Inventory Site Record

New River Head (Islington)

Brief Description

The New River Head was the terminus of the New River, constructed in the early C17th to bring fresh water to London from Hertfordshire. Prior to this there were ponds on this site where fishing and duck shooting took place. The New River ended here in a small circular reservoir, the Round Pond, with a larger outer reservoir built in the early C18th. The reservoir was drained when the Metropolitan Water Board took over the New River Company in 1904 and by 1920 the MWB had built its new headquarters here, with the Laboratory Building added by 1938. After it became Thames Water, the headquarters moved to Reading and the buildings here were converted into private apartments. The formal gardens of the MWB became private communal gardens, their landscaping including fountains and rose gardens, now known as the Nautilus Garden. Remnants of the New River Head are at times visible from a viewing platform accessed via Myddelton Passage.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Nautilus Garden
Site location:
Rosebery Avenue/Myddelton Passage
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Housing/Estate Landscaping
Open to public?
Opening times:
Garden of Nautilus Building; 8am-4pm (winter), 7pm (summer). Site visible from viewing platform
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Tube: Angel. Bus: 19, 38, 341, 153, 456.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.thameswater.co.uk

Full Site Description

Sir Hugh Myddelton, a wealthy goldsmith and merchant, was responsible for building the New River, a man-made water conduit originally 39 miles long that was constructed to bring fresh water from springs 20 miles away in Hertfordshire to supply London’s growing population. Myddelton had been given the authority to carry out the ambitious engineering project in 1609 and in 1611 he persuaded King James I to contribute the finances necessary to complete the project. The King agreed on condition that he received half the profits and that it would be constructed through his palace grounds at Theobalds. The New River was completed in 1613 with a formal opening ceremony taking place at the New River Head with a play attended by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London. The New River Company was created by Charter in 1619, with Sir Hugh Myddelton as its first Chairman. The New River ended in the Round Pond, a small circular reservoir built suitably high to enable water to be piped by gravity to houses in the City and its vicinity, initially through 400 miles of hollowed-out elm pipes. A larger outer reservoir was constructed in the early C18th and by 1820 the wooden pipes had been replaced by iron ones. Until 1892 the water flowed here in an open channel, but thereafter it was transported in a covered pipe.

The Metropolitan Water Board took over the New River Company in 1904 and drained the Round Pond, only a fragment of which remains; the Water House was also demolished and by 1920 the company had built its new headquarters building on part of the site of the Round Pond, extending it in 1934-5. In 1936-38 the Laboratory Building was built for testing water quality, designed by Hall, Easton and Robertson. In 1946 the water supply ceased to flow here when the New River stopped in Stoke Newington at the East Reservoir (q.v.). In 1974 the MWB became Thames Water, which later moved its headquarters to Reading in 1987. Features remaining on the site include the New River Head Building of 1919 , which remained offices for Thames Water until 1993, and still contains the New River Company's Oak Room of 1693. It was converted to private apartments in 1997/8. The Laboratory Building has also been converted to private apartments. Also remaining is the windmill base dating from 1708 used to pump water to the upper pond at Claremont Square (q.v.); an Engine and Pump House of 1767 to house steam engine pumps; and to the rear of the New River Head building is a C14th Chimney conduit. This was formerly in Queen Square (q.v.), and was dismantled and re-erected at New River Head in 1927. The formal gardens of the MWB are now the private communal gardens for private residents and include fountains and rose gardens.

However, the New River Head site still has associations with London's water supply through the London Ring Main and the Rising Groundwater Scheme. The New River continues to carry up to 48m gallons of water for treatment daily, around 8% of London's daily consumption. The Ring Main, which houses the deep shaft and pumps that raise treated water from the Thames Water Ring Main tunnel below, is a major part of London's water distribution network, encircling London and connecting to water treatment works in the west. Another operational feature is a borehole that is part of a scheme to reduce rising groundwater beneath London by abstracting water from the aquifer and transferring it by pipe to Stoke Newington East Reservoir. Since 1992 Thames Water with other partners have worked to develop the New River Path, which was completed in 2004, a 28 mile footpath following the course of the river from Hertfordshire to Islington.

Sources consulted:

Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); 'New River Path' leaflet, Thames Water, 2003; Mary Cosh, 'The New River', Henry Ling Ltd, 1988

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ312827 (531350,182777)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Site management:
1613; 1938
Listed structures:
LBII*: Oak Room. LBII: New River Head Building, Windmill Base, Engine and Pump House, Inner Pond revetment, Laboratory Building. Chimney conduit
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
New River
Tree Preservation Order:
To be checked
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

New River Head

Photo: Sarah Jackson

'Source of the New River at Chadwell' reproduced from Edward Ford, 'A History of Enfield in the County of Middlesex', 1873

Click a photo to enlarge.

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