Our history – water pipes

  • 20
  • Jan

Delve deeper into the history of our borough with our series of posts in collaboration with Islington Museum and the Local History Centre. All objects mentioned are on display or held at these venues. Read the full series here.

New River water pipe, 17th century

By the 1600s the water supply in London had become contaminated with sewage and diseases but a revolutionary seventeenth century engineering scheme used wooden pipes like this one to bring fresh water to people in London.

Sir Hugh Myddelton was responsible for building the open waterway in the seventeen century, which winded its way along 40 miles ending next to the Sadler’s Wells at the New River Head. The project cost around £18,000 at the time and employed 600 workers for four years.

From New River Head hollowed out elm trunks such as this one were used to pipe the water into the city and then small lead pipes took water into residents’ homes.

Elm was chosen as it is resistant to water and it grows tall and straight – great for water pipes. One end of the trunk was tapered so that it could fit into the next trunk then the pipes were lashed together with leather straps.

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