The Troubled Water Question
'Now,' said my companion, sharpening his pencil, 'to go into the question of supply.' He then unfolded his pocket soufflet, and brought out a calculation, of quantities derived, he said, from parliamentary returns and other authorities more or less reliable:—
|New River Company||20,000,000|
|West Middlesex Company||3,650,000|
|Grand Junction Company||3,500,000|
|East London Company||7,000,000|
|South Lambeth Company||2,500,000|
|South London Company and Southwark Company||3,000,000|
|"Catch" rain water (say||1,000,000|
|Making a total quantity supplied daily to London, from all sources, of||56,500,000|
'An abundant supply,' said an engineer eagerly, ' for as the present population of the metropolis is estimated at 2,336,000, the total affords about 24 gallons of water per day, for every man, woman, and child.'
'Admitted,' rejoined Lyttleton; 'but we have to deal with large deductions; first, nearly half this quantity runs to waste, chiefly in consequence of the intermittent system. I live in a small house with proportionately small cisterns, which are filled no more than three times a week; now, as my neighbours have larger houses and larger reservoirs, the water when turned on runs for as long a time into my small, as it does into their capacious cisterns, and consequently, if my stop-taps be in the least out of order, a greater quantity descends the waste pipe than remains behind. This is universally the case in similar circumstances.'
'We supply water daily, Sundays excepted,' remarked the Engineer.
'Then you are wiser than your neighbours. But every inconvenience and nearly all the waste, would be saved by the adoption of the continuous system of supply. Secondly, a large quantity of water is consumed by cattle, breweries, baths, public institutions, for putting out fires, and for laying dust. The lieges of London have only, therefore, to divide between them some 10 gallons of water each per day; and, as it is generally admitted that a sixth part of their habitations are without water at all, the division must be most unequally made. That such is the fact is shown by your own figures—your customers get 25 gallons each per day, or more than double their share. For this excess, some in poorer districts get none at all.'
'That is no fault of the existing companies. As sellers of an article, they are but too happy to get as many customers for it as possible; but poor tenants cannot, and their landlords will not, afford the expense. If the companies were to make the outlay necessary to connect the houses with their mains, they would have no legal power to recover the money so expended—nor indeed is it clear, that were they inclined to run the risk, the parties would avail themselves of it. In one instance, the Southwark and Vauxhall Company offered to construct a tank which would give continuous supply to a block of 100 small houses, at the rate of 50 gallons per diem to each—if the proprietor would pay an additional rate sufficient to yield 5 per cent. On the outlay, such additional rate not exceeding one half-penny per week for each house, but the offer was declined.'
'That is an extreme case of cheapness on the one side, and of stupidity on the other,' said the barrister. 'Other landlords will not turn on water for their tenants, because of the expense; not only of the " plant," in the first instance, but of the after water-rent. I find, by the account rendered to the House of Commons in 1834, that the South London Company (since incorporated with the Southwark, as the "Southwark and Vauxhall," —the very Company you mention,) charged considerably less than any other. The return shows that while they obtained only 15s. per 1000 hogsheads; the West Middlesex (the highest) exacted 48s., 6d. for the same quantity; consequently, had the houses of the foolish landlord who refused one half- penny per week for water, stood in north- western instead of southern London, he would have had to pay more than treble, or a fraction above three half-pence per week.'
'Allowing for difference of level,' I remarked, 'and other interferences with the cheap delivery of water; the disparity in the charges of the different companies, and even by the same company to different customers, is unaccountable: they are guided by no principle. You have mentioned the extreme points of the scale of rates; the remaining companies charged at the time you mention, respectively per 1000 hogsheads, 17s., 17s. 2d., 21s., 28s., 29s., and 45s. The only companies whose charges are limited by act of parliament are the Grand Junction, the East London, the Southwark and Vauxhall, and the Lambeth. The others exact precisely what they please.'
'And,' interposed Lyttleton, 'there is no redress: the only appeal we, the taxed, have, is to our taxers, and the monopoly is so tight that—as is my case—although your next door neighbour is supplied from a cheaper company, you are not allowed to change.'
'The companies were obliged to combine, to save themselves from ruin and the public from extreme inconvenience,' said our informant; ' during the competition streets were torn up, traffic was stopped, and confusion was worse confounded in the districts where the opposition raged.'
'But what happened when the war ceased, and the general peace was concluded? ' said Lyttleton, chuckling. 'To show how ill some of the companies manage their affairs, I could cite some laughable cases. When the combination commenced, some of them forgot to stop off their mains, and supplied water to customers whom they had previously turned over to their quondam rivals; so that one company gave the water, and the other pocketed the rent. This, in some instances, went on for years.'
Here the subject branched off into other topics. It is worthy of notice that the conversation was carried on by the side of the enormous Cornish engine, that was driving 4400 gallons per minute 218 feet high.
'It is marvellous,' I remarked, ' that so much power can be exercised with so little noise and vibration.'
'That's owing to the patent valves in the pump,' said the stoker.
Taking a last look at the monster, we went outside to view the stand-pipe. Being, we were told, 218 feet high, it tops the Monument in Fish Street-hill by 16 feet. Within it is performed the last stroke of hydraulic art which is needed; for nature does the rest. The water, sent up through the middle or thickest of the tubes, falls over into the open mouths of the smaller ones—(which most people mistake for supports)—descends through all four at once into the conduit-pipe, and travels of its own accord leisurely to London. In obedience to the law of levels, it rises without further trouble to the tops of the tallest houses on the highest spots in the Company's district. In its way it fills a large reservoir on Camden-hill.
The iron conduit-pipe ends at Poland-street, Oxford-street, and is 7 ½ miles long.