New 150-year digital archive captures growth of London

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New 150-year digital archive captures growth of London

Thousands of never-before-seen images documenting Thames Water’s past and the growth of London are now available to the public after a mammoth archiving project.

The historic photographs of iconic and critical sites, including Walthamstow reservoirs, Abbey Mills pumping station and Beckton sewage works, from across the capital span almost a century, from 1886 to 1976, and can be downloaded for free.

The collection, loaned to the London Metropolitan Archive (LMA) to undergo a programme of conservation, cataloguing and repackaging, contains 18,000 glass plate negative slides, 2,000 ‘lantern’ slides and 158 wastewater books, which include maps and drawings, and would stretch over 1,000 metres in total if placed together.

Claire Hallybone, senior archaeologist at Thames Water, said: “We’re thrilled to launch this fascinating archive, and show everyone these incredible photographs which capture so much history.

“As a company we’re completely focused on providing the best water and waste service to customers possible, and this look back in time shows this has been going on for generations before us, coinciding with the growth of London – we’ve been there through it all.

“We’re sure the images will bring a lot of memories back for Londoners, and may also show relatives what their family members got up to during their day-to-day jobs over the years.”

It’s the first time there has been a concerted effort to bring Thames Water’s archive materials into one place, and more images will be added to the collection as they become available.

The idea of the project first came in 2014, when one of the archive rooms at Abbey Mills, an iconic landmark of London’s sewage system, was cleared as part of the Lee Tunnel construction.

Claire added: “This has been a mammoth task and I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped, particularly to the LMA which has been crucial.”

As part of the company’s business plan for 2020-25, as well as pledging to reduce leakage by 15 per cent and pollutions by 18 per cent, Thames Water has vowed to make more of its sites accessible to the public. 

The archive was launched as the company took part in Open House London. At the end of September, Thames Water opened up several of its most popular sites including Abbey Mills and Crossness for visitors to take tours and find out more on how they operate.

For more information, to submit your pictures or to view the archive, visit

New 150-year digital archive captures growth of London