Our History

From the Beginning

In November 1938 Allen Bolton joined Sutton and District Water Company as a plumber. He became Chief Inspector in 1945 and with a background in industry he looked for somewhere to turn for information and an insight into the day to day operations of a water undertaking. None of the professional bodies at that time catered for his needs so he set about creating his own.

The inaugural meeting of the proposed Association of Chief Inspectors took place in Croydon on 21st April 1945. The meeting was presided over by Wm. C. Knill, Engineer and Manager, County Borough of Croydon, Water Department, and was attended by 78 officers representing Water Authorities in the South East. It was resolved “that steps should be taken to form an Association of Water Distribution Officers for the purpose of promoting a wider knowledge of the principles and practices governing the distribution of public water supplies.”

The first meeting of the Association of Water Distribution Officers was held at the offices of the Sutton and District Water Company in Surrey on 12th May 1945.

Membership was initially restricted to Superintendents, Foremen of Inspections, Distribution Assistants, Chief Inspectors and their permanent Deputies or Assistants and other Officers holding similar positions of responsibility in statutory water undertakings. By the time of the first Annual General Meeting on 11th May 1946, over 100 people had joined and were listed as Founder Members.

Over the years there have been several changes of name. The Association of Water Officers Limited was registered under the Companies Act 1948 as a Company Limited by Guarantee on 12th October 1954. This changed to Institution of Water Officers (IWO) in 1990 before becoming Institute of Water in 2010. The latest change was to clarify our position as the only professional body that exclusively supports the careers of people working in the UK water sector, regardless of background or qualifications.

Milestones and Key Achievements

1948 – Ewell Lecture Courses offering education and training for waterworks staff were introduced and ran for almost 25 years until the creation of the Water Supply Industry Training Board

1955 – Within 10 years the Association was well on the way to being a representative body, with over 700 members and seven Areas. The Association had:

  • Worked with the World Health Organisation and the Colonial Office
  • Undertaken responsibility for the training of a number of trainees sent by colonial governments to this country to learn about waterworks practice
  • Sourced skilled manpower to commission or run waterworks installations in various locations around the world
  • Introduced exams and City and Guilds courses for members and prospective young members and persuaded technical colleges to set up courses for waterworks personnel

1956 – Ran THE first Weekend School in the history of the water industry on ‘Supervisory Techniques in the Water Industry’

1973 – Became the only organisation within the water sector to be approved by the Engineers Registration Board (now Engineering Council) for the registration of Technicians and Technician Engineers

1995 – ‘History of the Institution of Water Officers’ published to celebrate 50th Anniversary

1998 – Licensed by the Engineering Council to award Chartered Engineer

2004 – Licensed by the Society for the Environment to award Chartered Environmentalist, an offering that reflects the diversity of membership and an Institute that can support the career of anybody working in the UK Water industry

2013 – Licensed by the Science Council to award Chartered Scientist

2013 – Became a Signatory of the Diversity in Engineering Concordat

The Annual Conference and Exhibition

The third Annual Meeting, held at Margate in 1948, included a Conference and this has become a successful annual event, moving round the country to be hosted by a different Area each year.

By 1949 membership was opened up to the industry’s suppliers. These new Associates from the supply chain were beginning to attend Annual Conferences, inviting some delegates out during the evenings for dinner and other forms of socialising. It was suggested instead that suppliers would set up and run an exhibition at the Conference and, with a small charge made for the stands, they would pay for an evening meal and entertainment known as the President’s Evening. This was a first for the water industry and is still the main social event at the Annual Conference.

The Conference and Exhibition ran very successfully for many years, with the exhibition growing to the extent it became difficult to find large enough venues around the country. In 1989 the solution was to take the Conference and Exhibition to the Birmingham Exhibition Centre. The exhibition was undoubtedly a great success and it was sold to the Turret Group that year and separated from the Annual Conference. The exhibition continues at the Birmingham NEC under the name of IWEX (International Water & Effluent Exhibition) and is now part of Sustainability Live.

In 1989 the exhibition hosted the first Drilling and Tapping Competition – a team time trial with the aim of drilling and tapping a 150mm diameter ductile iron main under pressure and installing a simulated service connection. Skill, dexterity and speed are prime requirements but quality is paramount and time penalty points are added if there are any leaks or infringements of the Rules & Regulations. The prize – thanks to sponsorship – is a trip to the USA to represent the UK in the equivalent competition run by American Water Works Association.

The Institute of Water Journal and Magazine

Within one year the Association was publishing and circulating a quarterly Journal and has produced a Journal every quarter since, despite difficulties along the way such as the post-war paper shortage.

The first advertisement appeared in the second edition of the Journal in April 1946. This was submitted by the Palatine Engineering Company Limited who continued to support the Journal for many years. They were joined by several other advertisers which helped to offset the cost of printing and publishing the Journal. The first edition contained 12 pages but by the time the third edition was published this had increased to 28 pages, with 450 copies being distributed.

Today the 100-page Journal, now renamed the magazine, remains a zero-cost publication thanks to the consistent support of advertisers. The circulation is over 2000 copies and the quality is probably the best it has ever been. Area News remains a regular feature, along with Engineering News, Environment News and topical Industry Features and Reports.

Head Office

The first office was established at 66 George Street, Croydon (1954-1967) before moving to Shortlands, Kent. Efforts to find an office in the London Area were nullified by very high charges for rent and rates so an offer from Sunderland and South Shields Water Company of space to rent in South Shields saw a move to the North East of England in 1975. In 1991 the Institution bought Heriot House in Newcastle, before moving in 1998 to the current premises on Team Valley in nearby Gateshead. In 2006 the Office was re-designed to accommodate a board room which is now used for most Executive meetings.


The Institute first became involved in WaterAid in 1981 when it pledged support to the United Nations Decade of Water. The challenge was twofold: to support WaterAid with cash and to encourage members with their vast range of expertise to consider the possibility of going abroad where help was urgently needed.

Over the years a considerable sum of money has continued to be raised at both national and local level and many members have helped in many different projects across the world. One social event at the Annual Conference is dedicated to WaterAid with entry fees going directly to the industry’s charity.

In 2008 Chief Executive of WaterAid, Barbara Frost, became one of the first Patrons of the Institute of Water.

F. Allen Bolton: 1910-2011

Founder Member Allen Bolton celebrated his 100th Birthday on Christmas Day 2010. He had been suffering with dementia for a number of months and in January 2011 moved into a care home where he died in his sleep in the early hours of 22nd February.

Allen was at the heart of the Institute throughout his life, serving as Honorary Secretary 1945-1952, Honorary Treasurer 1945-1952, Chairman 1972-1974 and Honorary Journal Editor 1964-1965 and 1975-1976. Allen attended every AGM from 1945 to 2008 and set a great example to all members with his dedication and his thirst for knowledge. In the ‘History of the Institution of Water Officers’ he concluded: “The future, dear Members, is in your hands and I shall be watching you.”