The Troubled Water Question
MY excellent and eloquent friend, Lyttleton, of Pump Court, Temple, barrister-at-law, disturbed me on a damp morning at the end of last month, to bespeak my company to a meeting at which he intended to hold forth. ' It is,' he said, 'the Great Water Supply Congress, which assembles to-morrow.'
'Do you know anything of the subject? '
'A vast deal both practically and theoretically. Practically, I pay for my little box in the Regent's Park, twice the price for water our friend Fielding is charged, and both supplies are derived from the same Company. Yet his is a mansion, mine is a cottage; his rent more than doubles mine in amount, and his family trebles mine in number. So much for the consistency and exactions of an irresponsible monopoly. Practically, again, there are occasions when my cisterns are without water. So much for deficient supply.'
'Is your water bad?'
'Not absolutely unwholesome; but I have drunk better.'
'Now then, Theoretically.'
'Theoretically, I learn from piles of blue books—a regular blue mountain of parliamentary inquiry instituted in the years 1810, 1821, 1827, 1828, 1834, 1840, and 1845—from a cloud of prospectuses issued by embryo Board of Health, that of the 300,000 houses of which London is said to consist, 70,000 are without the great element of suction and cleanliness; I find also that the supply, such as it is, is derived from nine water companies all linked together to form a giant monopoly; and that, in consequence, the charge for water is in some instances excessive; that six of these companies draw their water from the filthy Thames;—and the same number, including those which use the Lea and New River water, have no system of filtration—hence it is unwholesome: that in short, the public of the metropolis are the victims of dear, insufficient and dirty water. Like Tantalus of old they are denied much of the great element of life, although it flows within reach of their parched and thirsty lips.
And by whom? By that many-headed Cerberus—that nine gentlemen in one—the great monopolist Water Company combination of London! Unless, therefore, we bestir ourselves in the great cause for which this numerous, enlightened, and respectable meeting have assembled here this day—'
'You forget; you have only two listeners at present—myself and my spaniel. I can suggest a more profitable morning's amusement than a rehearsal of your speech.'
'Your theoretical knowledge is, I doubt not, very comprehensive and varied. But second-hand information is not to be trusted too implicitly. Every statement of fact, like every story, gains something in exaggeration, or loses something in accuracy by repetition from book to book, or from book to mouth.'
'Granted; but what do you suggest?'
'Ocular demonstration. Let us at once visit and minutely inspect the works of one of the Companies. I am sure they will let us in at the Grand Junction, for I have already been over their premises.'
'A capital notion! Agreed.'
The preliminaries—consisting of the hasty bundling up of Mr. Lyttleton's notes for the morrow's oration, and the hire of a Hansom cab—were adjusted in a few minutes.