3 South Essex Waterworks Co

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The South Essex Waterworks Company

South Essex Waterworks started in 1860 with the offer of excess water issuing from local chalk quarries at Grays, owned by a Richard Meeson, into the river Thames. A copy of his offer letter seen below. Similar springs of water issued forth at Erith, Northfleet and Purfleet, the water coming from an underground flow caused by rainfall  on the North Downs, and Dunstable and Royston Downs.


Copy of the offer letter from Richard Meeson Quarry owner of water from the quarry 


Preamble to the First SEWW Act

Grays Pump test 001 (2)

Testing the Pump at Grays Quarry  1863

The South Essex Waterworks Company was founded and incorporated in 1861, at Grays near Thurrock by the owners of the local chalk quarries from which a voluminous amount of potable water issued that was channelled to waste in the River Thames. The owners, Meeson, Hinton and Company, promoted a bill in Parliament, to form their own Company to supply an area of 103 sq miles from Grays in the east to East Ham in the west, the Thames in the South to Brentwood in the North.

SE Dist Area 2 001 (2)

This included part of the Statutory area of the East London Waterworks Company that at that time had no supply, and no opposition was made. The works was constructed in 1862 for £18,500 and was first pumped into supply in June 1863, supplying 400 premises. A substantial amount of water still ran to waste in the Thames. Following on various Acts were passed allowing  wells to be sunk at Roding, Seven Kings, Ilford, Dagenham and Stiiford . Also the aquisition of Linford Well and Pumping station.

Langham Treatment Works 001 (2)

Langham Treatment Plant

Langham Schematic 001

With an increasing population, a joint bill with Southend Waterworks Company, was promoted, which was withdrawn due to opposition by Local Authorities in the Company’s area. Following Southend Waterworks successful application to abstract water from Langford , a Bill was then passed in 1928 allowing abstraction from the River Stour at Langham. Hardly had the Scheme begun operation when the drought years of  1933,1934,and 1935  indicated reliance could not be placed on the river supply alone and the Company proceeded wit their Act of 1935  which [provided a large storage reservoir at Abberton in conjunction with an additional abstraction point on the River Stour at Stratford St Mary. The Stour Schemes of 1928 and 1935 ensured a safe reliable yield of 23 million gallons per day.

A successful application was then made, and an Act was passed in 1928 for the South Essex Waterworks, to abstract 12 million galls per day from the River Stour at Langham, 6 miles north of Colchester. Water was pumped into a sedimentation reservoir of 32 million gallons, from where it gravitated to the rapid gravity filters for removal of suspended matter. Then to ten slow rate filters of 10 acres in area. After filtration, chlorine and ammonia were added to ensure bacteriological purity. After flowing into a small covered reservoir the water was pumped through a 32in steel main, some 14 miles to a covered reservoir at Tiptree 230 ft above OD. The water is then pumped 10 miles up to a covered reservoir at Danbury, 357 ft above OD, then flows by gravity 14 miles through a 34in main to a large covered reservoir at Herongate near Brentwood. This supplies the Companies district via a 36in and two 27in mains
However as the borehole water in North Essex previously supplied, was hard with no natural softening, there was no requirement for softening treatment, allowing just rapid and sand filtration and residual chlorination. The scheme came into operation in 1932.
Following rapid growth of population and factories, a further supply was estimated to be required by 1940.

The water treatment and quality control  came under Dr G U Houghton , who had previously been at Langford.


Langham Laboratory 

Abberton Res 001

Abberton Reservoir  Pre 2013

Layer Schematic 001

Water was abstracted from Stratford St Mary, one and a half miles downstream of Langham.
Abberton Reservoir was constructed, by an earth dam across Layer Brook , 4 miles in length and 1 mile in width, holding 5,700 million gallons. The reservoir was protected by mines during the second world war against German flying boats, and the buildings camouflaged. In the 1980’s there was a preponderance of eels and a license was  granted to a company to net and sell them. This did not however deter poachers from using an inflatable boat to lay nets and collect them under cover of darkness. Eels being in big demand.  Local Police added the reservoir to their patrols, to catch and deter the poachers.


One of the Mines laid in Abberton Reservoir

Layer Camaflage 001

Camouflaged Pumping Station at Layer de la Haye

Bomb Damaged main at Colchester 001

Bomb damaged water main in Colchester

A treatment works was also constructed at Layer de la Haye  close to Abberton reservoir, which came into use in 1941. Both Langham and Layer Treatment works benefited from the Ely-Ouse scheme of 1972. Water was taken from the Cut Off channel at Denver Sluice, which fed into the Wash, and flowed though a tunnel to Kennett. It was pumped from Kennet to Kirtling brook a tributary of the River Stour.  The water then flowed down the River Stour towards Langham, however water was extracted at Wixoe pumped to a balancing tank at Hempstead and then flowed down a pipeline to an outfall on the River Pant, a tributary of the River Blackwater leading to Langford.

1 ely ouse transfer diagram 001 (2)

This was followed in 2013 to 15, by Abberton Reservoir being enlarged by increasing the depth by 10 ft or 3.2 m to a capacity of 9,006 million gallons, at a cost of £150 million.  Additionally  the transfer scheme was enhanced with two new underground pipelines and increasing the pumping capacity of the Kennet pumping station in Cambridgeshire. Each pipeline is 16km long and 1.2 m in diameter. Water is also transferred directly from Wormingford on the Stour to Abberton.

ely revised 001

Two new pipe lines added to Ely Ouse System

O2 20AUG10-Abberton Reservoir (2)

The enlarged Abberton Reservoir 2015

Distribution problems were less than those in softened water areas, but slow sand filters were prone to penetration by the Asellus or water louse, or less frequent the shrimp, which occasionally appeared in varying numbers in  when people ran baths. Additionally, in 2017 major algal growths blocked the filters severely, reducing the output at Layer, which had to be compensated for by water from Hanningfield reducing the level in Hanningfield reservoir drastically.

Assellus 001
Gammarus 001

Fresh water shrimp

Asellus aquaticus or water louse

These were removed by dosing with a minute dose of pyrethrin and flushing the mains out through fire hydrants

Abberton was also the site of a bird ringing station.

Ducks Ringed Abberton 001
Birds ringed at Abberton 001

Bird count in 1889/90


The enlarged reservoir which has improved bird hides and visitors centre was opened by Sir David Attenborough in 2015. It is classified as an Special Protection Area, and run in conjunction with the Essex Wildlife Trust.

Chigwell Treatment Works


In the early 1960’s the the Thames Water Company, then the Metropolitan Water Board decided to construct a Tunnel across London, from Hampton to their works in the Lee Valley. As the tunnel size was determined by constructional requirements the carrying capacity was in excess of if a pipe had been laid. The South Essex W.C. took advantage of this and negotiated for a bulk supply of untreated water from 5 mgd to 20 mgd in stages, with a 30% peak over these figures for seasonal demand. Construction of the pipelines began in the autumn of 1962 and the treatment plant at Chigwell Row in spring 1963. A 20 million gallon Treated water reservoir to be built at Heaton Grange to smooth out demand of the treated water. The design of the treatment works was a conventional double sand filtration preceded by  Vertical flow sedimentation tanks.A 45 inch main supplying a 7.5 million gallon untreated water storage reservoir. The Works started supplying water in March 1965, with a maximum flow of 26 mgd.


Mr Ian Burfield, Chemist in charge, at the Chigwell Laboratory.

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