Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Caversham Heights Society - first meeting of the season

THE first meeting of the season for the society was held on Wednesday, September 20.

It began with the annual meeting, which was chaired by the outgoing chairman Jill Hodges.

She reported on the previous year’s activities and explained why she was standing down, thanking her colleagues on the committee who had helped so much.

Carol Cozens, the treasurer, then went through the accounts which showed the society is in a much healthier position financially than last year.

Vice-chairman Keith Watson then took over for the election of a new committee.

As there had been no nominations for new members and as all the committee members were willing to stand again, they were duly re-elected.

Keith then re-iterated Jill’s thanks and thanked her, especially for her long service to the society.

She had been a member since the society started under the auspices of Martyn Allies in November 1975.

Keith said that in view of her long service, the committee had proposed making her an honorary president. The members agreed with this suggestion.

Peggy Pusey, as one of the longest-serving members, was then invited to present Jill with a commemorative plate and a bouquet of flowers.

Marie Barnett, our new refreshments co-ordinator, had arranged for a special thank-you cake to be made and, with there being no further business matters to be dealt with, members adjourned for refreshments and cake before the main item of the evening.

The first lecture of the season was on “The history of Thames Water” which was given by Rob Casey, the company’s director of water strategy management.

Rob gave a clear and interesting overview of the water needs and services in London from Roman times until the present day.

He showed that while the Romans were experts in water supply via their many aqueducts these were not needed in London because of the plentiful supply of wells, although it was only in 2001 that the Museum of London discovered how water was pumped up from these wells.

In 1245 the Great Conduit of lead and earthenware pipes was developed in Stratford Place, which was just outside London’s boundary at the time.

In 1582, the London Bridge Waterworks began pumping water directly from the River Thames but with the rapid growth in the population and the inevitable rise in raw sewage, a solution was needed to separate fresh water from the sewage.

This was found by building a 40-mile, 10ft wide channel from Ware in Hertfordshire into London.

In 1609 Sir Hugh Myddleton received approval from James I to develop this channel, thus providing a water supply to London for the next 300 years.

By the beginning of the 19th century the issue of water quality was becoming acute and between 1830 and 1860 40,000 Londoners died of cholera caused by polluted water. In 1829 the first sand filtration plant was established as a means of removing much of the bacteria affecting the water supply. This system is still in use today.

During this period Dr John Snow showed that cholera was linked to the water supply, which was still essentially drawn from the Thames.

In the 1850s Michael Faraday argued that something must be done to improve the quality of drinking water.

In 1858 such was “the Great Stink” that MPs could not sit in Parliament and then, and only then, they decided to pass legislation to deal with the issue. This resulted in the Sewer Act.

Even so, because of the many different water companies at the time, it proved difficult to police them all.

It was not until the creation of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1903 that this was sorted out, although it was only fully completed when the 1974 Water Act brought water supply, sewage treatment and waste disposal under one overarching body.

In 1984, under privatisation legislation, Thames Water Utilities was created, thereby bringing in much-needed investment.

In 1994 the 54-mile ring main tunnel around London was built at a cost of
£250 million. In 2010 the huge desalinisation plant was begun and in 2015/16 the massive sewage disposal tunnel was begun.

Rob conceded that Thames Water does suffer from a poor image but he pointed out that it was not always fair. One of the reasons for burst pipes, for example, is that there are so many miles of Victorian pipes that are not easy to locate and replace.

Another is because of the increase in heavy traffic and high-rise apartment blocks. There is also the problem of the public flushing wet wipes and disposable nappies down toilets and restaurants flushing down oils and fats with the result that enormous fat balls build up and block the pipes.

One interesting point that was made during questions is that tap water is far cleaner and healthier than bottled water, which is 15 per cent more environmentally wasteful because it is so much better regulated.

On the whole this was a very interesting and worthwhile evening.

The society meets at Caversham Heights Methodist church hall in Highmoor Road every other Wednesday at 8pm.

New members are always welcome. For more information, send an email to contact@cavershamheights.org
or visit cavershamheights.org

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