Treasures from Thames Water's 400-year history

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Thames Water has accumulated a wealth of material throughout its 400-year history which is valued by staff and customers.

This information has been collated and is available to borrow for exhibitions, site displays, and museum collections.

By far the oldest artefacts held within the archive are the wooden water mains or trunk mains from the 16th century.

Timbers were usually cut to 8ft with a seven-inch bore, and one end sharpened to a point and inserted into the lumen of another to create a join. This join was often strengthened with an iron band to prevent the wood splinting under pressure and during construction.

Wooden Pipes

Elm was chosen as it was considered to be more durable underground and in wet conditions, while the bark was retained to help prolong the life of the pipes. Timber pipes were still in use well into the 18th century, but by 1810 had finally been overtaken by replacements in iron.

Among the more interesting exhibits is one recovered from Latton Pumping Station in 2004. It’s a portable chlorination kit made by Wallace and Tiernan for the Metropolitan Water Board, one of Thames Water’s predecessors.

Charles F. Wallace and Martin F. Tiernan founded the company in the USA with the invention of a device that could disinfect water by chlorine gas, termed the ‘chlorinator’.

In 1913 on February 22, President George Washington’s birthday, they installed a chlorinator in Jersey City’s Boonton Reservoir and in 1914 a solution-feed chlorinator was installed at Hagerstown, Maryland.

Portable Chlorination Kit

Other technology combined dry and liquid chemicals for water treatment and the equipment needed to apply chlorine gas in laundries and textile mills to control slime in paper mills and bleaching.

Other items produced, although slightly more diverse, include home and office battery clocks, precision pressure measuring equipment, marine lanterns and an automatic system that produced bread dough at a rate of 6,000 loaves per hour.

Thames Water’s portable chlorination kit is currently on loan to the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management for a display in its company HQ in London.

Among the other artefacts catalogued are a meter for testing the rate of flow of oxygen through a breathing apparatus, a prod to test whether there is high voltage electricity within a cable, and a Dobbie McInnes indicator, which analyses engine performance and calculates its efficiency.

The first indicator was created in 1790 by James Watt for low speed steam engines and as train diversity developed, so did the indicator.

The Dobbie McInnes design was developed in Glasgow in 1890. Thomas McInnes and John Clark Dobbie focused on their design to include a sheath on the cylinder with vulcanite, as a protective safety measure.

During its foundational years, 1921-1937, the company was branded ‘Dobbie McInnes and Clyde’ which was later shortened to Dobbie McInnes which continued in production till the late 1950s.