Parched City

Parched City

Plunder, pollution, profiteering: A history of London’s public and private drinking water.


With original stories from London’s archives, Parched City tracks drinking-water obsessions through a popular architectural, environmental and social history tale. Naturally we meet Dr John Snow, but we also encounter lesser known characters: the flamboyant temperance activist Samuel Gurney, who was on a mission to cover London with drinking fountains; the bacteriologists who paved the way for the drinking water quality we enjoy today in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – Grace and Percy Frankland, and Dr Alexander Houston. Sifting through the archives for these drinking water details in the grander engineering narratives, the author reveals micro-stories of London; including the drill for home water treatment during the Blitz, when Milton became a household brand. Environmentalists, water industry professionals and designers collide in the book’s coverage of more recent history, with divergent views on how London might be liberated from its daily plastic avalanche of waste from bottled water containers. Jones’ fresh research into the explosion of the bottled water industry in the 1980s—including the country’s first and only water strike—reveals that the thirst for packaged water was not only down to successful advertising campaigns. Events leading up to the water, and waste-water, industry’s privatisation in 1989 unravel why a mistrust of London’s tap water may linger. This is something, Jones argues, that the water industry must publicly confront. Is the city’s water supply completely safe now? If London’s tap water is pristine, why are public drinking fountains not springing up everywhere to herald the new age of high-tech desalination, amongst Thames Water’s menu of engineering triumphs? Who should be responsible for providing drinking fountains and maintaining them? Why are the capital’s convenience stores’ fridges bursting with bottled water brands in the twenty-first century, and why is this ludicrously expensive product so ubiquitous throughout the UK and beyond? If drinking water is a basic human right, as the United Nations proclaims of the ‘developed’ as well as the ‘developing’ world, why has it become so thoroughly commodified as a product? From Londinium to the Olympic Games, Parched City investigates these critical questions of water access, ownership and quality.


'Parched City tells London’s history through its drinking water. Grounded in detailed archival research, interviews and analysis of current policy and social trends, it reveals the complexity of provision of one of our most fundamental needs. Emma Jones weaves together histories of science, design, public administration and social campaigns to show how London’s drinking water system came to be, and what might be done to address environmental and social challenges of the future. The focus on ‘drinking water’, in contrast to typical narratives about water infrastructure, allows her to effectively tackle ever more urgent debates about bottled water and public drinking water fountains. Understanding the evolution of drinking water in the city, and the array of interests it serves, provides the basis for devising intelligent, culturally informed strategies to respond to twenty-first century challenges. The provision of drinking water is so often taken for granted in London, and yet it is the subject of fierce debate. This book guides us through the history of drinking water as it rises and recedes in public consciousness, laying the foundations for constructive deliberation about the future of this most fundamental element of life and the city.' ~ Sarah Bell, Professor of Environmental Engineering, University College London; author of Urban Water Sustainability: Constructing infrastructure for cities and nature (Routledge, 2018)

Ditching bottled water is a win win situation; it's kind to your pocket and to the planet. In the UK, unlike many parts of the world, we are lucky enough to have clean water in every home and yet we don't realise our good fortune. Parched City explains how the good fortune happened, and why bottled water is an extravagance too far. ~ Jenny Jones - London Assembly Member for the Green Party

Emma M. Jones
Emma M. Jones Emma M. Jones was born in Dublin in 1974. She grew up there and in the more arid environs of Libya and Saudi Arabia. Emma produced outdo...
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