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How the Waters come down to the City


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The Sheffield Waterworks are the oldest of the city's great municipal enterprises, and by far the most costly. They arc the most romantic, for they link the city closely with its fine surrounding moors, near and far. They also recall the most tragic of local memories - the Sheffield flood.

No great city, unless it is Glasgow, is so well situated for a supply of water by gravitation. Sheffield finds all the water it needs, or will need for a hundred years, in the hills that rise within a dozen miles of its boundaries. It only has to impound the waters of its streams in the upper parts of their valleys, and then regulate the flow down into its midst. But it has spent already nearly three-and-three-quarters millions in doing this, and it is spending more. On account of waterworks it still owes three-and-a-third millions of money.

We must, however, remember that, for this cost, it possesses enormous works, engineered with great skill, and an up-to-date system of supply which never fails, and that the capital cost is only about 7 for each person supplied with water, without taking into account the vast amounts used in the city's industries and for maintaining public cleanliness.

Indeed, the Sheffield Water supply competes with its Tramways system and its Educational system as to which is the most distinguishing feature of the city's municipal activity. But the indebtedness of the city for the construction of its Waterworks is greater than its indebtedness on account of Tramways, Electric Light, Markets, and all its Educational property, put together.

This is mentioned here, of course, not by way of criticism, for the Waterworks are a splendid instance of foresight and success, but it is mentioned to show the vastness of the enterprise. Every Sheffielder should make it a point of honour and of interest to see these great works.

Before 200 years ago, Sheffield got its water either from a small storage pool near the junction of the Sheaf and the Don; or from ancient wells, of which there were a number; or from Barker Pool, so named because the reservoir constructed there was made by a man named Barker. In the year 1737, five small reservoirs, called the White House dams, were made on the ascent to Crookesmoor opposite the barracks. This first effective water supply through pipes was a private enterprise carried on by consent of the Lord of the Manor, with the good will of the inhabitants generally. By 1795 the supply had become so insufficient that the reservoirs in the Crookesmoor Valley were begun, and they were gradually increased in number. The water was carried down first through oak pipes, but later through iron pipes, to a dam situated where the Jessop Hospital now stands, and from thence passed to a stone cistern in Division Street, whence it was distributed over the town.

By the year 1830, the town, which then had 90,000 inhabitants, was feeling the insufficiency of the supply, and the Sheffield Water Company was formed to construct two reservoirs, one at Redmires and a service reservoir at Crookes, thus securing abundant pressure from a height of over 600 feet. The old proprietors, who had secured an Act of Parliament for these extensions, were bought out by the Company for 41,800. The Middle Redmires Reservoir, of 48 acres, was made first, with the Crookes reservoir of 5 acres.

By 1845 the supply was again becoming inadequate for a population of 120,000, and another Act of Parliament was obtained sanctioning the making of two more reservoirs at Redmires, and two compensation dams where the Rivelin valley receives the Wyming Brook. Under this Act, the Lower Redmires Reservoir, of nearly 29 acres, was made in 1847, and the Upper Redmires Reservoir, with an area of 56 acres, was made in 1853-4. The two compensation dams in the Rivelin Valley have an area of a little more than 40 acres.

Compensation dams are those made, by agreement with mill-owners farther down the stream, to keep up an undiminished flow of water, notwithstanding the collecting and tapping of the supply at a higher level. This is done with advantage to everybody by holding up the flood waters. In the mountain valleys that have no reservoirs, the floods after heavy rains race down to the plains, unused and destructive. If they are held up in dams of sufficient size, the water may be sent down when it is required, and in manageable amounts. Of course, when the compensation dams are full, any additional water must be allowed to pass. The compensation reservoirs are always in the lower parts of the valley, where they may take surplus water from the upper dams, as well as water that is less pure than that used for drinking.

The Sheffield Company now had control of all the waters from the eastern side of the Stanage Moors that find their way into the Rivelin; but it was not enough, for by 1854 the population had increased to 150,000. Accordingly, an Act of Parliament was obtained sanctioning the construction of two reservoirs in Bradfield Dale, another in the bed of the River Agden, and a fourth in the main valley of the Loxley, this latter acting as a compensation dam.

First, in Bradfield Dale, the lower, or Dale Dike, dam was made. It covered 78 acres, and was built to hold more than 700,000,000 gallons of water. It was 700 feet above sea-level, and 450 feet above Owlerton, which was then the nearest part of Sheffield and 6½ miles away. At midnight on Friday, March 11, 1864, the dam had filled up to about 700,000,000 gallons, when a landslip occurred, and the embankment which penned in the waters gave way, and three million tons of water rushed down the Loxley valley on the sleeping town of Sheffield.

No similar calamity has ever been recorded in England. The waters swept down the valley in a great wave at the rate of a mile a minute when they reached their full velocity. Bridges, works, houses, trees, and rocks were washed away, leaving in some cases no trace of where they had stood, and 244 people were drowned. For damage to property, and other losses, the Water Company paid 373,000 in compensation. The greatest loss of life occurred far down the river at Malin Bridge, and in Sheffield, where no warning reached the families sleeping in houses near the banks of the stream. At Bradfield and Damflask it was known hours before the accident that there was danger, for the crack in the embankment came gradually, though the final collapse was sudden.

Since that day a great deal more has been learned about the pressure of water under different conditions, and the resistance of the materials of which dams are made. To repay themselves for their losses the Water Company obtained by Act of Parliament permission to increase by 25 per cent, their charges for water for the next twenty-five years, and so the public finally paid for the misadventure. The other dams in the Loxley drainage area were built by the Water Company, namely, the Damflask Compensation reservoir in 1867 - 115 acres; the Agden reservoir, 1869 - nearly 63 acres; the Strines reservoir, 1871 - nearly 55 acres; and in 1875 the Dale Dike dam was rebuilt a little higher up the valley and of a third less size.

In 1887 the Water Company went to Parliament with a Bill that would have allowed them not only to charge more for the water they supplied, but to levy for ever the 25 per cent, extra charge put on because of the flood. The city, on the other hand, gave notice of a Bill to enable them to buy out the Company compulsorily. The House of Lords Committee which heard the arguments decided for the City's purchase, but insisted that the terms should not only be fair but be liberal. In consequence, the City Council took charge of the Waterworks in January, 1888, and paid the Company more than 2,000,000 - to be exact, 2,092,014.

Since the waterworks have belonged to the citizens, the original two million pounds' worth of storage capacity has been nearly doubled, and will be much more than doubled when extensions now in hand are completed. First, the Little Don Valley reservoirs were made - the Langsett dam, the largest of the whole system, having an area of 120 acres, and the Underbank Compensation Reservoir an area of 103 acres. Then, joining with Derby, Leicester, arid Nottingham, Sheffield has a fourth share of the waters of the Howden and Derwent reservoirs in the Upper Derwent valley, reservoirs with a storage capacity of nearly 4,000 million gallons. The city's share of this water is brought from Ashopton by a tunnel under Bamford and Stallage Edges, and is delivered in the Rivelin Valley at the outfall of Wyming Brook. Into the Rivelin Valley also comes the supply from the Bradheld reservoirs through a tunnel under Stannington.

The last of the schemes which will exhaust the water supplies of the neighbouring moors is the making, now in progress, of two dams to intercept the waters of the Ewden Valley. The higher of these works - Broomhead - will have an area of 115 acres, and the lower - Moor Hall - an area of 70 acres. When these works are completed, Sheffield will be receiving the waters from a moorland drainage area of more than 37,000 acres; but it has obligations to supply water to Rotherham and Doncaster from the Little Don system.

The income of the Committee is fast approaching 200,000 a year, but about 160,000 has to be paid in interest and towards the repayment of money borrowed. The Committee surrendered voluntarily its right to collect the extra 25 per cent, demanded by the Water Company four years before the term expired for which the extra payment was allowed, and it has been generous in giving the use of water for public purposes.

The Committee's development of its Rivelin Valley lands, and its purchase and opening out of the Wyming Brook gorge are points of sound and public-spirited management which every citizen should appreciate. Many of the facts given in this account of the water undertaking are extracted from two published lectures on the history of the enterprise delivered by Mr. William Terrey, the extremely able General Manager of the Department. The moorland water of Sheffield is singularly soft and pure. It is much used by the railways because of its suitability for steam boilers. There was a time when the Redmires water took up lead from the pipes, but a chalk treatment, carried on where the water leaves the reservoir, gives it the chemical constituents needed to prevent an attack on the pipes. Owing to the height from which the water descends, the difficulty in Sheffield as regards pressure has been to reduce it rather than to increase it. In no city arc more up-to-date methods employed for the prevention of waste. The situation of the Sheffield reservoirs, within walking distance of the city, or between one point and another on the railway, such as from Oughti-bridge, or Deepcar, or Penistone, or Hazlehead, to Bamford, has probably had some effect in fostering a love of moorland scenery among the people of the city. The Langsett and Underbank dams lie amid stern surroundings near the beginning of breezy and impressive walks, whether the journey homeward from the Great Central Railway be made past them to the Derwent Valley works, or by Midhope, Agden, and the Bradfield Vale reservoirs. While the Strines dam is the most beautifully placed, nestling under wooded slopes, all the dams help to light up somewhat austere scenery, and lure the wanderer into the wilds that are one of the choicest rewards of life in Sheffield.


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Pictures for How the Waters come down to the City

Malin Bridge
Malin Bridge >>>>
LANGSETT RESERVOIR
LANGSETT RESERVOIR >>>>

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