Brentford's Tower Blocks

The Naming of the Tower Blocks on the Kew Bridge waterworks site

by Winifred M Heard

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal, 3 (1982)

The Grand Junction Water Works Company was formed in 1811 and first took water from the Thames at Chelsea, but in 1835 it obtained an Act of Parliament to construct a new works near Kew Bridge and an inlet pipe was laid from the Thames. Owing to the foul state of the river, an Act of Parliament prohibited the taking of domestic water from the Thames below Teddington Lock after 1855 and then water was brought from Hampton to be filtered and distributed at the Kew Bridge Works. In 1902 the Grand Junction Water Works, with other London companies, was taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board. In 1958 the use of Ashford Common Works adjacent to the Queen Mary’s Reservoir enabled Kew Bridge filter beds to be dispensed with and the site became available for housing. Here six tower blocks of flats were built and named Boulton, Cornish, Fraser, Harvey, Maudsley and Wicksteed to commemorate some of the engineers and engines connected with the Water Works.

Henry MAUDSLAY (1771-1831) was one of the most important early mechanical engineers and founded the firm of Maudslay Sons & Field. They supplied the first engine to work at Kew Bridge in 1838.

Matthew BOULTON (1728-1809) with his partner, James Watt, did much to develop the use of the steam engine for pumping, and founded the firm of Boulton & Watt. One of the first engines at the Kew Bridge Works was built by Boulton & Watt for the Chelsea Works of the Grand Junction Company but was moved to Kew in 1839.

Many of the engines formerly used by water works, including Kew, are known as CORNISH engines because they are of the type developed at the beginning of the nine¬teenth century to pump water from the mines in Cornwall.

Thomas WICKSTEED (1806-1871) of the East London Waterworks and consulting engineer to the Grand Junction Water Works visited Cornwall in 1837 and realised the efficiency of the Cornish engines used to drain the mines. As a result he was responsible for the introduction of this type of engine to the London water works and the adaptation of the Boulton & Watt and the Maudslay engines at Kew to the Cornish cycle. Wicksteed also designed the large 90” engine supplied by the Copperhouse Foundry of Hayle, Cornwall to the Kew Works in 1845.

HARVEY & Co of Hayle, Cornwall built two Cornish engines for the Kew Works in 1859 and 1871. These, together with the other engines mentioned, are preserved at Kew Bridge Works as a Steam Museum.

Alexander FRASER designed the Water Tower at the Kew Bridge Works. The Tower is still a landmark standing nearly 200 feet high. It was built in 1861 after severe frost early that year had damaged the old standpipe.

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