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Book Talk: ‘The Mercenary River’ by Nick Higham

Wednesday June 19, 2024 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Your Space, 39 Brookmill Road, London SE8 4HU

NB. Places at the actual talk are now fully booked, but we will be broadcasting the talk via Zoom.  To register for the online talk, please contact brookmillroadconservationarea [at ] gmail.com; you will receive a link to the Zoom broadcast.

Brookmill Road Conservation Area in partnership with Brockley Society and Your Space at Blueprint for All are pleased to be hosting a free talk by journalist and author Nick Higham about his recently published book The Mercenary River: Private Greed and Public Good. A History of London’s Water‘.

Waterworks abound in the local area and water is in the news. But what’s the history of this vital resource in London?

Don’t miss Nick Higham’s tale of technological, scientific and organisational breakthroughs, of greed and complacency, high finance and low politics.

Nick’s talk will throw light on our changing relationship with water and the way we use it.

Extracts from some reviews of the book can be found below.

Although the event is free, donations towards the organising costs will be welcome at the event.

The talk is preceded by Brookmill Road Conservation Area Society AGM at 6.15pm.

Your Space offers co-working solutions including hot-desking membership, meeting rooms and an event space. To find out about current availability, contact [email protected] or check their website: www.blueprintforall.org/about-us/your-space/


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. – Andrew Marr

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. – Sarah Wise

An enthralling guide to London’s most neglected and under-exploited asset. Its day must surely come. – Simon Jenkins

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. – Judith Flanders

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. – Iain Sinclair

The Mercenary River is a gruesome yet fascinating tale of how London came to be supplied with water. – Adrian Tinniswood, Daily Telegraph

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. – Lee Jackson, Literary Review



Wednesday June 19, 2024
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


Your Space
39 Brookmill Road
London, SE8 4HU United Kingdom
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