Blue plaques of Enfield - Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) by Ellie Sales

10th April 2022

Blue plaques of Enfield -  Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) by Ellie Sales Sir Hugh Myddelton a civil, water and mining engineer gained notability for supplying clean water to the City of London with the New River scheme, transforming the health and quality of life of London’s citizens. 

Today, on the corner of Cunard Crescent and Bush Hill Road, N21 a blue plaque marks the location of Bush Hill House, built by Myddelton so that he could live close to the works while the New River was built. His home later became Halliwick School For Girls, a Special School for disabled girls. By 1984 the school had moved out and the building was demolished to make way for the development we see today.

Sir Hugh Myddelton Myddelton was born in Denbigh, North Wales and moved to London in 1576 at the age of 16 to become an apprentice Goldsmith. Records show that he was an Alderman of the
City at that time with local records stating that he was a merchant adventurer. He was born in the middle of Queen Elizabeth I reign, during a period when a world of international trade was opening up for England beyond the known boundaries of Europe. He embraced the trading opportunities, travelling alongside his brothers who were linked with the East India Company. He was also an active member of the Society of Merchant Adventurers which contributed to the growth and wealth of the City of London.

At the time London was a dirty city. Filth and poverty made it unpleasant and unhealthy. Its water was contaminated and there was little distinction between sewage and drinking water. London’s early infrastructure was incapable of supporting the growth as thousands flocked, quite literally to try and make their fortunes in London.

In 1605 both Hugh and his brothers served on a Parliamentary Commons Committee to consider how to bring fresh water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire to central London where lack of clean water was the major impediment to growth of the City. By 1609 the Corporation of the City of London adopted the findings of the Parliamentary Commons Committee to construct a 38 mile long (New River) to bring clean water from springs in Hertfordshire into the City. A major engineering project for its time with minimal automation, it was dug-out and constructed between 1609-1613. Originally running completely above ground, it relied on gravity to convey the water southwards into London. The total fall on the 62 km (39 miles) of the original course was only 5.8 metres (approx. 10cms per km). Over 200 labourers were paid the equivalent of 4p a day to dig out the New River channel. Water was brought to the city streets via hollowed-out elm pipes and skilled carpenters received the equivalent of 6.5p a day to wharf the banks and erect bridges. The total cost of the construction was estimated at £18,500, about £5million today.

At the time, the scheme was met with considerable opposition from landowners who worried that it would devalue their farmland, however the New River was strongly supported by the King James I, and opponents were eventually paid off with generous handouts.

The impressive feat of engineering was completed in 1613, the year Hugh became Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company and his brother Thomas became Lord Mayor of London. A formal opening ceremony took place at the Round Pond in Islington; this is sited near the present New River Head, just below Sadler’s Wells.
Enfield’s blue plaque is not the only public commemoration recognising Sir Hugh Myddelton’s contribution.

In 1845 a statue of Sir Hugh was made by Samuel Joseph and placed in a niche on the north side of the then newly built Royal Exchange. And, in 1862 a marble statue of Sir Hugh, sculpted by John Thomas, was erected along with a drinking fountain on Islington Green.  

Sir Hugh died on December 10 1631, he is buried in the church of St. Matthew Friday Street, London where he had been church warden.
The New River still remains an essential part of London's water supply with up to 220 million litres a day being carried along the channel daily for treatment, which represents some 8% of London's daily water consumption.

See the magazine for more pictures here.