1. New Gauge to Great Amwell
Walks along the New River
By Nicholas Blatchley
Click on the thumbnails above for full-sized images
The first stage of the New River’s course includes the two main springs from which Sir Hugh Myddelton originally drew its water, at Chadwell and Amwell. The course, though, begins with New Gauge House, which regulates the drawing of water from the River Lea. At the time of building, this course was known as the Manifold Ditch, but was later developed into the River Lea Navigation. The quantity of water to be extracted daily from the River Lea is limited to 22½ gallons.
As the New River flows through the meadowland of the Lea Valley, a stone can be made out, half submerged beside the bank, reading This belongs to New River Comp[any]. Today, the New River is the property of Thames Water, but it’s good to have a reminder of the company that built it and managed it for several centuries.
Needless to say, a lot has been added to the landscape since Myddelton’s day, and one of the defining landmarks of the Lea Valley, along with the Lea and the New River, is the London to Hertford railway, which crosses the river only once, between Chadwell and Ware. On this stretch, too, the landscape is dominated by the dramatic view of the A10 viaduct soaring above the countryside.
Before reaching Ware, a white timber building controls a sluice, and just below stands the Marble Gauge, built in 1770, which used to regulate the river’s flow through a narrow channel, although this is now bypassed by pipes.
Just below this, a side-stream joins the main course. This comes from the nearby Chadwell Spring, the original starting-point of the New River, which was superseded when it became necessary to take water from the Lea. This is a circular basin 20 yards across and 18 feet deep, which can supply up to four million gallons of water a day. A monument stands there, its four faces bearing the inscriptions: CHADWELL SPRING, CONVEYED 40 MILES, OPENED 1608, REPAIRED 1728. Note that the spring was opened five years before the New River was finally complete; also that the reference to “40 miles” refers to the original meandering course of the river, since significantly shortened. (Many thanks to Geoff Cordingley for the pictures of the pool and monument).
At Ware, the New River runs for some distance alongside the main road (first Hertford Road, then London Road) and goes under Amwell End as it turns off to go over the level crossing. Just downstream stands the John Gilpin pub. Although a modern building, this commemorates Gilpin’s legendary ride from Edmonton to Ware, immortalised by the 18th century Hertfordshire poet William Cowper.
There are pumping stations at regular intervals along the New River: Broadmead just above Ware, Amwell End at Ware and Amwell Hill halfway between Ware and Great Amwell. None of these are pictured here, but they’re similar in design to those that are illustrated.
After leaving Ware, the New River veers off a little to the east, heading for the village of Great Amwell, perhaps the jewel of its entire course: more pictures of the village can be seen here and here. This is the site of the second major spring that Myddelton used, the “Emma’s Well” from which the village takes its name, although the location now known as Emma’s Well is probably not the spring that Myddelton used.
Here the river opens into Amwell Pool, with islands containing two monuments. This was landscaped in the 1790s by Robert Mylne, chief engineer of the New River Company. One of the monuments, erected by Mylne, is half hidden among trees on its island and has the inscription:
Sacred to the memory of Sir Hugh Myddelton, Baronet, whose successful Care, assisted by the Patronage of his King, conveyed this stream to London. An immortal work: Since Man cannot more nearly imitate the Deity, than in bestowing Health.
From the spring of Chadwell, two miles west and from this source of Amwell the aqueduct meanders for the space of 40 miles, conveying health, pleasure and convenience to the Metropolis of Great Britain.
This humble tribute to the genius, talents and elevation of mind which conceived and executed this important aqueduct is dedicated by Robert Mylne, Architect, Engineer, &c. AD MDCCC.
The other is more visible, though it still can’t be approached, and has a modern board beside it with a picture of Myddelton and information about the anniversary. (Many thanks to Ian Fisher for the picture of this, after my attempt failed). The monument itself is inscribed with a poem, probably written about 1818 by Archdeacon Nares, but ascribed by some to John Scott:
AMWELL. Perpetual be thy stream,
Nor e’er thy springs be less
Which thousands drink who never dream
Whence flows the boon they bless.
Too often thus ungrateful man
Blind and unconscious lives,
Enjoys kind ‘Heaven’s’ indulgent plan,
Nor thinks of ‘Him’ who gives.