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Making History
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Listen to this editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Sue Cook presents the series that examines listeners' historical queries, exploring avenues of research and uncovering mysteries.
The medieval standards of London - supplying water to the City

Listener's query
"In medieval times there were several standards (columns or towers) dotted around the City of London. Where and when were these built, and for what purpose?"

Brief summary
These standards are to do with the water supply in medieval London. Londoners at first used well and river water but by medieval times there were far too many people for the water supply to be either adequate or clean. So from the late 1230s, water was taken from the River Tyburn by lead pipes to the City of London, and as London spread, further pipes were added.

The rights to pipe water from springs beside the Tyburn - near Bond Street tube station - were acquired so that "the rich and middling persons therein might have water for preparing their food, and the poor for their drink". The pipe was 30 years in the building. Museum of London archaeologists have found sections of lead pipe beneath the pavement near St Paul's Cathedral. This was how the City was supplied right up to the Great Fire of 1666.

John Clark of the Museum of London took Making History beyond the Tyburn to Bayswater, named after Bayard's Watering, one of the main springs in that district in medieval times. It was first used for horses but then later the Bayswater conduit was built to supply water to the City of London. There was a stone building with a tank inside in which water was collected and then taken by lead pipes to Tyburn Spring where it joined up with the other springs.

The Tyburn followed the course of what is now South Molton Lane down towards Piccadilly, via Trafalgar Square and then on towards the City of London. Conduit Street was part of a parcel of land bought by the Corporation of London to safeguard the conduits taking drinking water to the City. At Cheapside, London's chief marketplace, the pipes came where a conduit house was built. Later there were two conduit standards at either end of the market, the great conduit and the little conduit. These were fountains in stone columns, and were the columns that the listener refers to. Wherever there were additional springs, columns with tanks were built with taps and pipes leading towards the City - these too were known as standards. It was all done by gravity, with the water running down to where it was needed. The public conduit in Cheapside was run by a warden, who supplied water free. People who wanted a private supply were charged.

Gradually the system was extended and there were conduits in Fleet Street, Cornhill and Gracechurch Street and later in Islington, and then other springs - in Hampstead, Muswell Hill, Hackney and Marylebone - were added.

Further reading

Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, editors, The London Encyclopaedia (Papermac, 1993)
Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography (Vintage, 2001)
Jo Swinnerton, editor, The London Companion (Robson Books, 2004)
Stephen Inwood, History of London (Macmillan, 2000)
Roy Porter, London - A Social History (Penguin Books, 2000)
Francis Sheppard, London - A History (Oxford Paperbacks, 2000)


Water-related Infrastructure in Medieval London

Tyburn - River and source of drinking water

Water, Sanitation and Health

Place to visit

Museum of London
150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN
Tel: 0870 444 3852
Fax: 0870 444 3853

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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

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Making History
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PO Box 3096 Brighton

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Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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