History Home Page
Royal Windsor Home
The Royal Windsor Website Forum
thread about this subject
and Eton Waterworks
G G Cullingham
C.Eng, ARICS, MRTPI
The last Borough Engineer of Windsor
of the Works
Windsor Corporation waterworks was taken
over in 1967 by the newly formed Middle Thames Water Board, exactly
900 years after William the Conqueror's Domesday Book recorded
two mills at Eton, valued at 20 shillings (£1.00) yearly,
and also a fishery with a rent of 1,000 eels. There was no New
Windsor until about 1070, and one mill was probably at Romney
Island, the other at Tangier Island. The mill at Romney Island
gave place in 1681 to The King's Engine, to supply water to Windsor
A certain John Yarnold, whom we know
only as a 'plummer of Worcester', obtained a lease for 500 years
from Windsor Corporation and commenced building the first waterworks
above Windsor bridge in 1697; but this flooded Eton, and his
first successful works was completed in 1701, downstream on the
island known as Tangier, apparently since that town formed part
of Catherine of Braganza's dowry when she became the unhappy
wife of Charles II. Queen Victoria's statue marks the site of
the proposed cistern, 20 ft square, into which river water was
to be pumped in 1701 from wooden pipes.
In 1732 John Davis, who built the Curfew
Tower clock, took over the lease, at two capons a year rent,
and undertook to build a new cistern in Dean's Cloister, St.
George's Chapel. The rent later became £1 per annum, because
it was difficult to assess the income tax on two capons. John
Davis's father and Roger Cutler sent a Memorial to the Dean of
Windsor in 1770 with a magnificent plan attached, showing St.
George's Chapel, the wooden supply main and the distribution
pipes serving 'The Rev Dean and Cannons and Singing Men of Windsor'.
The works changed hands several times in the eighteenth century,
and from 1747 the Cutler family held control on and off until
1888 when the works were taken over by the Corporation. The first
Mr. Cutler was a plumber, like Yarnold.
River water, simple if not pure, was
supplied from the works to the towns of Eton and Windsor until
the middle of the nineteenth century. It lathered better with
the soap of the day than did the hard well water, and from Victorian
times the waterworks used the soft river water in its boilers
until electric power was first installed in 1915, just before
filters and the first chlorination plant were installed. This
had to be done in a desperate hurry, because bacteriological
analysis (used for the first time by the army) showed that the
water was dangerous. For several months after that all drinking
water had to be boiled.
Four hundred houses were supplied in 1849. Of the 3,000 houses
in the area 2,000 did not have a piped supply in 1865, and even
in 1883, following a series of epidemics, and some caustic reports
in The Lancet, one-third of the 14,000 population were still
without a piped supply. The proportion without a water supply
in Clewer was higher still: the Corporation had been able to
prevent the last Mr. Cutler who owned the works from extending
his mains or incurring 'unreasonable' capital expenditure, as
this would have increased the value of the works and therefore
the sum payable on taking over.
Mr. Cutler had obtained an Act of Parliament
in 1868, which confirmed his right to open up the streets, and
stopped other suppliers extending their mains into Windsor. Whether
any other water undertaking was in a position to invade Windsor
seems doubtful-the most likely one, at Staines, had been without
water for fifty-six hours at Easter 1884 and for forty hours
a few days later. Slough was then no danger-water had been supplied
from Eton to the southern part of its area of supply, Willowbrook,
for 100 years, Slough then being short of water.
Private wells were a problem. In the
clay areas of Clewer they yielded little, and in the gravel of
Windsor they tended to be replenished from adjacent cesspools.
This may explain Mrs. Beeton's recipes 'take five gallons of
Spring water' and Shakespeare's laundry women going to Datchet
at 'Whiting time', i.e. in the spring, to wash the clothes.
During the last Mr. Cutler's time (1847-88),
wooden pipes that only lasted twenty years or so gave place to
pipes made of cast-iron. Some of these early iron pipes are still
in use after more than 100 years. When a fire occurred, the wooden
pipes were exposed by digging and cut by a fireman's axe, providing
both a supply of water and a sump for the engine suction. Fire
plugs of wood were used with the first cast-iron mains-the plugs
usually blew out when the road was dug up by the firemen (signs
saying 'Fireplug' can still be seen), and a standpipe for the
hose supply was then rammed into the hole. If the fire was at
night, a messenger was rushed to the works at Eton to alert the
watchman. To the latter's credit, it is on record that he usually
awakened the manager before the messenger arrived. The waterworks
steam pumps were stopped from 10pm to 6am, the boiler fires generally
being banked. The manager would send for the engine man, light
the boilers if necessary, and rush off to the scene of the fire.
Today we take it for granted that water
is always available to premises connected to the main supply,
but this was not so in the nineteenth century. A letter written
by John Cutler on 25 June 1834, 'to the inhabitants who are water
tenants', tried to answer complaints from people who apparently
found nothing coming from their taps on occasion and who doubted
if they were getting proper value for their money.
For nearly the last two years I have
spared neither expense nor trouble in the endeavour to procure
you a wholesome and efficient supply of water; and the persons
whome I have employed to conduct the improvements, have lately
reported to me, that if every inhabitant will conform to the
usage of London, and provide himself with a vessel capable of
containing the quantity which is usually required for two days,
(so that I might have a range of about thirty hours to fill the
cisterns,) there can be no question but that you will be thoroughly
provided, except something quite unforeseen might arise.
It will hardly be credited, that many
of the inhabitants have no cistern at all, and others only a
small barrel, quite incapable of containing the necessary quantity;
I must therefore candidly inform the respectable individuals,
to whom I am under much obligation for their kindness in taking
water, that it will always be impossible to supply them more
than once a day, and that sometimes a day might pass, when it
may not enter some houses; but this cannot be thought a hard
case, when a little enquiry will convince them, that in London
no person has the Water laid on their premises oftener than three
times per week, and in some districts of the Metropolis not always
twice a week. An idea is still entertained, that the town is
charged too much for water; I beg, therefore to state, including
the Lower Mews, the Inns, and other establishments, there are
but sixty premises in the town which are assessed at a penny
per day, and upwards; every other house in the town varying according
to size, being charged only from a guinea to thirty shillings.
Persons acquainted with Water Works,
are well aware that the sum I receive is far from paying Five
per Cent, upon the capital embarked. In London, an eight-roomed
house invariably pays 36 shillings (£1.80) per year, and
on no occasion is the Water granted more than three times per
My Collector will go round the Town on
the 3rd and 4th July to take the Rents; when I shall esteem it
a favour of those persons who may not be at home, if they will
have the kindness to leave their money with their servants. From
1st August, 1832, every shilling I have received has been spent
in improvements, and I have now still to pay several hundred
pounds, within a very short period.
The intermittent supply meant that ground
water and filth was drawn into the empty mains during the night.
Parts of Windsor were incredibly foul in mid-Victorian times,
according to a Poor Law authority report dated 1842, and a report
to the General Board of Health in 1 849. An intolerable stench
arose from black stagnant ditches, some houses had no drainage
and several houses forming one row had two storeys below the
level of the street. Portions of the lower regions of the town
constituted one vast cesspool into which all the privies discharged.
There was no main sewerage system until 1852 and the prevalence
of 'fevers' is easily explained. The connection between water
supply and health was not understood. As late as 1900, Dr Bulstrode
lectured the council and officers on housing and sanitation,
including the need to clear filth from around houses, and his
report following the Government enquiry into sanitary conditions
in Windsor at that time is a remarkable document.
The works appear to have been often in
an appalling condition. One report in 1912 refers to the steam
plant being extended to the limit, and to the machinery shaking
the buildings and being unable to meet the demand, a chronic
condition, especially on washdays in the summer and when gardeners
were busy watering their plants.
The manager of the waterworks maintained
a feud with the town surveyor, because the latter used mains
water for street watering and thus became an obvious scapegoat
for any shortage. Boilers could not be taken out of service for
cleaning, geysers blew up for lack of water, and the artisan
engineer, one Smith, went mad, no doubt under the strain. He
certainly had no relief from June 1911 until April 1912. Eventually,
after dismantling the wrong pumps for repair, he had a breakdown
in 1915. There were only two men left-the steam-roller driver
at night and a plant attendant by day-to keep the works running.
Smith was given a ticket to Bexhill, apparently by the Mayor,
his wife was persuaded to put in his resignation, and he was
paid a gratuity of £10 10s 0d.
In 1942 Smith's successor, Bailey, had
to retire, having suffered a serious eye injury in 1941 when
breaking up the ancient cast iron water wheel for urgently needed
wartime scrap metal. This wheel was probably installed in 1770,
but had been little used since 1911.
When the first world war began in 1914,
it was feared that spies would poison the wells. The chief constable
had them sealed and at 6 pm each day an armed guard, consisting
of three men, marched in and stayed until 6 am. The guard was
withdrawn two months later. During the second world war the six
pump attendants at Eton joined the Home Guard and were issued
with rifles for a short period. These were some of the arms used
in training Eton College cadets. Two high-explosive bombs wrecked
part of Eton College close to the works and incendiary bombs
nearly destroyed another part. 'The pyrotechnic effects of these
bombs', wrote B. J. W. Hill in Eton Medley, 'were greatly
admired by the boys.'
Plant and Equipment
In 1888 when the waterworks was transferred
to the Corporation, the pumping plant consisted of two Fourneyron
outward-flow turbines, built in 1 873 by Stothert & Pitt
of Bath, to the design of William Henry Cutler, at a cost of
£9°° each; an ancient water wheel operating two
pumps, a grasshopper engine operating three-throw plunger-pumps
6 in in diameter, and an old horizontal high-pressure engine
driving three-throw pumps of 10 in diameter. A new cut was made
from the mill-head stream to supply the turbines with water.
Cutler's turbines still drive the 9 in
double-acting pumps. They are 9 ft 6 in in diameter outside,
8 ft inside, 1 ft 6 in deep, and have 52 buckets. They weigh
6 tons and produce 42-33 hp with 4 ft of fall.
The water wheel built by Yarnold was
apparently replaced in 1770 by a 'sort of Paisley Wheel'. In
1849 Cresy stated: 'It is a cast iron wheel Z5 ft in diameter,
10 ft 1 in in width and of the ordinary power of 36 horses, raising
the water 250 ft high. There are three sets of pumps each having
three barrels, one set is 4 in in diameter and the other two
6 in. The length of the stroke is 2 ft and in ordinary working
they make 20 strokes a minute.'
The adjacent Tangier Mill was dual purpose
until 187I. It drove the flour-mill machinery and pumped water
as well. It was undershot, 22 ft in diameter, 10 ft wide, with
80 blades, 40 on each side. It drove one pump of 13 in diameter
with a 4 ft 10 in stroke, and another of 12 in in diameter, with
a 3 ft stroke. The wheel made an average of four revolutions
a minute and with a good head of water it was able to drive the
two pumps against a pressure of 50 lb. per sq. in. It was pulled
down in 189I, but the channel leading water to it had been dammed
in 1888 prior to replacing the old mill by another turbine installation.
When the river was in flood, the operation
of the works was seriously affected, and a small beam-engine
of the grasshopper type, supplied with steam by two Cornish boilers,
was used; it burned 2 tons of coal in a six-hour working day.
In 1888 the grasshopper operated three-throw plunger-pumps 6
in diameter. A horizontal high-pressure engine drove three three-throw
pumps 10 in diameter.
In 1890 the old engines and Cornish boilers
were replaced by a compound Worthington pumping engine, with
a new boiler of the locomotive type, having a capacity of 500,000
gallons in 24 hours. In the following year two more turbine pumps,
one Cutler's spare and the other of the same type and capacity,
were installed, each turbine driving a pair of 9 in double-acting
pumps similar to the original installation.
In 1899 the steam plant was extended
by the addition of a Cornish boiler, 18 ft long and of 5 ft 6
in diameter, with a working pressure of 100 lb. per sq. in, in
conjunction with a compound-duplex, non-condensing pumping engine
built by Hayward, Tyler & Company. These were put into the
house formerly occupied by the old engine. A further Hayward,
Tyler engine, this time with a jet condenser, was erected in
1904, and replaced by electric centrifugal pumps in 1915, when
all steam plant was scrapped.
The system was unique in many respects,
as the pumps delivered direct into a closed system of mains,
with no reservoir until 1960. The turbines are still in daily
use, except in times of flood or drought, when electric or diesel
standby pumps are used. Control of the turbine pumps is based
almost entirely on delivery pressure, output being varied by
regulation of the river flow to each turbine by a system of rods
and levers operating ring gates inside the turbines.
In 1971 daily use of the turbines ceased,
and the works were closed each night.
I am indebted to the Hon Archivist
and Custodian of the Records of the Dean and Canons of St. George's
Chapel, Mrs. M. F. Bond, OBE, MA, FSA, and the Hon Assistant
Archivist, Mrs. Shelagh Bond, MA, FRHistS, for information used
in this article.
The Royal Windsor Website Forum has a discussion
thread about this subject
History Home Page
Royal Windsor Home
To contact us, email