Celebrating 150 years

A brief summary of our sesquicentennial – 150 years!

The origins of the Company can really be traced back to 1859 when a Mr Drew bought a plot of land on Caterham Hill for a building development. To improve the value of the property he thought it would be a good idea to supply it with water, so he sank a borehole, installed a pumping plant and laid some short lengths of water main.

However, he soon discovered that his project was more costly to run than he had expected, so he willingly sold it to a group of local businessmen. The businessmen were interested in establishing a piped water supply to the fast-growing town of Redhill – a small country town which had sprung up thanks to the opening of the London to Brighton Railway in 1841.

They formed the Caterham Spring Water Company, which was established by an Act of Parliament in 1862 to supply water to Caterham, Coulsdon, Chaldon, Warlingham, Godstone, Bletchingly, Nutfield, Reigate, Redhill and Earlswood.

A year later on 21 December 1863, the Sutton and Cheam Water Company was founded in Carshalton Road with a capital of £8,000. Wells were sunk into the chalk, mains were laid in the parish of Sutton and a reservoir was dug at the junction of Brighton Road and Ventnor Road. After one year the total revenue received was £325, including nearly £20 of revenue from local inhabitants “who availed themselves of facilities for using the condensed steam from the pumping engines at Sutton Works to provide a warm bath”. A charge of 4d was made, which included the use of one towel.

In 1871, Sutton District Water took over Sutton and Cheam Water with the expanded company supplying the parishes of Sutton, Cheam, Carshalton, Wallington, Beddington, Morden, Banstead, Wooodmansterne, Ewell and Cuddington. In 1910 Kingswood was added and a water tower was built in Tadworth to supply the high parts of Banstead and Tadworth.

Originally, water was pumped from boreholes using long, shaft-driven pumps powered by steam engines at the top, through a series of belts and pulleys. Treated water was then pumped through the mains to customers using pumps driven by similar steam engines. Later the steam engines were replaced by diesel engines and then by electric motors. The pumping units became cleaner, smaller and used much less energy.

Pipes used to be made by boring through wooden logs with a red hot cannonball – hence why water mains are called ‘trunk mains’!

The early years were hard for Caterham Spring Water, but by 1880 it was supplying an increasing number of surrounding villages and two-thirds of Redhill. But with an ever-increasing number of customers it needed another water source. The Kenley Water Company had boreholes in exactly the right area but in those days there were few houses in the valley between Caterham and Purley and few customers to buy the water.

Discussions began between the two water companies and in 1881 they amalgamated, which set the Company firmly on its feet. In 1884 Parliament granted the company an application to extend their supply area to the Sussex boundary. The following year the two companies merged and became East Surrey Water Company.

A series of extensions and amalgamations followed and by 1930 the Company was supplying 250,000 customers with an average daily consumption of six million gallons. Under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, privatisation of the UK water industry took place in 1989, and at the same time the regulatory agency OFWAT was created.

In April 1996 a new chapter in the Companies’ history began when Sutton District Water and East Surrey Water merged to form one Company, Sutton and East Surrey Water. The Company opened its new head office in London Road in 2000.

Sutton and East Surrey Water is one of the UK’s smallest supply-only water companies. Covering parts of Surrey, South London and Kent – within the driest and most densely populated area in the UK – the amount of water we use has risen dramatically in recent years. We take more showers and baths, and use more water outside the home too, like gardening and car washing. The average domestic consumption rate is currently 160 litres per person, per day.

In the five years leading up to 2015 we are investing more than £100M to help secure supplies and improve our network. This includes the major upgrade of our Bough Beech treatment works; the A217 mains linking scheme, and the new strategic main between Outwood and Buckland. All these projects are adding resilience by enhancing capacity and increasing pump flow.

All our processes have been improved, empowering employees to resolve issues quickly. Our website has been upgraded and is now mobile friendly. We developed and introduced Google Maps Coordinate for the efficient management of our field based technicians – the first utility company in the world to employ this technology. And we’re proud to have one of the lowest leakage levels in the industry.

We are determined to continue to develop and build on these initiatives to improve customer service and forge stronger links with the communities we serve.

In February 2013, Sutton and East Surrey Water was acquired by the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation. Osaka Gas then became joint owners with Sumitomo in October 2013. 

Our Department of Education accredited, award winning education programme celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2008. Every year we engage with more than 13,000 primary school pupils, either through giving talks in schools, or when they visit our education centre at Bough Beech. This year, we introduced our first secondary schools project – Aqua Innovation.

Every summer we attend local events where we challenge visitors to test the local water supply against two branded bottled waters, and promote water efficiency.

Our employees are regularly involved in raising funds to support WaterAid causes overseas, particularly in Bangladesh, and local charities such as The Children’s Trust in Tadworth.

SES Water's historical timeline

Find out about the key dates in the Company's history