A thoroughly original and gripping book; from the elm-wood pipes of Tudor London, via dragon-like early steam engines, from pioneering reformers to outrageous scoundrels, and finally to the lives of modern Londoners, perplexed as to why Thames Water has yet again had to close a road, to replace cast-iron Victorian pipework with blue tubes, this is a lucid, hugely readable account of the struggle to supply clean water to one of the world's first megacities. The conflicts between private profit and public interest, which go back to Jacobean times, carry on today. Anyone interested in the real London needs to read this.
The first biography of liquid London is a pacey yet scholarly tale of greed versus altruism. Nick Higham breaks new ground in analysing the history of that most fundamental metropolitan element - its water supply.
An enthralling guide to London's most neglected and under-exploited asset. Its day must surely come.
London has been called the city of rivers, but for more than a century the capital's watery powers have been built over and then disregarded. In this multi-faceted work, Higham swims through the centuries to show how integral water has been to the creation of an industrial powerhouse, and how the historic struggle between private enterprise and public good continues to float the market. A masterful achievement.
A painstakingly researched account of how contemporary incompetence and private-interest greed in the water industry is reflected in a long and fascinating history of adventuring, double-dealing, political corruption and short-termism set against the efforts of visionary engineers and prophets. Beyond that, a story told with cracking momentum. And great respect for the charms of our lost and culverted rivers.
The Mercenary River is a gruesome yet fascinating tale of how London came to be supplied with water.
Higham takes the reader through three centuries of life in a thirsty city, judiciously blending social, scientific and engineering history while also describing the successes and failures drawing on his skills as a journalist... but also weaving into his work larger, more complex issues... each chapter is detailed, diverse and engaging... it is clear that [Higham] spent a considerable amount of time in the archives to provide the reader with this fascinating account of an important and somewhat neglected aspect of metropolitan history.
Higham's book proves a consistently fascinating read for all those curious about London's history.
It's well written... and extensively researched... This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in social and industrial history. The Mercenary River is very readable, extremely informative and a very enjoyable book.
A round of applause for journalist Nick Higham... [he] has transformed pages of detailed research through three centuries of water history papers in the London Metropolitan Archives into a fascinating page-turner of a book... This is a magnificent book for anyone fascinated by the history of London, engineering, politics, human endeavour, and our challenging relationship with water.
[A] magnificent history . . . The pages are littered with facts, anecdotes and knitted together in a compelling, informed and at times witty narrative. There's nothing dry about The Mercenary River!