East & West Molesey

A Dictionary of Local History

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1972


In the 1840s there were several epidemics of cholera in London. This disease was soon after found to be spread by contaminated water. In 1852 Parliament passed an Act prohibiting the taking of water from the Thames for household consumption below Teddington Lock. At that time there were several private companies supplying the Metropolis with water. These then had to move their intakes and plants upstream and to filter the water. Three companies moved to Hampton on the Thames opposite West Molesey, and two to Seething Wells, between Long Ditton and Surbiton. The latter two, the Lambeth Company and the Chelsea Company, built intakes, filter plants and pumping stations there. They soon regretted their choice of site. Being below the outfalls of the rivers Mole and Ember, the Thames here is extremely turbulent, especially in times of flood, and much mud and filth was sucked into the intakes. In 1871 the Lambeth Company obtained Parliamentary sanction to enable it to shift its intake above the river Mole and chose a site in the north-west corner of West Molesey. Here two storage reservoirs were built and the water was piped to the Ditton works for treatment. An oval-shaped brick conduit, approximately 5ft.9ins. x 4ft.9ins., was constructed between West Molesey and Long Ditton, and a pumping station erected by the river to lift the water into the reservoirs. The flow from the reservoirs to Long Ditton is by gravitation. To discourage the people living in the districts through which the conduit passed from opposing the Bill in Parliament the water company agreed to do various remedial works free in the streets at the same time. In this way a group of cottages and a public house near the church in West Molesey were demolished and the road widened and a stream was culverted and the road widened through the village of East Molesey. Water first flowed through the conduit on 6th August 1872.

The Chelsea Company soon followed the Lambeth in moving its intakes above the Mole. After an abortive attempt to get a site by Cigarette Island it secured land by the Lambeth Company's premises, partly in West Molesey parish and partly in Walton. In 1875 a pumping station, intake and four storage and subsiding reservoirs were built, and pipes laid to Long Ditton.

In order to increase the storage capacity, which in times of drought was much needed, the Lambeth Company was granted permission in 1896 to build two further reservoirs between their existing ones and Hurst Road. Two years later the Southwark and Vauxhall Company, whose works were at Hampton, received an Act to construct two large reservoirs on the site of the Apps Court estate, which was partially in West Molesey. These were officially inaugurated on 13th April 1907.

By this time the water supply to London had been consolidated by buying out the old private companies and forming the Metropolitan Water Board. The duplication of facilities was rationalised. One large new pumping station was built just over the boundary in Walton parish to supersede the two small ones by the river in West Molesey and to fill the new reservoirs. The Water Board also built a new reservoir in East Molesey on the site of Island Farm, between the rivers Mole and Ember. This was opened by the Lord Mayor of London on 4th November 1911, and called Island Barn Reservoir.

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