Before analysing the long historical evolution of drinking water in London, it is worth noting that history is always viewed backwards from a particular contemporary historical standpoint. This chapter is a history from a contemporary British historical standpoint. History appears quite differently from an Irish historical standpoint, and so shines an initial contrasting light on the specifi cities of the British, so emphasising that this chapter is of a particular and contingent historical trajectory. The Right2Water campaign in the Republic of Ireland burst onto the streets with mass protests and demonstrations in 2014, demanding water as a free public good, invoking the United Nation’s designation of safe drinking water as a human right. Ireland is unique among OECD countries in having no direct charges related to the provision of drinking water, which historically has been fi nanced out of general taxation. In order to modernise water provisioning and sewerage, the government had set up a company, Irish Water, a subsidiary of the state-owned gas utility company, Bord Gáis, under the Water Services Act, 2013. Irish Water is a national-scale organisation, replacing the previous responsibility resting with local municipalities. The need for radical reorganisation was said to arise from the dilapidated and deteriorating state of the infrastructure: the pipework for water and sewage, and related technologies and infrastructures for water and sewage treatment. At the same time, a radical change in fi nancing the water and sewage provisioning was to be achieved through the introduction of water meters, and charging by volume of usage. This contemporary political and fi nancial upheaval illustrates in a striking manner the potential for confl ict and contestation over what constitutes a public good, how it is paid for, what

economic organisation is involved in delivering it, and at what scale. Suddenly, all these interconnected elements were destabilised in an advanced economy and a water-rich environment. Is water only a public good when a nation state fi nances it out of general taxation and provides it ‘free at the point of delivery’ (as with health services under the UK’s National Health Service)? As we shall see, this is a peculiarly Irish conception. But it highlights how the construction of water as either a public or private good evolves in different ways in different societal contexts.