This article was originally published in the London Historians members newsletter........
I live opposite a very stunning waterway, The King George V Reservoir in Chingford....unfortunately I can only see its banks from my windows and the sail of a boat or a windsurf during warm weekends.
I have looked at its banks, walked part of its perimeter, been inside its pump house and admired its beauty from local hills but until a few weeks ago I did not know what a significant stretch of water it was and the pomp, ceremony and threat of attack that its inauguration involved. On an open day I visited the Search Room of the Waltham Forest Archive at Vestry Road Museum and asked to see any documentation they had about the reservoir. Several packets emerged and in one was a programme of events for the Inauguration and tucked inside another leaflet... a detailed itinerary for invited guests.
|The Reservoir today|
The King George Reservoir as it was at first known was part of a scheme to divert the River Lea in the Lea Valley area to provide fresh water for the ever growing population of London. At this time the land came under the remit of the East London Waterworks Company but following a decision by Parliament in 1902 this and seven other companies became the Metropolitan Water Board.
The Board's Chief Engineer was Mr. William Booth Bryan and with the Chingford Reservoir he planned London's largest reservoir with a capacity of 3 billion gallons of water. It is over a mile in length and is divided by an embankment in three sections through the centre as it was feared high winds would cause waves and flood the nearby roads! The overall cost of the entire scheme in the Lea Valley amounted to some £3,000,000.00 with the Chingford Reservoir costing £550,000.00 alone. The pumping station at the North End of the Reservoir in Enfield would house 5 Humphrey Pumps that were named after their inventor H.A. Humphrey which were able to deliver 180 million gallons each 24 hours. This was a state of the art build in terms of the engineering and the processes used in its construction. The Metropolitan Water Board agreed to use these new pumps if Humphrey was willing to forfeit £20,000.00 if the pumps were not successful, there was also another forfeit if coal consumption exceeded a certain limit. Luckily he was successful on both counts.
The first sod was cut by Mr. E.B. Barnard, Chairman of the Board of the Metropolitan Water Board on 11th April 1908 but it was to be another five years before the reservoir was finally inaugurated. By 1910 a million and a half tons of earth had been excavated and used to create a promenade along the banks of the River Lea. There were over 1,200 men employed in it's building ranging from labourer to skilled engineers.
|Ceremony of Cutting the First Sod 1908|
The Chingford Reservoir was finally completed in 1912 but the Inauguration date was set for Saturday 15th March 1913 and it was to be a lavish affair attended by King George as well as Queen Mary. Barnard invited over 300 guests to celebrate this auspicious occasion with a luncheon, wines and the accompaniment of the full band of the Grenadier Guards. Special Marquees were erected at the Pump house site in Enfield and detailed instructions were sent to the specially invited guests with information on attire and transport arrangements. The King and Queen did not attend the luncheon but arrived just after 4.30pm for prayers and special presentations.
|The Order of Events for the Day|
This was the King and Queens’s first engagement since Monday 10th March for the State Opening of Parliament during which on their carriage ride along The Mall five Suffragettes pushed their way forward to present a petition to the King on women's Suffrage. The women were subsequently arrested and it was with this in mind that a decision was taken to line the route on the following Saturday with 3,000 police officers. Major Clive Wigram, His Majesty's Private Secretary visited the reservoir for a full rehearsal on 13th March and special precautions were taken so a there were no untoward incidents with suffragettes
King George and Queen Mary left Buckingham Palace at 2.00pm in a horse drawn carriage for the 14 mile journey to Enfield. The roads through this part of the route were decorated with banners and awash with cheering crowds as the procession made its way through. At several points along the route stops were made and local borough dignitaries were introduced to the King and Queen. For many people this was the first opportunity for them to actually see them after the 1911 Coronation.
Not all local dignitaries were clamouring for this introduction and one man Mr Will Thorne, Labour MP for West Ham South declined his invitation. In a letter to the Town Clerk of Stratford he states:
"I quite recognise that the opening of a new waterworks reservoir by their Majesties means a great deal more to the East London people than they perhaps recognise. If I thought that their Majesties' coming through the East of London and receiving an address of welcome at Stratford would in any way be a means of mitigating the deep-rooted and chronic poverty in the borough, I should feel it a pleasure to be on the platform and accept the invitation"
He subsequently wishes everyone involved a good day and trusts it goes ahead safely! At Leytonstone the Royals transferred to a motor vehicle and it was from here most of the 3,000 police officers were positioned.
After lunch and visits to the Pump house the invited quests were requested to take their seats in specially constructed grandstands by 4.15pm to await the arrival of the Royal Party. King George arrived at the reservoir named after him at 4.32pm. They were greeted upon their arrival by Edward Broughton Barnard and several addresses followed. The King then set the pumps in motion by means of a key and the reservoir began to fill. King George unveiled a commemoration stone and after a cup of tea inspected the Humphrey Pumps with Queen Mary. The Majesties and their entourage left Chingford at 5.28pm by car and arrived back at the Palace at 6.45pm.
|The Metropolitan Water Boards Notes for Attendees|
I can only imagine this ' brilliant spectacle' as it was called by one newspaper but through reading newspaper reports and looking at items in the archive I can get a sense of the scale of the occasion. I was also lucky enough to find a file of photographs lodged at the London Metropolitan Archives which really do show how grand a day it was!
|Plan of Marquees and Grandstands|
|King George V inspecting the troops|
|The Pump House|
|Inside the Pump House, the Humphrey Pumps|
|The Bishop of St Albans|
|Mr. E.B. Barnard, Chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board|
|The Reservoir filling up|
|king George V and Queen Mary|
The King George V Reservoir is still providing clean water to London 102 years later and despite the Humphrey pumps no longer being used to provide its power it remains an engineering marvel.
Vestry House Museum, Search Room, Waltham Forest Archive
British Newspapers Online
Final Photographs - Thames Water Utilities Limited, deposited at The London Metropolitan Archive; ACC/2558/MW/C/35/279