YORK BUILDINGS. A Further Report from the Committee, to whom the Petition of Esther Crull, Widow, Thomas Moseley, Gilbert de Flines, Anne Finch, Theodore Davell, Mary Bayley, Richard Phillips, Philip Dikes, Forbes Wilson, Grace Holland, Daniel Cabroll, ... the Governor and Company of Undertakers for raising the Thames Water in York-Buildings,...London: 1735.
Folio (12 x 8 inches). Woodcut publisher's device on title-page (disbound).
The Governor and Company of Undertakers for raising the Thames Water in York-Buildings" was an English water company, which became mixed up with the estates of the forfeited nobility and gentry of Scotland during the Jacobite risings of 1715 and 1746, and was the cause of an astonishing amount of litigation before the Court of Session and in the English courts down to 1824. The current paper is one example, and concerns the claims of the company's shareholders and creditors.
During "the seventeenth century many attempts were made to improve the water supply of London, by means of pumping-engines on the banks of the Thames. Some of these enterprizes, either through defects in the engine employed or the position being unfavourable, were short-lived, while others became more permanent. Amongst the latter was an engine, which was supposed to raise water by perpetual motion, invented by Ralph Wayne and Francis Williamson, early in the reign of Charles II. On May 6th, 1665, a patent was granted to Wayne and Williamson, enabling them to convey water to the inhabitants of Piccadilly, St James Fields, Haymarket and the neighbourhood, both from springs and from the Thames". Whether the undertaking was actually started at this date does not appear, and the patentees are next heard of in connection with the sale of York House as building ground in 1672. This estate was situated “on the south side of the Strand, immediately to the east of what is now the site of the Charing Cross railway station,” and the more important structures erected were known as the York Buildings, which became later the chief auction and concert rooms in London during the reign of William III. Ralph Wayne, who was now associated with Ralph Bucknall, obtained a site in York Buildings and erected a pumping station, which was described as an edifice with a high wooden tower, situated at the foot of Buckingham Street". By a patent dated May 7th, 1675, powers, similar to those of the previous grant, were conferred on the proprietors, and the developing of the supply was taken in hand. The water from the Thames was admitted by sluices into canals; and, from the canals, it was pumped up into cisterns on high ground, whence it flowed to consumers' houses by two seven-inch elm-wood pipes'.
"...while the York Buildings company seems to have made some profit, the continuous contraction of its area of supply rendered the proprietors ready to dispose of the business; and, in March 1719 the waterworks were advertized for sale. According to the description published, these “were very fit for carrying on the service, and pipes in the streets were laid on to several tenants, whose rents now amount to above £1,600 per annum, and with care and diligence may be improved considerably". Probably this possibility would not have tempted purchasers, and the undertaking would have languished and gradually fallen into disrepair had it not happened that far-sighted men, who foresaw the coming speculative activity, were engaged in endeavouring to secure charters of incorporation to give a corporate existence to their schemes. Amongst these was Case Billingsley, who had already aided in acquiring the patents of the Mines Royal and Mineral and Battery Works for the insurance company, known later as the Royal Exchange Assurance". Following the example of the Sword Blade company, he had a scheme for the acquisition of forfeited estates and for following out a system of land and mineral development in Scotland, similar to that projected by the Sword Blade company in Ireland". As the capital required would be considerable, it seemed desirable to secure a charter; and, quite apart from the feeling against grants of incorporation at that date, the evidence given at the Committee of Inquiry in 1719 showed that it was often cheaper to purchase an existing charter than to take part in the irregular and illegal bidding for charters at the auctions conducted by the Attorney-General”. Therefore, what Billingsley was really anxious to purchase was the act of Parliament, incorporating the company, and for this he paid the former proprietors £7,000, including the discharging of the debts incurred, amounting to £1,845, so that the shareholders actually received £5,155 in exchange for their stock in the company. Provided the original capital of £4,800 had not been increased and had been fully paid up, this would give between £107 and £110 for the original stock'. With the transfer of the property to Billingsley, the history of the original company ends, and that of its successor was dominated by different aims and methods, amongst which the water supply undertaking occupied a very subordinate position" (Scott "The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish and Irish Joint-stock", page 422). ESTCT63828. Catalogued by Kate Hunter