Kingston University Seething Wells
- Original design
- James Simpson, 1852
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Kingston University preserves a significant heritage site at one of its halls of residence, Seething Wells. This site has a number of listed buildings related to the Lambeth and Chelsea Water Works which previously occupied the site in 1852.
The waterworks buildings were designed by the architect James Simpson. He was the fourth son of Thomas Simpson, engineer of the Chelsea, and later Lambeth, water companies. James learned engineering from his father, inheriting the position of Chief Engineer when he died in 1823. When the Metropolis Water Act was passed in 1852, Simpson was responsible for relocating the Lambeth and later the Chelsea Water Works upstream to Seething Wells in Kingston upon Thames. The Lambeth Works were completed in 1852 and used four steam engines with 600 horse-power each to provide ten million gallons of water to their consumers.
The Seething Wells heritage site occupies the full site of the Chelsea Waterworks as well as a portion of the Lambeth Works to the south west. The site is separated from the River Thames by the Portsmouth Road and the filter beds which occupy the bank. The River is, nonetheless, an important part of the buildings’ settings as their historic and architectural significance is largely based on their historic relationship to the Thames. There are Victorian terraced houses to the north east of the site which homed employees of the waterworks and are therefore also a significant element of the site’s setting.
During the 19th century, the Thames served both as London’s water supply and its main means of water disposal. As the population of London exploded it put huge pressure on the ancient sewage system and the Thames became severely polluted.
The unsanitary conditions meant that disease was rife and cholera epidemics struck London hard. It was a horrendous disease and victims died a quick, painful death. People knew their water supply was polluted and campaigned for cleaner water but most people, including those in authority, still believed that cholera was spread through the air and not through water.
During the third epidemic of 1854, Dr John Snow was a GP in Covent Garden. He already had a theory that cholera was waterborne. He tracked the cholera deaths in the Soho Square area and found that those people dying of cholera were all drinking from the same pump in Broad Street. Over 500 people died in 10 days. Snow, with the help of the Reverend Henry Whitehead managed to have the handle from the pump removed.
Snow produced his famous ‘Ghost Map’ showing the deaths by location and their position relative to the Broad Street Pump. This and his subsequent statistical analysis has led many to see this as the start of the science of epidemiology and the move towards better public health.
After this outbreak had subsided Dr John Snow researched further in Lambeth and compared people drinking the clean water piped from Seething Wells with the water extracted at Battersea. He proved that people who drank from clean water did not fall ill from cholera. The clean water from Surbiton played a major role in proving that cholera was and is waterborne.
The materials at the site are predominantly yellow stock brick with stone detailing. Simpson employed a dominating monumental architecture of castellated towers and blind arcading. The buildings vary from a somewhat squat Romanesque style, to Italianate design and even Gothic Revival.
The Lambeth Muniments Building and the Uncovered Coal Store are both in the Romanesque style, built of stock brick with sandstone dressings. The Coal Store has a square tower with a crenelated parapet. The Chelsea Coal Store and the Chelsea Office are both in the Italianate style, the former with a square tower, the latter with a tall, narrow campanile tower, possibly a ventilation shaft for the railway tunnel. The Lambeth District Offices and Stores Building is Gothic in style but uses the same materials of stock brick with sandstone dressings.