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Piped water supplies managed by civic bodies in medieval English towns

Piped water supplies managed by civic bodies in medieval English towns

By John S. Lee

Urban History, Vol. 41:3 (2014)

Abstract: When John Leland toured England in the 1540s, he observed water conduits in several towns, including a number of smaller urban centres. Subsequent historians and archaeologists, however, have seriously understated the number and importance of piped water systems in English towns.

This article uses studies of individual towns, together with civic records and Leland’s Itinerary, to examine the sources and technologies of urban water supplies, the origins of civic piped water systems, their relationships to other local systems, finance, management and oversight. It will argue that the growth in piped supplies by civic bodies in the later Middle Ages reflects the importance of charitable provision and the efforts of civic authorities to establish, maintain and regulate them. An appendix lists medieval English towns known to have provided public access to piped water supplies by c. 1550.

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