Stroll along the river and into Woolwich and there is much to remind you of the social mutualism of the C19th which led to the introduction of clean water and sewerage systems. In the mid C19th Woolwich was more typical of some of the northern industrial towns because of its lack of sewers. In the 1830s an outbreak of cholera in the town resulted in 40 deaths. The Royal Commission on The Health of Towns 1843 commissioned a specific report on the sanitary state of Woolwich. Two years later The Woolwich Town Commissioners started the process of installing sewers.
Just outside the town is Crossness Pumping Station which was part of Joseph Bazalgette’s radical sewerage system for London. As well as improving the city’s health it had the beneficial effect of improving the smell. The Big Stink of 1858 brought London to a standstill because of the stench coming from the human excrement in the Thames.
The presence of the military in Woolwich helped to improve the water supply with the formation of reservoirs. Long Pond dates back to mid C18th and was located west of The Rotunda. Mulgrave Pond also dates back to mid C18th but was brought into public ownership when purchased by the Board of Ordnance 1805. A national system of water supply in public ownership lasted until 1989 when it was privatised by the Thatcher Government.
About a mile from Woolwich’s waterfront is St Thomas More Church on the Progress Estate. Built in the 1940s it is unusual in that it is sited in an incline. Up until the last few years this did not present a problem but now it is subject to frequent pluvial flooding. The sewers within the church ground swell, the metal lids lift and effluence floods into the grounds and at times into the church itself. Father Richard Plunkett has been advising his congregation that he should be renamed Noah. He has had no help from Thames Water in resolving the problem. If he wanted to take his complaint further and speak to the owners he would need to travel to China, Australia, Abu Dhabi, Canada and Holland. British Telecom pension fund is the only owner based in the UK. Macquaire is the principal owner, with 25% ownership, with twelve others. Thatcher’s vision of the expansion of small shareholders lasted momentarily and now only those who can deal in billions of dollars can own British utility companies. Did the privatisation of water lead to greater choice, competition and savings for the consumer? The answer is straightforward; no. It is a monopoly and Londoners pay more for their water than they should. Payment is going to remote unaccountable bodies over whom we have no control. More concerned with their shareholders than helping their consumers. So, where does this leave ordinary folk like Father Richard? Local MP, Clive Efford, has now got involved and with his intervention Thames Water have promised a visit to assess the problem.