The Drought Stricken East End

It is amazing how like our modern times life in the Victorian East End was. True, many things have improved. But some things have remained exactly the same.

Take water, for example.

There had been periods in the 19th century when the water issuing forth from the water pumps – such as the far-famed Aldgate Pump – of the district was found to contaminated with all manner of impurities that you simply wouldn’t want to find in our water.

Another problem was what the newspapers referred to as “water famines“, which was a constant problem and threat to the general well being of the inhabitants of the district.

In 1898 a hot summer led to an extreme shortage of water in much of the East End, and the private water company that supplied the district was forced to take drastic action in order to ration the supply of such a precious and necessary commodity.

The Daily News reported on the problem and about the measure being taken to combat it in its edition of  Wednesday the 7th of September 1898:-



The four hours’ supply, of water which was turned on in the East End yesterday by the East London Water works Company was, in many parts of the district, almost a complete failure.

The pressure was very inefficient, the water was discoloured, and in most places above the two-foot level hardly any water could be obtained good enough for use.

The inhabitants of the affected district complained bitterly of this, but they were informed that it was practically impossible to remedy the state of affairs as at present existing.

A group of Victorian East Enders gather outside their houses.
EastEnders Circa 1898


In the parish of Hackney the people seem to suffer the most.

Yesterday the officials of the Hackney Vestry were hard at work in doing all that they possibly could to relieve the sufferers.

Every available water-cart was requisitioned for the purpose of supplying water to the most needy householders, and with each cart was sent a large box of disinfecting powder to be distributed over the drains.


It was stated at the offices of the East London Water-works Company last evening that, at present, no change would be made in the daily service.

As to future arrangements, should dry weather continue, the officials remained silent when questioned as to their future action.

Other local authorities are following the example of the Hackney Vestry in sending round water carts, &c.


In many small streets in Whitechapel, Mile End, Hackney, and Bow yesterday sufficient water was not even obtained for drinking purposes, to say nothing of that which was required for washing and flushing.

Mr. J. A. Crookenden, the secretary of the East London Water Company, has issued the following notice to the inhabitants of the East End respecting the waste of water:-

“The practice of leaving the taps running during the period that the water is turned on, and after receptacles have been filled, cause so much waste and loss of pressure that the inhabitants of high levels suffer great inconvenience, and in the interest of your fellow consumers, the practice should be instantly stopped.”


Mr. George Grocatt, the Clerk to the Hackney Vestry, yesterday announced that a special meeting of the Vestry would be held tomorrow evening in accordance with a requisition by several members, “to consider the question of closing the Hackney Public Baths, either in whole or in part, during the present conditions of the water supply of tbt Parish.”


It was stated, on inquiry that several members were of opinion that the water used for the purposes of the baths might be put to better use if given over to the ratepayers.

One objection to the proposed action, however, was the fact that a very large number of people were now using the baths because they could not obtain enough water at home for the purposes, and it might not be adopted on the plea of danger to health.