History of the Huddersfield Water Supplies (1939) - Chapter II

The following is a transcription of a historic book and may contain occasional small errors.

History of the Huddersfield Water Supplies (1939) by T.W. Woodhead

Table of Contents:



8. Plan of Huddersfield in 1778. At the bottom right of the plan is the Sir John Ramsden Canal and at the top, to the right, is the reservoir of water pumped from the River Colne for supply to the Town.

Until comparatively recent times the people in this neighbourhood were dependent for their water supply upon upland streams, springs issuing from the hillsides, and later, from roadside wells, village pumps, rain tubs and wells sunk in or near their houses, Early examples of sunken wells were found at the Roman Camp at Slack and the Norman Keep at Castle Hill, Almondbury. For centuries the thinly scattered population was able to supply its needs from these sources and as we shall see they still meet the needs of many scattered homesteads in the Borough. It was not until an increasing population and the demands of developing industries found such sources not only inadequate, but increasingly liable to pollution, that it became necessary to go further afield, and take other steps to secure a more copious and safe supply. This, however, involved encroaching on the area of another authority and co-operation was often difficult to secure.

For more than two centuries the government of the townships of Almondbury and Huddersfield was by Court Leet or Court of the Lord of the Manor, and the Vestry, and there was little need, beyond individual effort, to concern itself with so accessible a commodity as a water supply. In 1627 the Court Leet was granted by the Crown to the Ramsden family as Lords of the Manor.


As the town developed, it became necessary to provide a more adequate supply and in 1743 Sir John Ramsden constructed the first waterworks for the town and the scheme adopted was one in common use at the time. The River Colne offered an accessible and copious supply and on the left bank of the river at Folly Hall a pumping engine, worked by a waterwheel, was installed, hence the name of Engine Bridge. From here the water was conveyed in wooden pipes to a storage reservoir at the bottom of George Street, near the present Parochial Hall (Fig. 8). From this reservoir water was distributed for domestic and trade purposes. On a plan at the Estate Office, dated 1797, at site No. 151 is written "Mill &c.," "Engine for supplying the Town with water." A note under a photograph taken in 1889 and referring to this engine says, "At the present time the position is in the passage at the back of the Estate Buildings." Many writers have eulogised the purity of the water of the river and the abundance of trout to be caught there in those early days. The Rev. Joseph Ismay, Vicar of Mirfield, said that in 1750 salmon, trout and grayling were abundant in the river at Mirfield.

9. Folly Hall Water Works.

These waterworks not only supplied the needs at the time, but contributed to further development. There was an increase in the number of mills along the river banks, making use of the water-power, and at the same time a tendency of the people to move to the lower parts of the valley to be nearer their work. The inevitable result was to increase the pollution of the river. This is shown in an account of these waterworks as they were about 1812, nearly seventy years after their construction. Their condition at that time is described in an oft-quoted article in the "Huddersfield Examiner" in May, 1878, by Mr. John Hanson, Lead Works, Folly Hall, under the signature of "Native." He says, "We had waterworks in Huddersfield but they were of a very primitive kind as you will see. The source of our water supply was the river at Folly Hall or Engine Bridge. In a cottage near to Mr. Eastwood's dyeworks, was erected a forcing engine or pump. This was driven by a waterwheel (Fig. 10), and sent the turbid water up to Huddersfield. The main pipes that conveyed the water were large tree-trunks with a 3½ inch hole bored through them length-ways. There were tapered down at one end, and the bore at the other end widened a little to admit the tapering end, thus making what is called a faucet joint. These wooden pipes ran under the canal, up the hill to the top of Outcote Bank, then along what was called the Upper Road, to the higher part of the town and finally discharged their water into a small reservoir which stood near the bottom of George Street (Fig. 8). From this reservoir the town received its scanty supply. You may judge of the size of the mains from the following incident. It so happened that the supply to one part of the town was stopped. Much digging and searching was done to discover the obstruction, until at last the cause of the mischief was revealed. Imagine the astonishment of all when it was found that a large trout had stuck fast in one of the pipes."

10. Water Wheel, Folly Hall Water Works.

"Connected with these waterworks was an old woman named Betty Earnshaw. She carried a large turn-key on her shoulder to turn on the water in the various parts of the town. The servant girls who had to rise early on washing mornings well knew how to get an early supply of water for their work. Betty also professed to tell fortunes for the silly lasses, so that with water turning and fortune telling old Betty managed to turn many an honest penny and contrived to be never at a loss for a drop of something good."

"Whilst a lad, I had to go to Lock wood for milk as we had no milk-hawkers in those days. As I passed Folly Hall I used to be attracted by the screeching and groaning of the old pumping engine. It sounded as if it had not had a drop of oil for twelve months or more. I would peep in through the broken window and watch the crazy thing work. It would make a desperate effort for a few seconds and then groaningly move off again. Thus painfully and laboriously was the scanty supply of water pumped from the polluted river."

11. Wooden Water Pipes.

Further details are contained in a contribution to the "Huddersfield Examiner" of September 10th, 1883, dealing with "Huddersfield in 1825–6." The writer, D. Scholefield, says, "At Engine Bridge there was a narrow stone bridge that would only allow of one cart passing over at a time ; there were recesses on each side for passengers to shelter in if a cart were passing over. Engine Bridge took its name from a water mill and pumping engine that forced river water through wooden pipes that ran through the fields into Upperhead Row into a small reservoir that was where the foot of George Street now is ... When the new street called Manchester Road was made it was necessary to build a culvert over the pipes, so that the workmen could get to the pipes to repair them. The water was turned on only to certain parts of the town at one time, as the quantity of water would not allow a full supply to the whole of the town at the same time."

The illustration (Fig. 11) shows some of these wooden pipes which are preserved in the Museum at Ravensknowle. The two upper ones are oak, the two on the left elm, and those on the right, doubtless more recent renewals, are pine. Elm was commonly used because it is so serviceable underground and in water. Where necessary, holes were bored in the sides to take branch pipes.

12. Machine for Boring Wooden Water Pipes.

The way in which these tree trunks were bored is described and illustrated by John Evelyn in "Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest-Trees" second edition, 1670, pages 176–177. The illustration (Fig. 12) shows the machine turned by a water wheel and is described as follows. The machine "for boring consists of an ax-tree, to which is fastened a wheel of six and thirty teeth, or more, as the velocity of the water-motion requires ; for if it be slow, more teeth are requisite. There must also be a pinion of six, turn'd by the said indented wheel. Then to the ax-tree of the pinion is to be fixt a long auger which must pass through the hole, to be opened and clos'd as occasion requires, somewhat like a turner's lathe. The tree or piece of timber to be bored, is to be plac'd on the frame, so as the frame may easily slide by the help of certain small wheels, which are in the hollow of it, and turn upon strong pins, so as the work-man may shove forwards, or draw the tree back, after t'is fastned to the frame, that so the auger turning, the end of the tree may be applied to it, still remembering to draw it back at every progresse of three or four inches which the auger makes for the clensing of it from chips, least the auger break. Continue this work till the tree, or piece of timber be bored as far as you think convenient, and when you desire to inlarge the hole change your auger bits as the figure represents them."


Another important scheme initiated by the Ramsdens was the construction of a canal from Cooper Bridge to King's Mill. On the 9th March, 1774, Royal assent was given to "An Act for enabling Sir John Ramsden, Baronet, to make and maintain a navigable Canal from the River Calder, between a Bridge called Cooper's Bridge, and the mouth of the River Colne to the King's Mill, near the town of Huddersfield, in the West Riding of the County of York."

13. Sir John Ramsden Canal. The Wharf, Aspley.

This canal, fed by a goit from the Colne near King's Mill, is about three and three quarter miles in length, has a rise of ninety-three feet, and was opened in 1780 (Fig. 13). It not only proved a valuable asset to the town by providing a direct waterway to Hull and the Continent, but suggested and eventually provided a link between the Aire and Calder, and Lancashire systems, and so gave a direct line of communication between the east and west coasts. This very ambitious scheme was undertaken by the Huddersfield Canal Company who on the 4th April, 1794, obtained "An Act for making and maintaining a navigable canal from and out of the Canal of Sir John Ramsden, Bart., at or near the town of Huddersfield, in the West Riding of the County of York, to join and communicate with the Canal Navigation from Manchester to or near Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, at or near the town of Ashton-under-Lyne aforesaid, in the county Palatine of Lancaster."

The company was required to make reservoirs for supplying the canal, sufficient to contain not less than twenty thousand locks of water, each lock containing one hundred and eighty cubic yards ; but none of this water except in times of flood was to be taken from the rivers on the line.

14. Huddersfield Canal in the Colne Valley. From a banner worked by Mrs. Josiah Lockwood.

The canal is thus described by Priestley (18, page 371) :— "This canal which is fitted for small craft of 7 ft. wide, ... is capable of passing boats with twenty-four tons burthen ; ... it commences on the south of the town of Huddersfield, and pursues a south-west direction (Fig. 14), winding its course past Slaithwaite, nearly parallel with one of the branches of the River Colne, for the distance of seven miles and a half, which river it crosses in three places[1] by appropriate aqueducts; (Fig. 15) and by an ascent of 436 feet, distributed among forty-two locks, it arrives near Marsden, at the summit level, which is higher than that of any other canal in the kingdom, being at an elevation of 656 feet above the level of the sea; the summit level is thence continued for nearly half a mile, where the canal enters that extensive chain of mountains well known to travellers going from Manchester to Huddersfield (through which it passes under the part designated Pule Hill and Brann Top, generally called Standedge), for the distance of 5,451 yards, and emerges therefrom into the Vale of Diggle in Saddleworth, continuing to near Wrigley Mill, making the whole summit level four miles ; it then glides along the valley, alternately on the north and south sides of the River Tame, past Dobcross, Scout, and Stayley Bridge, to its junction with the Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham Canal, near Duckinfield Bridge, having passed a further distance of eight miles and a quarter, and through a descent of 334½ feet, which is equally divided among thirty-three locks; crossing the River Tame in four different places, and making the whole length of canal nineteen miles and three quarters."[2]

The section between Huddersfield and Marsden (Fig. 16) was completed and opened in 1798, but the making of the Stanedge tunnel presented unexpected difficulties and the scheme proved much more costly than was originally estimated. In consequence, additional powers were obtained in the Act of May 30th, 1800, and a further Act on March 31st, 1806. The original estimate was £184,000, but upwards of £300,000 was expended. The Stanedge tunnel which was opened for traffic on April 4th, 1811, cost £123,802.

"This canal was the chief means of raising Huddersfield to one of the principal markets for woollen goods in the County of York." It not only provided facilities for transport, but also an important supply of water for industrial purposes.

In the London and North Western Railway Act of 1875, it is stated "And whereas by the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Act, 1845, the owners of lands adjoining the Canal are empowered to draw water from the Huddersfield Canal for the purposes of any engine within eighty yards from the said Canal, upon the terms and conditions and subject to the restrictions therein set forth, and the undertaking of the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway and Canal Company, including the Huddersfield Canal Navigation and the Canal called Sir John Ramsden's canal (hereinafter collectively referred to and vested in the Company, and now forms part of their undertaking.

"And whereas there are in the neighbourhood of the Huddersfield Canal, and beyond the distance of eighty yards therefrom, many manufactories and other Works using steam power, and the Company have, with great benefit and advantage to those manufactories and works, and at the request of the owners or occupiers thereof, supplied them with water from the said Canal, and it is expedient that further provision should be made in respect thereof."

"In the Waterworks Act 1890, it was laid down that the London and North Western Railway Company shall not supply water for manufacturing purposes from the Huddersfield Canal within the limits of the Corporation for the supply of water except to such an extent as they can supply such water therefrom by means of their existing reservoirs and works without any enlargement or extension thereof or addition thereto and without preventing or impeding the navigation of the said canal or the conduct of the traffic thereon."


The following are the reservoirs which feed the Huddersfield Canal from the Pennine Watershed, Marsden, to Huddersfield. Details of these have kindly been supplied by Mr. J. Alexander, District Engineer, L.M.S. Railway.[3]

Reservoir Top Water Level Feet O.D. Capacity Gallons
Black Moss 1336.01 18,700,000
Swellands 1311.62 54,300,000
Redbrook 1176.20 67,900,000
Haigh 1092.94 71,000,000
Tunnel End 684.40 22,700,000
Sparth 590.75 8,130,836
Slaithwaite 548.42 68,200,000

The Saddleworth–Marsden Township Boundary, which here follows the watershed, runs across the Black Moss Reservoir, and the water from this can run either into the Swellands Reservoir in Marsden, or into Brun Clough Reservoir in Saddleworth, this reservoir is 1235.35 feet O.D., has a capacity of 8,600,000 gallons and is made over the Stanedge Tunnel. The overflow from the Tunnel End Reservoir is carried over the canal by an aqueduct near the entrance to the tunnel.


"Native" in the article above mentioned ("Huddersfield Examiner," May, 1878) gives the following account of an abortive attempt to provide an increased supply of water to the town in the early years of the last century. "The inhabitants of Huddersfield were then badly supplied with water of very inferior quality. Godfrey Berry, a malster and miller of New Street, a leading man in the town and one of the Board of Commissioners of the Lighting, Watching and Cleansing Act of 1820, proposed a scheme whereby a larger supply of water might be obtained. His project was as follows. A large reservoir was to be constructed in the Old Market Place, into which the Bradley Spout water was to be brought. Then there were to be four pumps, one at each corner of the Market Place, from which the people might fetch water. Well, Godfrey and his colleagues set to work with a right good will at the new Waterworks. A large hole was dug, which might be, I dare say, thirty yards by seven. This they built round and arched over (Fig. 17), and when all was over, they made the astounding discovery that water would not run up-hill. The project was therefore dropped. A considerable amount of public money had been spent and nothing accomplished. The large vault is still there, and when Huddersfield becomes a bonding town it may come in useful."

Another use, however, has been found for the site, and when excavations were made in March, 1906, for the underground lavatories, the arched vault referred to by "Native" was revealed. An account in the "Huddersfield Examiner" at the time says, "Yesterday morning about 9-30 ... workmen discovered two enormous arched tanks containing about 3 feet of water. They run side by side parallel with New Street, their length being 25 ft., width 8 ft., and depth 9 ft., from the base of the arch, which is 7 ft. 6 ins. square from the centre inside measure. There are three accesses from one tank to the other, the walls being 3 ft. thick, and very strongly built, the masonry being exceptionally firmly held together with the finest white lime." (Fig. 18).

The original Bradley Spout, which was to have supplied the Market Place tanks was, as shown above, not in John William Street, but at a site now overlapped by the railway takings.

In 1837, William White in his "History and Gazetteer of the West Riding" says, "Huddersfield is by nature extremely ill supplied with water for domestic purposes, having but few springs, the water from which is hard and unwholesome, its source being the termination of drains connected with the deserted coalworks which intersect the ground under the town."

Continue to Chapter III...

Notes and References

  1. At two places, not three, (1) West side of Paddock viaduct, where a lock raises the boat to the level of the aqueduct; (2) The Scarbottom aqueduct, Golcar.
  2. When the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Bill was first before Parliament, it met with strong opposition by prominent Churchmen, especially to the making of aqueducts. This was based on religious grounds ; it was argued that if God had ever intended rivers to flow over one another, He would have made them do so, and that it was infamy for man to endeavour to bring such a thing about. The Bill was rejected, but was later passed in 1770.
  3. Cupwith Reservoir is not a Canal Reservoir.