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only of the individuals of whom it is composed. The principle of combination, which ought only to be called into existence for purposes of philanthropy, is hereby so far contravened, that the public ought to be protected, if necessary, by the intervention of parliament, from impositions which, under the sanction of a company's authority, may, and have been practised, with insolent impunity, even to the infliction of great personal annoyance and oppression ; and herein rests the gist of the whole argument respecting the water companies of London, which involve an immense extent of capital, and consequently the directors and shareholders have a direct interest in the inhabitants of this city continuing to drink the river waters in which their capital is embarked, rather than permit, if it can be averted, the introduction of a purer supply from sources which the progress of science has only recently revealed to us.
The water companies of London are,
1. The New River, which, as already premised, derives its supply from a spring at Chadwell, and an arm of the river Lea.
2. The East London Water Works, situated on the river Lea; but as the tide of the Thames flows about a mile up the Lea, and the supply is taken during the ascending tide, the water distributed by this company closely approximates Thames water.
3. The West Middlesex Water* Works, situated at Hammersmith, which derives its supply exclusively from the Thames.
4. The Chelsea Water Works, on the banks of the Thames, east of. Chelsea Hospital, which derives its supply also exclusively from the Thames.
5. The Grand Junction Company, also at Chelsea, which in like manner derives its supply exclusively from the Thames.
These water companies, it will be observed, are all on the north side of the river Thames : on the south, including the Borough of Southwark, we find,
1. The Lambeth, situated on the river between Westminster and Waterloo Bridges, supplied exclusively with its water.
2. The Vauxhall or South London Water Works, in Kennington Lane, supplied exclusively with Thames water.
3. The Southwark Water Works, situated between Westminster and London Bridges, which, in like manner, derives its entire supply from the Thames.
The water companies here enumerated were originally projected by capitalists, who 'found little or no difficulty in obtaining the acts of parliament necessary for authorising the companies so instituted to supply different districts of the metropolis, and levy certain water rates on the inhabitants. The principle on which these several acts of parliament were granted, was unquestionably to encourage a fair competition as the best protection the public could have for being well and sufficiently supplied. About the year 1817, however, five of these companies -- the New River, Chelsea, East London, Middlesex, and Grand Junction - in order to exclude other competitors, made a subsidiary compact among themselves that they should, by partitioning the town between them, establish a close monopoly, which was carried into effect by the ostensible retirement from each allotted district of all the companies previously acting in competition, leaving the company which represented this confederacy in exclusive possession of the field. This, which has been ever since designated and stigmatised as the “ water
Part of supply at new works at Brentford.
monopoly,” gave immediate dissatisfaction to the capitalists, whom it excluded from all fair and honourable competition; the attention of the public was consequently called to the subject, and the inhabitants, who - be it observed — had previously manifested a perfect apathy and indifference concerning the condition of this essential elenient of life, were now duly advertised that the water which they had been drinking and applying to every culinary and domestic purpose was loaded and impregnated with the most offensive and disgusting impurities, which could not be otherwise than destructive to health, and had probably been the unknown cause of many serious and perhaps fatal maladies.
This enunciation, sanctioned as it was by the highest scientific and medical authorities, caused naturally great excitement; public meetings were convened — petition after petition presented to parliament; and at length, in 1821, being formally brought under the notice of the House of Commons, a select committee was appointed to investigate the subject. Accordingly this committee gave in a long report, which terminated in a recommendation that a bill should be passed to regulate the water companies, and here the matter dropped: but the facts which this committee had elicited were of so startling and appalling a character, that the public became now still more dissatisfied; the inhabitants of Westminster held a public meeting, at which Sir Francis Burdett presided, which was attended by scientific and professional men of the greatest eminence, all of whom attested that the water supplied by the Thames was utterly unfit for use. Petitions, without number, were again sent to parliament; and at length an address was presented to his majesty by the lords spiritual and temporal, and two from the knights, citizens, and burgesses in parliament assembled, beseeching him that he would be pleased to appoint a commission to inquire into the water of the metropolis. Accordingly a commission was appointed, consisting of Dr. Roget, Thomas Brande, and the late Thomas Telford, Esq.; and these gentlemen, so eminently qualified for the task, gave in their report early in the year 1828. Here, having given this rapid sketch, we may pause to observe, that so far as the complaints alleged by the excluded capitalists against the water monopoly are concerned, we do not, in respect to their personal or pecuniary interests, sympathise with them; neither do we desire to enter into the merits of the contentions that have taken place between the water companies separately or collectively: we have a higher object in view, which is to show that the interest of the public still demands the intervention of parliament for the purpose of obtaining a purer and more adequate supply of water than the inhabitants of this great metropolis can at present command. And in order that the necessity which exists for this interposition may be clearly understood and appreciated, we shall avail ourselves of such evidence as was then educed, in order to show that the water supplied by these companies from the Thames and New River is still unfit for dietic and domestic purposes. And this, be it observed, is a matter which affects seriously the interests of every large town throughout the kingdom, for the river waters by which they are supplied, when exposed to the same causes, are subjected to the same contamination as those of the metropolis; so that the facts we are about to state, and the inferences we shall from them deduce, are capable of wide and almost universal application throughout the country.
The deterioration of river water in approaching or entering into the heart of large and populous cities, chiefly arises from its being made the depository of a variety of extraneous and offensive matters ; the inhabitants of every little village in the kingdom thinking its neighbouring stream the most natural and fit receptacle for every species of nuisance. “The purest water with which we are acquainted,” says Sir Humphry Davy, "is undoubtedly that which falls from the atmosphere; having touched air alone, it can contain nothing but what it gains from the atmosphere ; and all artificial contact, even from the vessels in which it may be collected, gives more or less of contamination.” In descending through the atmosphere, however, the rain drops absorbed a certain quantity of carbonic acid, for which water has a great avidity, and which gives it its fresh and sparkling character, so that water deprived of its carbonic acid is always peculiarly flat and insipid. It is necessary to premise this elementary observation, because river water, holding carbonic acid in solution, exerts a chemical action on the calcareous and alkaline elements of the soil through which it flows, as well as on the animal and vegetable substances with which it may become impregnated. Happily, however, under ordinary circumstances it takes up so small a quantity of foreign matter, that its sensible qualities are not materially affected; but in passing through large towns, from the quantity and noxious character of the extraneous substances with which it becomes loaded, all its sensible qualities are altered, and it is even rendered unfit for the support of animal life. Hence Dr. Bostock, in his report to the commissioners appointed to investigate into the state of the water supplied to the metropolis, observes, “The water of the Thames, when free from extraneous substances, is in a state of considerable purity, containing only a moderate quantity of saline contents, and those of a kind which cannot be supposed to render it unfit for domestic purposes, or to be injurious to health ; but as it approaches the metropolis it becomes loaded with a quantity of filth which renders it disgusting to the senses and improper to be employed in the preparation of food."*
The evidence, or rather the facts which were elicited by this commission, appear so important in a practical point of view, that it is to us incredible that the public should relapse into a state of indifference on the subject; and we confess that it is in the hope of disturbing this lethargy, and directing the spirit of enterprise to a source whence purer and more salubrious water might be obtained, that we recur to details which can scarcely, we apprehend, be perused without a shudder.
Between Chelsea Hospital and London Bridge, it was ascertained by the commission, that the contents of more than 100 common sewers emptied themselves into the Thames. Furthermore, instead of this mass of filth being, as is popularly thought, carried away and swept into the ocean by every ebb of the tide, it appears that after being carried about thirty miles by every ebb tide, the same water returns by the flood, so that a constant flux and reflux of the abomination is established. “ The Thames,” observes Mr. Mills in his evidence, “is neither more nor less than the common sewer of London, so far as receiving the contents, which on the north side, as numbered by the commissioner of sewers, are 99, and on the south, 46; indeed there is no other recipient; and this commixture is conveyed by the ebb a few miles downwards to the east, then by the flow repassing London a few miles upwards to the west, but neither reaching Teddington or the sea.t Here also we may adduce the evidence of Mr. Armstrong, who addressed the following statement to the commissioners.
“On a survey of the common sewers I found them to be as follows: from Chelsea Bridge to Vauxhall 17; from Vauxhall Bridge to Westminster 11 ; from Westminster to Waterloo 30; from Waterloo to Blackfriars 10, including Fleet ditch, which is 12 feet wide; from Blackfriars to Southwark 6, including the great Wallbrook sewer, 7 feet by 4,
* Report of the Commissioners, p. 77.
† Ibid. p. 61.
which has been known unable to discharge its filth ; Southwark Bridge to London 7; and from London Bridge to the Tower 7, including the Iron Gate sewer, 7 feet by 4. And from the enormous quantity of filth constantly discharged by those sewers bearing a large proportion, comparatively speaking, to the pure water of the river Thames, which flows over the top of Teddington Lock, it is impossible it can be wholesome, and improper it should be used for any domestic purposes, containing, as it does, the impurities of upwards of a million of people, and the whole refuse of this vast metropolis.
That the sewers are continually discharging their horrid contents into the river Thames no one can attempt to deny; and that the progress of the tide up the river defies any complete discharge, so that, in fact, the filth is carried so far down the river, and again by the tide brought so far back; and the only difference is, that it has undergone a more complete mixture, rendering its impurities less visible, but not less abominable.”
Independent of this source of pollution, the commission recognised other causes which, if not as disgusting, are as much calculated to render the water of the Thames unfit for domestic purposes. These are enumerated in the report as arising from,
"1. The increase of certain manufactories, amongst which those of coal gas are the most prominent, polluting the river by their refuse.
“2. The constant passage of steam-boats, by which is stirred up the mud, which is impregnated, in certain districts, with noxious qualities.
"3. The circumstance that refuse animal and vegetable matters, which were formerly removed for the purpose of manure, are now, owing to the increased supply of water, indiscriminately washed into the sewers, and conveyed into the river Thames. Hence the water of the river is more polluted after heavy rains, which force down the contents of the sewers, than after a continuance of dry weather, when its course is sluggish or altogether arrested.
“4. The great increase which has of late taken place in the population of London and of its suburbs on every side, which must be attended by a proportionate augmentation in the quantity of extraneous matter carried down into the Thames.
“5. The quantity of dead animals thrown into the river. “6. Its contamination by offal from slaughter-houses."
The commissioners sum up this part of their report by stating that they “have anxiously sought for means by which the nuisances in question might be remedied or abated; but it is manifest, that if the general quality of the river water be objectionable within the whole of that district whence the supplies for the metropolis are drawn, any remedies for local evils become comparatively unimportant; and although these diminish as we ascend the river, we apprehend that their influence, with that of the other contaminating causes, will be more or less felt nearly to the extent to which the tide reaches." +
Thus much as to the causes of the deterioration of the river Thames; but the New River and the river Lea — the waters of which supply other sections of the metropolis — are exposed, although not in so great degree, to the same contaminating influences. Thus, the New River is exposed to the sewage and filth of all the villages and houses for a distance of thirtyseven miles.
In the evidence before the parliamentary commissioners, Mr. Mylne stated,
" That cow-keepers turn a hundred cows at a time into a field; and they immediately run to drink, and tread down the banks and discolour the water.
"That they cannot prevent persons from bathing in the river. “That there are twenty-five places where the drainage runs into the river and discolours it.
“That they have in many instances endeavoured to pass the drainage and sewage under the river, by sewers into the natural drains of the country, and in some places this operation has been opposed, it being asserted that the New River has, by custom for two hundred years, been the receptacle of the drains and sewage water, and that we have now no right to divert it from that channel. Furthermore, Mr. James Mills, in his evidence, observed, • Report of the Commissioners, p. 66.
t Ibid. p. 10.
That from the great length of the river, its motion is very slow, and that it cannot, therefore, be pure ;' to which he adds that the whole quantity the river brings is not sufficient for the supply ; and the remainder, which he calculates at one third, comes from the Thames.” *
The same objections apply with equal force to the waters of the river Lea, which runs through very extensive marshes, on which large numbers of cattle feed. After heavy rains in every wet season the marshes overflow; the water becomes stagnant; and when the flood subsides, it returns to the stream, carrying with it large quantities of earthy and vegetable matters, together with the manure left by the cattle, and other impurities. That the New River Company may do all in its power to mitigate these evils, by appointing “walksmen ” to prevent trespass, and by inserting gratings, at a distance of every five or six miles, to impede weeds and other extraneous substances, we doubt not; but no provision of this description, no care, however vigilant, can remove these physical causes of deterioration. Nor is this all. It would appear by the most irrefragable evidence, that the impurities of these rivers which supply the metropolis are constantly undergoing aggravation; and this we regard as a point of great importance, because, if it be clearly established that these waters are subjected to a progressive and increasing deterioration, surely the public is in a manner under a prospective obligation to renew its consideration of the subject.
We have seen, in the early history of London, the Thames described as being a stream as salubrious, and as plentifully supplied with fish as the Wye or the Severn, or as any other of the “happy streams of England," which fertilise our valleys, and contribute to the health and comfort of the peasantry; but it is manifest that as the population increased, and as the city became gradually the site of commercial speculation, the causes of deterioration to which we have adverted were brought into operation. Hence, in the reign of Henry VIII., an act of parliament was passed, prohibiting “ the misordering of the said river, by casting in of dung and other
but we shall pass cursorily over this and other enactments to the same effect, in order that we may meet the question of the progressive deterioration of the water; and on this subject we shall adduce the evidence only of practical men, whose testimony is limited to mere observation of matters of fact, which are infinitely more valuable than all the theories and speculative views which ingenuity might suggest.
“ Mr. W. Butcher, a fish salesman, and agent for Dutch vessels, importing large quantities of eels, stated to the commission, that twelve years ago one of these vessels seldom lost more than thirty pounds weight of eels in a night, in coming up the river, but that the water had become so bad, that as it flowed through the wells in the bottom of the vessels it poisoned the eels; and the quantity which died was more than three times the quantity marketed. And he gave in a list, tabulated thus, of eight Dutch vessels, which arrived at Gravesend in July, 1827, having full cargoes of healthy eels : “ De Vrienderschap, K. B. Tapman, master, 15,000 lbs ; marketed only 4000 lbs. alive.
De Het-dorp Gaastmeer, R. H. Visser, master, 14,000 lbs. ; marketed only 4000 lbs. “ De Jonge Jan Meini, P. V. Ter Dee, master, 13,000 lbs. ; marketed about 3000 lbs. alive. “ De Vissery, A. L. Wild Chub, master, 14,000 lbs.; marketed about 4000 lbs. alive. " De Twee Jong Vreuwen Gerril, A. Dykstre, master, 13,000 lbs.; marketed about 4000 lbs. alive.
“ De Twee Ge Broeders, A. Oversea, master, 13,000 lbs.; marketed about 4500 lbs. alive.
“ De Nederland Kroonprince, J. P. Jelsma, master, 14,000 lbs. ; marketed about 4000 lbs. alive.
De Vierge Broeders, G. Nieuwland, master, !4,000 lbs. ; marketed about 5000 lbs. alive.”
And he further adds, that of late several vessels have all their eels at one tide, the weather being clear and fine at the time.t • Report of the Commissioners, p. 16.
+ Ibid. p. 69.