Bristol Water Works Company; a study of nineteenth century resistance to local authority purchase attempts

Judith Thornton, Peter Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water supplies built to serve Britain’s town populations in the early nineteenth
century were mostly privately owned and financed by share offers allowed by Acts of Parliament. This system came under intense pressure as populations increased; supplies were often intermittent, few poorer households were connected and there was a lack of water for fire fighting and street cleansing. At a national level, the majority of water supply companies were bought by local authorities in the latter half of the century. However in a handful of towns and cities, the water supply remained in private hands. The current study explores the history of Bristol Water Works Company between the period of its incorporation in 1846 and 1890. Despite performance difficulties early in the period, national policy favouring local authority ownership and several purchase attempts, the company resisted and still exists as a private company to this day. The study explores how and why the company was successful in this resistance at a time when so many others were not. It suggests the value of exploring such
local governance ‘anomalies’ and the conditions that gave rise to them, because of the way in which they can cast new light on our understanding of the local and national factors that underlay municipalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-330
JournalWater History
Issue number3
Early online date02 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2013


  • public health
  • water suplly
  • governance
  • public ownership
  • municipalisation


Dive into the research topics of 'Bristol Water Works Company; a study of nineteenth century resistance to local authority purchase attempts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this