In 1840, a government commission recorded: "There are few large towns in England in which the supply of water is as inadequate as at Bristol." The following year, the Society of Merchant Venturers, a collection of prominent Bristol businessmen, established the Merchant Venturers Water Works. With Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a backer, the group sought to supply water to Clifton and the wealthier parts of Bristol.
In 1845 a rival group formed. They were concerned that these plans were too restrictive and would not provide for the poorer, more densely-populated areas of Bristol. Prominent local citizens involved included William Budd, a pioneer in sanitation; Francis Fry, the industrialist and philanthropist; and George Thomas, the Quaker merchant who founded Bristol General Hospital. Their plan was to supply the whole city, not just Clifton, by bringing in fresh water from the Mendips.
The government weighed up the plans of the two groups, and narrowly came down on the side of the new group. On the 16th of July 1846 the Bristol Waterworks Company was formally established by an Act of Parliament. Only fifteen months later, the first 'sweet clear waters' travelled from Chewton Mendip, via Barrow and the engineering feat of the 16km Line of Works conduit, into the heart of Bristol.
Today Bristol Water now supplies well over a million people. Whilst the Mendips, particularly Chew, Blagdon, and Cheddar Lakes, are vitally important to the local water supply, over half of the supplied water is piped from the Severn via the Sharpness Canal.
There are 6,382 km of local water mains - a far cry from the 16km of the original Line of Works!
-submitted by Paul Green