History

The former Seething Wells filter beds are a site of significant historical importance. They

were constructed in 1852 and were part of a much larger complex of buildings and other

structures that provided clean drinking water for the city of London after the cholera

epidemic of 1838. The filter beds are a unique example of an early Victorian civil

engineering project in the UK. The Seething Wells Action Group (SWAG) wants to preserve

and enhance the site so that it does justice to its historical and environmental importance.

Seething Wells is a historical and archeological asset ­not only for the local communities of Elmbridge, Surbiton and Kingston, but also for the nation. It could contribute significantly to the delivery of the councils planning approach.

The Chelsea Waterworks including the seven filter beds in question was built in the mid-19th Century to meet London’s growing demands for clean drinking water, ultimately helping combat cholera. 

Since then the filters were in continuous operation supplying clean drinking water to customers in SW London and operated by the Metropolitan Water Board and Thames Water. The works was decommissioned in 1992 and finally closed in November 1995.

Many of the buildings and structures have not been used for 30 years and now Seething Wells now offers a unique habitat for an uncommonly wide range of flora and fauna including rare birds and bat species.

The open space, buildings, filter beds, and tunnels provide a rich resource for anyone interested in nature, as well as Victorian culture, architecture, enterprise and public health.

Architecture

The site covers 5.38 ha:

  • 7 former filter beds, and
  • an area of hardstanding of approx. 85 x 85m with one building – the former pump house.

Important architectural features include the filter beds, the pump house, and the Victorian wall and railing bordering the site. The last two are locally listed.

In addition, there are two nationally-listed tunnels under the site that were used to transport coal from the river to the engine house on the other side of the road.

Legal Status of the Seething Wells Site
The following designations as contained in the Kingston-upon-Thames UDP (Unitary
Development Plan) (2005) pertain to the site:
– The pumping house on site is a Building of Townscape Merit
– The site is located within the Riverside South Conservation area
– The site is located within the wider Thames-Side Strategic Area of Special Character
– The site is located within the Thames Policy Area

– The site forms part of a Green Chain
The site is allocated as Proposal Site PS35 within the Urban Development Plan where the Council outlines the following appropriate uses as “Outdoor Recreation, Riverside Walk.”
The policy for the site goes onto state:
“Visually important site opposite Hampton Court Palace within Thames-side Strategic Area
of Special Character (BE1), Thames Policy Area (OL14) and Seething Wells Local Area of
Special Character (BE2)

Environmental Importance

The SINC hosts London BAP priority habitats of standing water and chalk grassland.

The SINC also hosts open mosaic habitat across its entirety (> 0.25 hectares), designating it a priority habitat. The applicant has not considered the wider land-

holding when assessing this habitat.

 

The site also has some noteworthy ecological features which has given it the status of Site of
Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC). The tunnels are bat roosts occupied by several
endangered bat species and the basins are used by a variety of birds.

 

– The site is located within the Riverside South Conservation area
– The site is allocated as Metropolitan Open Land
– The site is located within a wider site of Nature Conservation Interest – Grade 1
BoroughImportance

 

The site is allocated as Proposal Site PS35 within the Urban Development Plan where the Council outlines the following appropriate uses as “Outdoor Recreation, Riverside Walk.”
The policy for the site goes onto state:
“Visually important site opposite Hampton Court Palace within Thames-side Strategic Area
of Special Character (BE1), Thames Policy Area (OL14) and Seething Wells Local Area of
Special Character (BE2)
The site is of nature conservation importance (OL11), is designated Metropolitan Open Land
(OL4) and forms part of the strategic Green Chain network (STR7).
Extension of riverside walkway will provide an important link in the Thames riverside walk
(OL13) allowing views of the river and into the site.

Biodiversity

when priority habitat (open mosaic) and protected and priority species (11 species of bat) are

known to utilise the site.

 

over 50 species of bird, with many on the UK “red” and “amber” lists being recorded, 8 species of bat and species of reptile and invertebrate. A grass snake was seen on site in June 2022.

The SINC has a “locally significant” population of gulls and hosts London Biodiversity

Action Plan (BAP) priority species such as sand martins.

The Current Situation

Although the beds are protected through designations – South Riverside Conservation Area: Metropolitan Open Land (MOL) which has the same level of protection as Greenbelt, and is a Site of Interest for Local Nature Conservation (SINC) – it was sold by Thames Water in 1992 to private developers who have been poor guardians of the site and on a number of occasions tried to develop it. In 2012-14 the owners plans to convert the filter beds into a marina, restaurant and 92 luxury floating apartments were dismissed by the planning inspector following rejection by Kingston council. They have since felled protected trees, cleared the site of all vegetation, regularly sprayed industrial chemicals and neglected original Victorian features including locally listed railings and Pump House.

 

Current Ownership
The site was bought in 2010 by Cascina Properties Ltd from Thames Water with the aim to
create a number of residential units, a marina, a restaurant and heritage and education
centre whilst keeping a small portion as a wildlife reserve.
Current Condition of the Site
The current appearance of the site is that of an industrial wasteland. The owners have cut
down and rooted out most of the trees and have removed the grassland and topsoil that had accumulated over the years and that supported a biodiverse flora and fauna.
Subsequent routine spraying with pesticides and, on occasion, with strong disinfectant have
ensured that the recovery of any emerging flora was killed off, resulting in the barren
wasteland we see today. Consequently, the site has been graded in the Council’s review of
SINCs as ‘at risk’ of losing this status. SWAG has made it very clear to Kingston Council that it
would set a very dangerous precedent to remove SINC status from any site that had been
degraded by its owner in the pursuit of development.
Even so, with the right management of the site, SWAG has been assured by local
biodiversity and conservation experts that it is possible to restore much of the former
diversity of flora and fauna.