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New river in the park

Clean water for seventeenth century London

Alongside Canonbury Grove, Islington

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The New River in Islington
Clean water for seventeenth century London

In the reign of Elizabeth I the population of London grew to 180 000. There was no separate sewage system and gradually all the rivers and wells became dangerously polluted. The 'New' River opened in 1613, in the reign of James I, bringing fresh water to Islington from the River Lee 20 miles away in Hertfordshire.

Relying on gravity
At the time it was not possible to pump water over long distances. The only way was to dig a channel running downhill all the way.
 
The New River is an entirely artificial water course which was designed to wind its way along the 100 foot (30.5 m) contour for 40 miles dropping a mere five and a half inches (about 13 cm) per mile.
 
The new river today
The New River is still bringing water to Londoners but it now stops at a reservoir in Stoke Newington. The short length visible in Islington is a relic preserved in a linear park.
 
Watchman's hut by the new riverKeeping watch over water
The round watch hut in the park was used by the linesmen responsible for this stretch of the river. Their job was to guard the river and to stop people contaminating the water by bathing or fishing in it.
 
The loop of preserved river around the hut is the only part of the original channel surviving in Islington. Here the planks of wood lining the banks have been restored to match the original work.

Submitted by: Andrew Hunt, 18 January 2007

Find out more about the story of the New River and the technology used to build it from the Thames Water web site where you will also find maps of the route and more photographs.

See also: Water supply

Project sponsors:

City sponsors:
ASE London Region
Nuffiled Curriculum Centre