The supply of public water services in England and Wales – water supply, sewerage, sewage disposal and land drainage – has a long history, with the City of Hull empowered by Royal Charter to supply public water supplies as early as 1447. However, most people continued to obtain their water from local sources through direct extraction. It was only in the nineteenth century with industrialisation and rapid urbanisation that the need for safe, clean public water supplies became a priority, confi rmed by frequent outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. The Public Health Act 1848 laid the basis for a series of statutes dealing with public health and statutory water undertakings were established in different towns and areas. In some cases the water supply undertakings were private-sector companies. But in most cases local authorities, either directly or through joint undertakings and boards, became responsible for the provision of services. Such an ad hoc development of the industry in England and Wales meant that in 1945 1,300 undertakings provided water services. It was increasingly obvious that to produce the required investment in new water mains, sewers and treatment plants and to manage water resources on a river catchment area basis, larger undertakings were needed.