One of the principal areas of concern and focus for management was the water supply. Water was of course one of the most important resources for a community. The sitting of settlements was influenced strongly by proximity to water. Whether coastal or inland, the commercial activities of most towns relied heavily on water transportation, and so the navigability of rivers or harbors had to be assured. Water contributed to the protection of the community, whether it was through the natural barrier of a river itself, or in ditches or castle moats, or to help with fire-fighting. Water was needed for the irrigation of the townspeople's fields, orchards, and gardens, and for watering their livestock. Water was a source of sustenance, both in terms of food (fish and shellfish) and drink. It supplied both domestic and industrial brewing, and was important - either as ingredient or power-source - to other key industrial activities, such as grain-milling, cloth-finishing, and tanning.
Other domestic needs were for cooking, cleaning clothes, and washing/bathing.
Local streams or rivers were of course a major source of water for domestic and industrial uses. Those whose property was adjacent might dig a private channel from the watercourse. Other households whose owners could afford it might have a private well dug. Some, perhaps many, towns had public wells (e.g. Yarmouth), although it is difficult to know at what period these were introduced. Other towns built conduit systems, but these were by no means ubiquitous; Leicester for example relied on private and public wells, in addition to the River Soar, for the greater part of the Late Middle Ages, and no conduit is heard of before the sixteenth century.
In 1235 the authorities of London, always at the forefront of development, began an initiative to construct what would eventually...