The Utilities

Up until the start of the 18th Century, none of the amenities we take for granted today were available to Hertford's townsfolk.

There was no mains water or sewerage, no streetlighting, no gas or electricity. Water was obtained from pumps or wells and open sewers discharged into rivers.


The first of the utilities to benefit Hertford was the supply of water in 1708. In this year the Hertford Corporation leased land on Hartham Common to a contractor who undertook to pump water from the river and into the town. Only the better off households of the town could afford to be connected to this supply - poorer homes continuing with the traditional method of pumping water from the ground. This operation was later taken over by The Corporation and in 1862 a reservoir was estabished at the top of Port Hill. The piped water supply however was not of good quality and was implicated in outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and malaria.


The first sewerage works was built in the mid-19th century on The Meads, well away from the town at the end of Mead Lane. The works were paid for by the New River Company, who built the New River to provide drinking water for London.


The first gas works was estabished in 1825 in Mead Lane by a branch of the International Gas Company. At this time there were at least 40 gas lamps in the town's streets plus a watchman. Some thirty years later in 1856 this company was bought out by the Hertford Gas Light and Coke Company, which itself later became a part of the Tottenham and District Gas Company, and eventually the Eastern Gas Board. The gas works were given up in 1958.

Despite having established a basic water supply at the start of the 18th Century, water-bourne disease remained a serious threat to public health. This was due in great part to the lack of a proper sewerage system. It was not until 1854 that a purification works was set up on the Kings Meads by the New River Company.


Hertford Corporation in 1891 obtained an Electric Lighting Order, following which a committee drew up the technical details of a supply for the town. This was to include a power station and 1½ miles of cable, supplying power to 1500 people. However, it was not until 1901 that an electricity supply was established, providing electric light to town centre premises including Christ's Hospital and the covered market.

Remains of Hertford Power Station in 2005

Initially the power supply in the town was direct current, but in 1926 conversion to AC was completed. At this point there still less than 1000 customers in the town. This came a year after negotitations for a new showroom and substation in Parliament Square.

The original power station was next to the river south-west of Dicker Mill (see top photo). There is still a large transformer on the site.

This article was last updated on 16th July 2020.

The History Of Hertford  F.M.Page
Northmet  N.C.Friswell