New River Head: History Behind These Islington Flats
Walking along Rosebery Avenue, the ornate New River Head caught my eye. Far from the sleek, glass and cladding new-builds. These Islington flats were definitely different.
The front entrance was the giveaway, the listed facade proclaiming that this was the former HQ of the Metropolitan Water Board.
What Was The Metropolitan Water Board?
The Metropolitan Water Board (incorporated into Thames Water in 1973) took over The New River Company in 1904, a project that completely changed Islington from semi-rural to an urban centre.
Way back in 1604 King James I allowed Edmund Colhurst to dig a channel from Chadwell Spring in Hertfordshire, bringing fresh water into North London via an oak-clad conduit. As ever, money was an issue and eventually the plan was shelved until 1609 when Hugh Myddelton took over the project.
So Myddelton gets the glory (along with a statue and many local street names fashioned after him). It was finished in 1613 so the irony is it’s not really new and it’s not really a river either.
As for this building – known as New River Head – it was built between 1913-1920 under the designs of Herbert Austen Hall.
All in the details
Compared to a more Art Deco style of building, Austen clearly favoured a more neo-classical touch. Thankfully this means there’s plenty of details to get stuck into…
The roundel on the far left is the emblem of City Bridge Estates, a trust founded back in the 13th century to maintain the old London Bridge. Today it still has a watery link, managing Blackfriars, Southwark and Millennium bridges.
A Look Inside
Thankfully the security guard on the desk was friendly and let me inside the entrance hall to take some pictures. However, this was only after he checked I wasn’t wearing stilettos, “It’s a Grade II* listed so you’re definitely not allowed spiky shoes!”
The doors to former offices now lead to flats…
There is another show-stopping room that sadly I didn’t get a chance to see on this impromptu visit, The Oak Room.
The main reason for the Grade II* listing, the Oak Room was designed by John Grene in 1693 and painstakingly transferred one floor up, incorporated into the new building on this site in 1919-20. With rich carving and an oil painting by Henry Cooke the whole room is covered in depictions of classical water Gods and their attributes.
*sigh* next time I’ll try and get a look inside there too! Have you ever visited?
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