If you’ve ever wandered along New River in North London you may well not have realised that not only is it not a river, but it’s not new at all.
It is in fact a 400-year-old aqueduct, built to supply London with fresh drinking water from a number of springs along its path.
Opened in 1613, it still works perfectly, providing millions of gallons of water to 700,000 Londoners every day.
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Thames Water supervisor and Enfield man Gary Stephens grew up by the river, swimming in it every summer and eventually getting a job working along it.
He said: “To really get to know this river you have to let it get under your skin, you have to walk it, you have to feel it and you have to live it.
“When I was a kid I used to swim in it, I was brought up with it. Then when I was 18 I got a job here and I said to myself, ‘I’ll give it six months.’ That was 42 years ago.
(Image: Thames Water)
“At this particular moment in its history, we are the custodians, the caretakers, of this river. There have been many custodians before us and there most certainly will be many more custodians after us.
“We have a duty of care towards it and we strive to keep up that important stewardship to the best of our ability during our time.”
An incredible feat of early 17th Century engineering, the New River follows the contour of the Lee Valley, gently meandering through rural, residential and industrial areas like Broxbourne, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey, Enfield, Southgate and Hornsey.
Along the way it feeds into the water treatment works at Hornsey Wood and Coppermills, as well as helping to top up the King George VI and William Girling reservoirs.
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The original spring provided 10 million litres a day to the capital but, as demand grew during the Industrial Revolution, this increased to 102 million litres a day. That doubled in the 1800s with the construction of pumping stations to abstract water from deep wells.
Today the New River provides eight per cent – around 220 million litres a day – of the water London needs, and doubles as a quiet retreat for walkers and wildlife lovers.