Seething Wells Water - Surbiton’s Hidden Heritage







James Simpson



James Simpson features heavily in the history of clean water and in the story of the waterworks at Seething Wells. He was a civil engineer to the Chelsea and Lambeth Waterworks Company.

Simpson first worked for the Chelsea Waterworks in the 1820s. They took water from the River Thames for the residents of the Westminster area. During that time, people were becoming frustrated with the purity of the water. It was heavily polluted. In 1827 Sir Francis Burdett, MP, petitioned The House of Commons and alleged that

"the water taken from the River Thames at Chelsea, for the use of the inhabitants of the western part of the metropolis, being charged with the contents of the great common sewers, the drainings from dunghills, and laystalls, the refuse of hospitals, slaughter houses, colour, lead and soap works, drug mills and manufactories, and with all sorts of decomposed animal and vegetable substances."  As a result, the "said water [is] offensive and destructive to health, ought no longer to be taken up by any of the water companies from so foul a source."

In 1828, the artist William Health published a scathing caricature called Monster Soup, reflecting the public's distaste for the water being supplied from the River Thames by London companies. He did not mention the Chelsea Company but his cartoon seemed aimed in its direction. 

A year later in 1829, under the guidance of James Simpson, Chelsea Waterworks Company became the first to introduce slow sand filtration in order to purify their river water. The filter was designed by Simpson and consisted of successive beds of loose brick, gravel and sand.

Later, the Lambeth Water Company decided to investigate sourcing water outside of London. They employed Simpson to find a suitable site and engineer the construction.  The decision was made in 1847 and under guidance from Simpson, the new water works at Seething Wells were opened in 1852. A few years later, Simpson was employed again by the Chelsea Water Company to construct their new water works adjacent to Lambeth’s at Seething Wells.

Simpson lived adjacent to the Seething Wells Water Works in Westfield Lodge. He and his family stayed there for many years.

James Simpson

1799 - 1869

William Heath


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - James Simpson