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National Life Stories: An Oral History of the Water Industry

An Oral History of the Water Industry, initiated in 2009, gathers life story recordings of those involved in all aspects of the UK water industry. The project is supported by the sponsorship of six water companies.

This National Life Stories project records the life stories of a wide range of people who have experience of working in the UK water industry, to create a permanent archive of memories and knowledge.  Through gathering recordings from those involved in a variety of different positions within the industry, the project will track the many structural, technological and commercial changes that have taken place within living memory, and which are missing from traditional historical records. 

An Oral History of the Water Industry reflects changes in ownership, from predominantly municipal provision of services through to the 1973 Water Bill (which led to the creation of ten Water Authorities), and including the process of privatisation in England and Wales coupled with continued public ownership in Scotland. A focus of the project is the organisational, technological and regulatory impact of such developments.  The water industry is a sector almost entirely undocumented by historians, which this project seeks to redress. The interviews provide a multi-faceted exploration of post-war developments in this industry through the inclusion of interviews from chairmen to chemists, and exploring themes ranging from sluices to sewage.

The project will focus initially on six water companies, representative of urban and rural supply (Yorkshire and Wessex), differing scales of activity (Cambridge and Northumbria) and different types of ownership (Scottish and Southern).

Partners and sponsors

  • Cambridge Water
  • Northumbria Water
  • Scottish Water
  • Southern Water
  • Wessex Water
  • Yorkshire Water

Accessing the collection

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)