The plaque at the door of the Myddelton Grill on St Peter’s Square commemorates a local man who, in the 16th century, was responsible for supplying London (then much smaller!) with its first supply of fresh water. Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), the sixth son of Richard Myddelton, governor of Denbigh Castle, and MP for Denbigh, sought his fortune in London and became a man of many parts—goldsmith, clothmaker, banker, entrepreneur, mine owner and engineer.As jeweller to King James I, Myddelton became a very rich man, well capable of financing the New River, cut between Amwell and Chadwel near Ware, Hertfordshire, and Islington, at the edge of the city of London. The need for water had become obvious. London had grown; its wells and conduits no longer sufficed. Amwell and Chadwell had springs; Sir Hugh saw a business opportunity and ordered the construction of a river to connect the springs and the city. The river meandered for 40 miles (it was 20 miles as the crow flew), following a 100 foot contour line and falling 18 feet on its way.The New River took four years to construct and was opened on 29 September 1613. It helped earn him a baronetcy (1622)—he became Sir Hugh Myddelton of Ruthyn, and his name is honoured, first of all at the Myddelton Grill, of course (which was formerly the Myddelton Arms), but also with a statue near the terminus of the New River (at the corner of Upper Street and Essex Road Islington). Nearby there is a Myddelton Square and a Myddelton Passage, as well
as Hugh Myddelton Primary School. Nearer to home, there is a memorial to Sir Hugh in St Mary’s Church, Chirk; and a portrait of him, painted in 1628 by Cornelius Johnson, is on display at Chirk Castle.Despite his metropolitan fame, he kept his local links, becoming an alderman and recorder of Denbigh. Succeeding his father, he was Member of Parliament for Denbigh from 1603 till 1628. He died in December 1631 and was buried at St Matthew’s Church, Friday Street in London. His London home, Myddelton House, is now the headquarters of Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. According to Iain Sinclair, author of London Orbital (Penguin 2003), “you can creep up to the high windows of this comfortable property and see computers, coffee machines, filing cabinets, the steel-grey trappings of bureaucracy... but you cannot go in”. You can, of course, go in to the Myddelton Grill and the owners will doubtless be delighted if you do; take a look at the chimneypiece, complete with heraldic signs, and at the splendid staircase, which may well be of the same date.