The New River is an aqueduct constructed in the 17th century to bring drinking water into London. It follows the 100 foot contour of the Lea valley from its source in Hertfordshire to Islington. It was 39 miles long, including two wide loops around the heads of the side valleys of two tributaries of the river Lea, but those two loops were later eliminated by more direct routes which involved running the water across lower ground through sections of pipe. And since it ends up only about six metres lower than it starts, this meant that for every kilometre of length it only drops about ten centimetres in altitude. How did they engineer that in the 17th century? It reminded me how difficult it was sometimes to lay paving stones for a patio at a slight incline to take the water away from the house . How amateurish I was. So I did a bit of crude science in the drizzle this afternoon. By the way the New River Path -Thames Water’s responsibility – between Woodbury Down and Finsbury Park is in a shocking state. Deep, wide mud, a dog splash. Each step a small adventure. Looking across to the other side, access to which is barred by locked gates at every road which crosses the river, the grass is greener. Well, the grass exists. Anyway, I have a video of an old hollowed out conker floating down stream. It takes 12 seconds to travel a foot. In one mile there are 63,360 inches, so in 39 miles there are 2,471,000 inches, which is 205,920 feet. So the conker would take – oh, of course, we’re back to 2,471,000 (!) seconds to travel from Hertfordshire to Islington, which is 41,183 minutes, or roughly 686 hours of gentle, silent travel.
I have also learnt that the supply of water on the New River has been increased over the years, the original source quickly becoming inadequate, first by a channel in Hertfordshire linking it to the river Lea, and subsequently by water pumped up – by steam power – out of several bore holes along its length. The clever thing about that is that in wet times excess water can be sent back down again through the bore holes into the aquifers and saved for later.
On the locally famous Haringay ladder (two major roads form the sides and the rungs are short residential streets) both sides of the river are closed to the public. You can stand by various bridges and glimpse the beautiful mud free green banks of it as it slowly glides between the neat terraced streets that were built across it between 1880 and 1890. If you had a garden next to it you could climb over the fence and quietly, privately trespass by the river bank on a sunny day, with coots and ducks.
A man called Colthurst had the bright idea in 1609, surveyed the route, had the first two miles dug and then was faced with ruin. Sir Hugh Myddleton, who subsequently took all the credit, took over and when he too began to be faced with difficulties King James, through whose estate at Theobalds the course of the river ran, agreed to provide 50% of the capital for 50% of the profits, a smart move since it has now been paying out for more than four hundred years, and still provides 8% of London’s water. There was a brief interruption in the flow of profits thanks to nationalisation but this of course was remedied in the late 20th century.
In 1622 the king went down to the river to view the ice upon it and fell in headfirst so that only his boots were visible. He was pulled out alive.
ET PLUI SUPER UNAM CIVITATEM . This is the inscription on a series of plaques on bridges over the little stub of the New River in Clissold Park. ‘And I rained on one city.’
My idealising notion was that the motto referred to an idea of natural justice, rain falling evenly on those that have not and those that have, an idea suggested by the image on the plaque which shows a hand appearing from the clouds and scattering rain drops on the walled city beneath. And I read too much into the word ‘civitatem’, which shares a root with civil, civilisation etc.
No. Quite the opposite in fact, at least in the original in the fourth book of Amos, who seems to have been a prophet as angry as God himself. To put that phrase into context, Amos recounts all the terrible things God has already done to the wicked, but still they have not mended their ways:
Chapter 1V, 7 And also I have witholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered.
8 So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have ye not returned to me, saith the Lord.
9 I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them: yet have ye not returned to me, saith the Lord.
10 I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have take away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up into your nostrils: yet you have not returned to me, saith the Lord.
et cetera. Then comes the promise of even worse punishment…. And after that, Obadiah! And Haggai! and Zephaniah! I quote: slay smite blast overthrow howl crash wound scatter tremble strike rage afflict cut down cast down waste beat in pieces destroy tread down tear in pieces drown fall devour quake rend languish wither dry up lament roar consume
And the good bits, swords into ploughshares and vineyards and gardens, none of that will come about before about 90% of the entire population of the middle east have been wiped out. You can see why the catholic church was not keen for the bible to be translated into the vernacular. And contrary to the idea that the King James version is beautiful, so much of the language is clunky and warped. Just waiting for Monty Python.