 the water was filtered for the first time, at works built at Stoke Newington, Hornsey, and New River Head. In 1904 the operations of the New River Company were transferred to the Metropolitan Water Board. In 1946 the last filter bed at New River Head was closed and the river flow stopped at the reservoirs at Stoke Newington. The section from Stoke Newington to New River Head is now known as the ‘historic section’ and landscaped. The length of the New River today, from source to Stoke Newington, is 24 miles.

The New River still supplies London, providing c.8% of London’s daily water consumption.

I started at the New River Head, Rosebery Avenue.

New River Head, Thomas Bowles, 1740 (British History Online)
New River Head, Thomas Bowles, 1740 (British History Online)
New river Head, 1874
Plan of New River Head, 1874, British History Online
New River Head, 1910, from the north (British History Online)
New River Head, 1910, from the north (British History Online); Water House (demolished) on right
Oak Room of 1693 from the demolished Water House
Oak Room of 1693 from the demolished Water House
Line of the Round Pond, with remains of wooden water pipe (British History Online)
Line of the Round Pond, with remains of wooden water pipe (British History Online)
Plan of New River Head, 2005, British History Online
Plan of New River Head, 2005, British History Online
New River Head today, British History Online
New River Head today, British History Online, with the line of the Round Pond at right

You may be interested in
The New River
New River Action Group
The New River – history & links
The New River Head – excellent, detailed article, with photographs (some reproduced here)
A walk along the New River

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