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Alexander Cruikshank Houston

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Sir Alexander Cruikshank Houston (1865-1933), Director of Water Examinations to the Metropolitan Water Board

1865 September 18th. Born at Mysore, India, the oldest son of John Houston, Surgeon-General, and his wife Isabella Mitchell

Spent his working life in research work dealing with water supplies


1933 Obituary [1]

IT is with very great regret that we have to record the death of Sir Alexander Houston, the Director of Water Examinations to the Metropolitan Water Board. Sir Alexander died at his home in Hampstead on October 29th, in the sixty-ninth year of his ago.

Alexander Cruikshank Houston was the eldest son of Surgeon-General John Houston, of the Indian Medical Service.

He was educated at Merchiston Castle school and at Edinburgh University and graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine in 1889.

At a very early date in his career he exhibited an inclination to depart from the ordinary paths of a medical calling. In 1891 he graduated as a Bachelor of Science and a year later he received the degree of Doctor of Science.

Questions of public health claimed his interest, and from 1893 onwards, until his appointment to the Metropolitan Water Board in 1905, he worked on various aspects of that subject for a number of different bodies. For the Local Government Board he conducted an important and prolonged investigation into lead poisoning produced by moorland water supplies.

During the years 1898 to 1900 he was employed by the London County Council on sewage disposal experiments at Crossness and Barking, and subsequently studied the bacteriology of watercress beds and milk supplies.

From 1899 to 1905 he served as bacteriologist to the Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal, and in the last-named year was bacteriologist to the Lincoln Corporation during the typhoid epidemic which broke out in the city.

His connection with the Metropolitan Water Board may be said to date from 1903, when he was engaged in an expert capacity in the arbitration proceedings which led to the establishment of the Board as an authority superseding the old water companies. Following his appointment as the Board's Director of Water Examinations, he still found opportunity to place his knowledge and experience at the disposal of other bodies.

In 1907 he acted as British representative on an International Commission appointed to inquire into the water supply of Cairo. In the same year he took part in the Belfast Health Inquiry.

With Sir Alexander Binnie he visited Ottawa in 1913 to report on that city's water supply.

It is by his work for the Metropolitan Water Board that Sir Alexander will undoubtedly best be remembered. His annual reports on the purity of London's water supplies revealed him to be, not only a scientist, but an antiquarian, a poet, and a philosopher. These reports, while they might have been purely statistical, were enlivened and raised to a high level of literary and human interest by the infusion into them of the author's enthusiasm for his work and his love for everything connected with it directly or remotely. H1s attent1on was by no means confined to what he could see beneath the microscope or in the test tube but ranged widely over the history and geography of London's water supplies. It would, however be a mistake to suppose that he allowed these external interests to interfere in any way with the performance of his tec1wcal duties. He was charged with the task of protecting the sources of supply and with the solution of problems concerned with the purification of the water. In that work he acquired a worldwide reputation and rendered service, not only to the Board, but to all water supply authorities.

Last year, although he had passed the age limit of sixty-five, the Board decided to retain him in his post. In coming to that decision it recorded its opinion that his work "lightened the grave responsibilities of the Board and tended to create a sense of security among those who watched over the health of the Metropolis."

Three weeks ago it was announced that it had been hoped to retain his services until at least September, 1934, but that his health had compelled him to tender his resignation.

Sir Alexander was created a Knight of the British Empire in 1918 and a year later was made a Commander of the Victorian Order.


1933 Obituary[2]

"THE LATE SIR ALEXANDER C. HOUSTON.

The Metropolitan Water Board, and, we may add, all other authorities interested in water purification, have lost, in the recent death of Sir Alexander Cruikshank Houston, a scientist of remarkable ability and achievements. Sir Alexander, who passed away at his Hampstead home on October 29 last, had been director of water examinations of the Board for the last twenty-eight years, during which the population of London and the demands for water increased considerably. The eldest son of the late Surgeon-General John Houston, he was born on September 18, 1865, and was educated at Harborne Vicarage School, Harborne, and Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh. Passing on to Edinburgh University, he obtained the medical degrees of M.B. and C.M. in 1889, the B.Sc. degree in 1891, and the D.Sc. degree in 1892. From the first, Sir Alexander was concerned with the question of impurities in water, for in 1893 he began investigations on lead poisoning due to moorland water supplies, on behalf of the Local Government Board. He continued his studies on this and other questions connected with public health for a number of years. From 1898 to 1900 he carried through some important sewage-disposal experiments at Crossness and Barking for the London County Council. During this period he also acted as bacteriologist to the Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal, and, in 1903, was one of the experts engaged in the arbitration proceedings for Metropolitan Water Supply. He was appointed director of water examinations of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1905, and although he had passed the age limit for retirement, his valuable services were retained, it had been hoped, until September, 1934. Quite recently, however, for health reasons, Sir Alexander had felt obliged to tender his resignation, and he was to have retired at the end of the present year.

Among other services rendered during his career, Sir Alexander was bacteriologist to the Lincoln Corporation during the typhoid epidemic of 1905; he also took part in the Belfast Health Inquiry in 1907; and was British representative on the international commission of three experts, held in 1907, to inquire into the quality of the Cairo water supply. He visited Ottawa in 1913 to make a report on the water supply of that city, in conjunction with Sir Alexander Binnie. Sir Alexander was the author of numerous reports, monographs, and other publications on water supply, water purification, and ancillary subjects. He was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1918, and became a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1919. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1931, after having been an F.R.S.Edin. for some years."


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1933/11/03
  2. Engineering 1933/11/10