Sunday, September 11, 2011

Metropolitan Water Board

The Metropolitan Water Board was founded in 1903 to bring the nine private water companies supplying water to London under a single public body. The members of the board were nominated by the various local authorities within its area of supply. A Royal Commission had reported in 1899 on the need for such controls. The board was abolished in 1974 and control transferred to the Thames Water Authority, now Thames Water.

The water supply in the London area was regulated by local acts and royal charters on a piecemeal basis from 1543. Through amalgamation, by 1830 there were five companies supplying water north of the Thames, and three to the south of the river. Following complaints, a Royal commission was set up in 1827 to investigate the quality of supply. The commission found that the water was of poor quality and cleanliness, and was in need of improvement. A select committee endorsed this view in 1828 and recommended that a scheme should be devised by Thomas Telford, to supply the whole metropolis with clean water. Telford reported in 1834, and, despite several outbreaks of cholera, little action was taken until the Metropolis Water Act 1852 introduced regulation of the supply companies; including minimum standards of water quality for the first time. A further Royal commission reported in 1869 and recommended that the supply should be taken into public management. The Metropolis Water Act 1871 introduced further regulation, but fell short of taking the supply into public control. During the course of a further series of commissions, set against the backdrop of continuing supply problems, the county councils of Middlesex, Essex, Kent, and Surrey indicated they would not accept any scheme that allowed the London County Council authority over their areas in respect of water supply. It was therefore decided that the Metropolitan Water Bill would create an entirely new body to supply water to the greater London area.

The board was created by the Metropolis Water Act 1902. The first Metropolitan Water Board retired on 1 June 1907, with a new board being nominated every three years thereafter. As local government changes took place, the nominating bodies changed. The board's area of supply comprised of the entire county of London and much of Middlesex.

The various public water boards and local authority water undertakings in England and Wales were reorganised by the Water Act 1973. Ten large Water Authorities were established based on river basins and catchment areas. Accordingly, in 1974, the assets of the Metropolitan Water Board passed to the Thames Water Authority governed by a 60 person board, and covering the area from the source of the Thames in Wiltshire to the Thames Estuary.

By Mark Matlach

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