The History of the London Water Industry, 1580-1820 [book review]

Van Lieshout, Carry (2018). The History of the London Water Industry, 1580-1820 [book review]. The London Journal, 43(3) pp. 317–318.



London’s early nineteenth-century water supply network was exceptional in terms of size and scale. Unlike other major European cities such as Paris, this network reached individual private houses, and by 1820 about 85 per cent of London houses received piped water. Leslie Tomory’s thoroughly researched and engaging book charts the development and growth of London’s water supply networks from their inception in the late sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century. The History of the London Water Industry shows how these networks grew organically over time, often without a clear strategic plan. Tomory weaves the development of new technologies, the consumer revolution, network management, demand factors, evolving corporate finances, and changeable political and institutional support into his narrative on how London’s water supply developed into an integrated urban infrastructure network that became an example to the nineteenth-century network city. The builders of London’s early gas networks explicitly referred to the water companies as an example of successful urban infrastructure, and European and North American cities drew inspiration from London in implementing their own water supply and drainage systems. While recent years have seen various histories of such nineteenth-century urban infrastructure projects, Tomory’s contribution here lies in exploring how the London water companies started to create large-scale water networks several centuries previously.

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