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June 9 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm
  • Author talk

The Mercenary River

Nick Higham
Photo of Nick Higham and The Mercenary River book cover

Venue:

Grays Library, Orsett Road
Grays, Thurrock, RM17 5DX
Tickets:
£8
£7 concessions (Students, Under 27s and Jobseekers)
Book

Private Greed, Public Good: A History of London’s Water

No city can survive without water, and lots of it. Today we take the stuff for granted. But it wasn’t always so. For centuries London struggled to supply its citizens with reliable, clean water. The Mercenary River tells the story of that struggle from the Middle Ages to the present day. Come along to this event to hear Nick Higham tell the tale of remarkable technological and scientific breakthroughs, but also a story of greed and complacency, high finance and low politics.

 

Venue: Grays Library, Orsett Road, Grays, RM17 5DX

Date and time: Thursday 9th June, 7.30pm

Tickets: £8 / £7 concessions (Students, Under 27s and Jobseekers)

Box Office: Book online or via Mercury Theatre 01206 573948 (10am – 8pm Tuesday to Saturday)

 

 

The Mercenary River

The Mercenary River book cover

No city can survive without water, and lots of it. Today we take the stuff for granted turn a tap and it gushes out. But it wasn’t always so. For centuries London, one of the largest and richest cities in the world, struggled to supply its citizens with reliable, clean water.

The Mercenary River tells the story of that struggle from the middle ages to the present day. Based on new research, it tells a tale of remarkable technological, scientific and organisational breakthroughs but also a story of greed and complacency, high finance and low politics.

Amongst many stories, Nick Higham’s page turning narrative uncovers the murky tale of how the most powerful steam engine in the world was first brought to London; the extraordinary story of how one Victorian London water company deliberately cut off 2 000 households, even though it knew they had no alternative source of supply; the details of a financial scandal which brought two of the water companies close to collapse in the 1870s; and finally asks whether today’s 21 st century water companies are an improvement on their Victorian predecessors.

 

Buy a copy of The Mercenary River from bookshop.org

 

In His Own Words

Nick Higham says, ‘The original course of London’s New River runs just a few yards from my home, and from the moment I first learnt about its history I knew I wanted to write about it. It was built by one of the world’s first modern business corporations and more than 400 years later it’s still part of London’s water supply. But what started as a fascination with a local landmark soon turned into a much more ambitious attempt to tell the whole story of London’s water from the middle ages onwards.

Nowadays we take water for granted, but the history of London’s water drew me in because it touches on the history of so many other things: laundry and local government, steam engines and sewers, cookery and corruption, fire fighting, medicine, economic theory. The science of epidemiology, so important in the coronavirus pandemic, began with a study of cholera in London’s water. And nowhere over the past 400 years has the debate around private versus public ownership of essential services been more intense.’

 

About the Author

Photo of Nick Higham

Nick Higham hails from London and is a journalist who has spent 30 years at the BBC: fifteen as their arts and media correspondent and also hosting ‘Meet the Author’ on the BBC News Channel. His interest in London’s water began with the New River, which originally ran to New River Head on the borders of Islington and Clerkenwell, within sight of the building housing the London Metropolitan Archives where much of his book was researched.

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Photo of Nick Higham © www.richarddavies.com

 

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Venue

Grays Library
Orsett Road
Grays, Thurrock, RM17 5DX
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