HL Deb 13 February 1840 vol 52 cc169-76
The Marquess of Westminster

rose, in consequence of a notice he had given on a former evening, and also in consequence of a notice he had given at the latter end of last Session, to bring before their Lordships a question with regard to railroads, and the better supplying of the Metropolis with water. Their Lordships might think it extraordinary that be should couple the two questions together; but he thought before he sat down he should be able to prove that his proposal to bring both these subjects before a select committee, which he should conclude with moving for, was the correct and necessary course. His proposition had nothing to do with the general system of railroads, but it was his intention, in the first instance, to have the attention of the committee directed to the very great danger which attended the present state of railroads. When they considered the immense heights of the banks over which the railways ran, and the comparatively slight manner in which those banks were constructed, their Lordships must be aware, that if any railway carriage should by accident run out of the railways, the consequence must be of the most appalling description. He thought, therefore, that if by having recourse to the advice of eminent engineers, after a full examination into this important subject, means could possibly be devised by which this danger might be averted, it was an object most desirable to be attained. With this view, he intended to propose that the question should be referred to a select committee, by whose labours he thought a most important service might be rendered to the country. Fortunately, hitherto, no serious accident of the description he had mentioned had occurred, for whenever the carriages had been driven off the rails, it had happened on low grounds, where the roads were level with the lands on either side. He had conversed with some very intelligent engineers on this question, and many of them thought it was practicable to adopt a system by which accidents of the nature he apprehended might be prevented. That, however, would form the subject of inquiry before the committee. Having thus briefly stated his object with regard to the railroads, he would now address himself to the other branch of his motion—namely, the appointment of a committee to inquire into the means of obtaining an ample supply of pure water to the inhabitants of the metropolis. Ever since he had turned his attention to both the subjects embraced by his motion, he had made up his mind not to take any share in, or have anything to do with, the direction of either railway companies or water companies, because he wished to stand entirely aloof from all suspicion of interest, bias, or prejudice, in the views he might entertain respecting them; and if their Lordships should agree to the appointment of a committee, he should endeavour to select such noble Lords to act upon it as should stand in a similar situation to himself, his wish being that the committee should be formed entirely of persons having no interest whatever in those companies. The question respecting the supply of pure water for the metropolis was undoubtedly one of much greater importance, affecting, as it did, the health and lives of the inhabitants, than that relating to railways. It was a subject also which had already engaged the attention of their Lordships as well as that of the other House of Parliament; but, notwithstanding an enquiry before a select committee of the House of Commons had taken place, and a report made thereon, still nothing satisfactory had been come to upon the subject. Their Lordships were aware that the great object was to obtain a sufficient supply of pure water. Although the supply might be sufficiently obtained from the river Thames, yet magnificent as that river in itself was, it was hardly possible to obtain pure water from that source. Many attempts had been made by the great monopolies; which the water companies really were, to obviate this grievous evil. The Chelsea Water Company had formed a large filtering bed composed of sand, and which to a certain extent had, he believed, been successful, but he was afraid it had not succeeded altogether. The Grand Junction Company was so situated, that it was impossible to obtain water in a stale of purity, for they had introduced their "dolphin" near one of the roost offensive drains that could possibly be found. Whatever efforts, therefore, the company might make, it must be obvious, that so long as that drain existed in the vicinity of their works, no pure water could be supplied by them. When this subject was discussed on a former occasion, the company undertook to make a very large expenditure, to the extent, he believed, of 100,000l., with a view to remove the objection then urged, by carrying pipes up the river as far as Kew, and obtain a supply of purer water there; and in this attempt the company, he believed, had succeeded to a certain extent. Another company—called the Grand Junction and West Middlesex Company—had adopted a similar plan, and had likewise, to a certain degree, succeeded. But it was impossible to suppose that, even after all the money that had been thus expended, or after all the pains taken by the use of powerful machinery for throwing up the water to a hundred feet in height, anything like pure and wholesome water could be obtained within such a distance of London from a stream like the Thames, into which hundreds of the most offensive drains were constantly pouring their pernicious contents. If, then, any means could be devised by which a purer description of water could be obtained, their Lordships must feel that, for the sake of the health and happiness of the metropolis, it was most desirable that those means should be ascertained and adopted. To what, then, had their Lordships to look for a supply of pure water? To nothing but the streams that surrounded this great metropolis. There were many streams within the circuit of ten or twelve miles, and particularly one on the north side of the metropolis, from which there was a very great fall. Undoubtedly if a supply of pure water could be obtained within the metropolis itself, it would be all that their Lordships or the inhabitants could require. And he was aware, that some year or two ago a company had been formed for the purpose of furnishing water from springs under the metropolis itself, by sinking what are termed "Artesian wells," and if all which that company professed to accomplish could be verified, it would completely answer every purpose that could be desired. But he very much feared, that the plan was impracticable. Another company—he was not sure of the name, but he believed it was called the London and Westminster Water Company—had also put forth a prospectus for doing what would undoubtedly be a great blessing to the metropolis—that of bringing not only pure water, but an ample supply of it to the inhabitants. This company stated, that they had taken a piece of land between two and three miles in extent one way, and a mile and a half the other, at a place called Bushy Heath, near Watford, and within ten or twelve miles of London, where, by boring, water of a very fine and pure description might be raised to within eighteen feet of the surface. This land they stated was upwards of 160 feet above the level of the city of London, and, consequently, the water would flow without any sort of machinery being employed. Thus the great expense which was now incurred by the existing companies would be avoided. The water he had seen, and it was certainly of very excellent quality. He understood that this water was raised through a soil composed of light sand and gravel; that the springs were very near chalk hills, and that the quantity that could be supplied was sufficient to meet all the wants of the metropolis. For the supply of water thus obtained at Watford, a reservoir was to be formed at the Eyre Arms, in the neighbourhood of St. John's Wood—a place, no doubt, well known to their Lordships, since it was the spot selected for the principal rehearsals of the splendid "passage of arms," afterwards celebrated with so much magnificence and so gallant a display of modern chivalry at Eglintoun. The distribution thence to every part of the metropolis would be attended with little difficulty and little expense. It was true, that if any plan could be adopted for cutting off the sewers which now emptied themselves into the Thames, the supply of water from the river might be considered pure enough to meet the wants of the inhabitants; but he apprehended, that that, even if it could be done at all, would be accomplished only at a vast expense. Upon the whole, it appeared to him that the only chance of obtaining a wholesome and proper supply of water would be from some of the springs which take their rise to the northward of the metropolis. The noble Marquess concluded by moving for the appointment of "a Select Committee, to take into consideration the present state of railroads, in regard especially to the means of security against unforeseen dangers: also to take into consideration the present supply of water to the metropolis, and the state of the sewers."

The Marquess

of Lansdowne, understanding that the noble Marquess did not intend to pledge himself or the House to any remedial measures that might be suggested, either with regard to the dangers of railway travelling, or to the inconveniences resulting from the nature of the supply of water to the metropolis, thought that if the inquiry now proposed were not attended by any positive advantage—of which he owned he did not see any very great probability—it certainly could not be accompanied by any possible disadvantage; and, for that reason, he should not feel it necessary to oppose it. It was almost impossible that some accident should not take place on railroads. From he variety of soils, from the variety of surfaces on which they were built, from the prominent and overhanging cliffs of ground by which they passed, and from a variety of other circumstances, accidents, and some of an awful character, were almost sure to occur. It was the duty of the Legislature, however, that they should interfere as little as possible with the public safety. It was their object to diminish and guard against the danger, and he had no doubt, that the committee would recommend the best course to be adopted for the accomplishment of such a purpose. As to the other subject, the supply of water to the metropolis, which was not directly or necessarily connected with the former, the same committee would, no doubt, be enabled justly to consider it and advise the best course for adoption, if the we topics were kept perfectly distinct. The supply of water was, unquestionably, a subject which, with the former, deserved the constant attention and observation of the Legislature. There were few people who did not feel the comforts of good water, and who, consequently, were interested in the question. As to the monopoly of the water companies, though it might be said, that such monopoly existed with their own consent and approbation, and though they had thus tied up, as it were, their own hands, yet certainly the subject required looking into. This was also, therefore, a proper subject for the investigation of a committee. If the question as to sewers were introduced into the same committee it would lead to great discussion, but it was for his noble Friend to decide how far that subject should be introduced.

The Earl of Aberdeen

thought that the noble Marquess had completely failed to establish any kind of connection between the three several subjects to which he proposed to call the attention of a committee. And, in addition to that, he must say, that he did not think that the noble Marquess had made out any sort of ground for the first part of his inquiry, namely, the discovery of some kind of security against unforeseen dangers upon, railways. He hardly knew how such an inquiry was to be entered upon. The noble Marquess himself admitted that none of the kind of accidents that he contemplated had as yet occurred. With what advantage, then, could their Lordships enter upon an inquiry as to the probable means of meeting a probable evil? He apprehended that the only result of their embarking upon such an inquiry would be to excite a groundless alarm in the public mind as to the security of this particular mode of conveyance. In the second part of the inquiry proposed by the noble Marquess, namely, the supply of water to the metropolis, he (the Earl of Aberdeen) should not offer any objection, feeling that it was one of great interest and importance; but, at the same time, he could not help observing that the noble Marquess had stated nothing very definite in support of his proposition, even upon that point.

The Marquess of Westminster

explained, that with regard to railways, his object was to ascertain whether it would not be possible to introduce some kind of machinery which should prevent the possibility of such accidents as he dreaded upon high embankments.

The Earl of Aberdeen

observed, that, for their Lordships to go into committee to speculate as to the possibility of inventing a machine to prevent a danger that had never yet occurred, appeared to him to be a most useless occupation of their Lordships' time. He certainly thought that a matter of this kind had much better be left to the ingenuity and interest of the parties concerned.

The Earl of Essex

observed, that, however advantageous the supply of good and pure water to the metropolis might be, still it should be considered that the sinking of Artesian wells upon a large scale was likely to be accompanied with great detriment to those who lived in the neighbourhood of them, by drying up all the inferior springs. He knew that great apprehensions were entertained upon that source at Watford.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that it would be better to divide the subjects; to appoint a committee to consider of the supply of water; and to leave the subject of railways alone till some specific plan could be suggested for guarding against the accidents to which the noble Marquess referred.

The Duke of Richmond

hoped that the noble Marquess would withdraw that part of his motion which related to railways. The inquiry upon that head could not possibly be attended by any good, whilst it would certainly have the effect of putting the country to a very great expense. If it were possible to invent a machine to prevent accideuts upon railways, the parties interested, the engineers, directors, and others whose attention was constantly directed to the subject, were much more likely to discover it than a committee of their Lordships' House.

Lord Redesdale

thought that there was also some objection to the second part of the noble Marquess's motion; because, from the way in which the noble Marquess had put it, it would appear, that the object of the motion was to allow certain companies to put forward their plans at the expense of the public. This would be attended by a double injustice. Suppose, for instance, that their Lordships' Committee should report in favour of the supply of water from Watford, and a bill were to be introduced for that purpose, would not this place the inhabitants of Watford under a very great difficulty, if it should be their interest to oppose such a measure?

Lord Ashburton

objected to this strange union of subjects—railways, supply of water, and sewers, all of them, no doubt, of very considerable importance, but having, as it appeared to him, no sort of connection with each other.

The Marquess of Westminster,

yielding to what appeared to be the general sense of the House, consented to confine his motion solely to the supply of water, and a Select Committee to take into consideration the supply of water to the metropolis was appointed.