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

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:



The latter part of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries witnessed great changes in local conditions, and notwithstanding periods of depression, there was a great industrial development leading to the concentration of work in large factories, at the same time a very gradual decline of the cottage industry and replacement of the clothier by the manufacturer. These changes are reflected in the efforts made to improve water supplies for the growing industries of the district.

Water power was in general use, but the uncertain supply in the dry seasons led to the introduction of the steam engine (favoured by the proximity of coal) to supplement water power. For a long time, however, the steam engine was of secondary importance and powers were sought from Parliament for the construction of impounding reservoirs. The need was also felt for making better provision for the government of the town.

On June 30th, 1820, an Act was passed for "Lighting, Watching and Cleansing of the town of Huddersfield" which aided by the Highway Surveyors, appointed by the Vestry, conducted the public affairs of the town for the next twenty-seven years (Fig. 24). They were succeeded in 1848 by the Board of Improvement Commissioners. This was a period of remarkable progress and development in the town and neighbourhood ; many churches, chapels and schools were built and enlarged or rebuilt; during this period the Huddersfield College, the Collegiate School, and Mechanics' Institute were founded, also the Infirmary.

The limits of both these Acts, 1820 and 1848, were confined to twelve hundred yards from the centre of the Market Place, but was not a complete circle, the southern limit being the north or left bank of the Colne, which partly forms the southern boundary of the Parish. It did not extend beyond the river to the south and east, but included what may be regarded as the centre of the town (Fig. 30). During the working of these Acts the population had increased from 13,284 to 34,874.

A memorial presented to Sir John Ramsden in 1826 requested "that an abundant and never failing supply of pure water might be obtained and conveyed to the town at a moderate expense." This was signed by seventy-four prominent inhabitants and it stated "that the inhabitants are compelled to carry water from springs at some distance from the town, particularly from a place called 'Bradley Spout,' at which during the last summer there have been on an average, at all hours of the day and till a late hour at night, upwards of ten persons collected together Waiting for their turn, and until their cans were filled."

A Committee was formed from the memorialists to promote a bill in Parliament to procure the necessary power to obtain a supply of water from certain springs at Longwood. To this end a sum of £8,926 10s. was raised. This scheme had long been under consideration as shown by a plan preserved in the Museum entitled "Huddersfield Water Supply. Plan and Section of a proposed line for carrying water from certain springs rising in Longwood to Huddersfield, both in the West Riding of the County of York. Thos. Dinsdale, Hudd., September, 1819." Dinsdale's original Plan of Huddersfield, 1825 (Fig. 24) is also preserved in the Museum.



On June 14th, 1827, a special Act of Parliament was obtained entitled "An Act for suplying with Water the Town and Neighbourhood of Huddersfield in the West Riding of the County of York." The Act points out that "such supply may be obtained from certain Springs or Sources of Water called Nettleton Hill or Maulshead, Royleshead, Bald Royd, Middle Spring, Head Well Spring and Clough Head Springs, or some of them, all within the Township of Longwood and Lindley-cum-Quarmby in the Parish of Huddersfield." To carry out this Act one hundred and twenty Commissioners were to be appointed and are named in the Act including not more than four of the Canal and General Agents of Sir John Ramsden. Each Commissioner had to swear that "I truly and bona fide am possessed of a Personal Estate of the Value of One thousand pounds over and above what will pay my just debts." The Commissioners were empowered to borrow money not exceeding the sum of £20,000 and though they incurred all the risks of the undertaking, the interest on the shares should not exceed five per cent., and that when the income from the water rents exceeded five per cent, and the necessary expenses, the water rents must be reduced.

The Act further states that certain mills and other works have for some time in part been supplied with water from the above springs ; the Commissioners were required to construct and maintain an impounding reservoir across the Longwood Brook at Leys to contain 2,400,000 cubic feet of water available for the purposes of such owners and occupiers (Fig. 25). This was the first to be completed and in the Act of 1845 the Commissioners enlarged the reservoir to 6,500,000 cubic feet. The embankment was raised by the Corporation in 1935, to comply with the Safety of Reservoirs Provisions Act, 1930. The compensation in respect of the Longwood Reservoirs is provided for by this reservoir at Leys, the discharge of water from which is regulated by the millowners, hence this does not count in the Waterworks service capacity.

In 1828 the Commissioners began the construction of a reservoir at Longwood, situated at the foot and east side of Scape Goat Hill, at an altitude of 630 ft. O.D. ; this was fed from three separate springs which rise near the top of the hill. This reservoir, the Longwood Lower Reservoir, was completed in 1829, and in earlier records its capacity was given as 20,299,134 gallons, but at present has a capacity of 17,000,000 gallons, and covers an area of three-and-a-half acres ; the top water level is 651 feet. The water from this reservoir is piped down to a service tank at Clough Head, Longwood, and to the Spring Street tank, Huddersfield (Fig. 27). It has also a connection with the Snodley service tank.

The money borrowed under the Act was almost wholly expended. Offices were established in Water Street in 1828 (Fig. 26), and on an oval tablet is the inscription :—

Established by subscription

Behind this house is the Spring Street tank, constructed under the 1827 Act; it is fed from the Longwood Reservoir and has a capacity of 399,400 gallons (Fig. 27).

Continued increase in population before long taxed the resources of this new supply, especially during dry periods. In the minute book of the Waterworks Commissioners frequent references are made to scarcity of supply, e.g., on July 12th, 1844, "Resolved that the water be on only two days a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays, until further orders." On October 25th the same year, "Resolved that until further orders the water be supplied to the Inhabitants two days a week namely Mondays and Fridays to commence on Monday the 28th instant." Later it was increased to three days a Week, and on December 13th to four days. In May, 1845, "Resolved that no further applications for water for Trade purposes be granted until there is a better supply of water."

The following details, abstracted from documents in the Estate Office, show the number of tenants supplied with water by the Commissioners in 1844, and the amount of rents.

Number of tenants supplied with water and the rental of :—

Annual Rent if all was collected
Town of Huddersfield 2,827 £1,423 1s. 4d.
Longroyd Bridge, Paddock and Spring Wood, &c. 536 £173 3s. 0d.
Newtown and Clare Hill 104 £32 1s. 0d.
167 £50 12s. 0d.
Bay Hall Common 15 £8 19s. 0d.
Lane to Leeds Bar 115 £34 14s. 4d.
——— ———————
3,764 in the Township £1,722 10s. 4d.
——— ———————
Longroyd Bridge, Crosland Moor 82 out of the Township £31 7s. 4d.
Rashcliffe 157 will be 239 £42 7s. 0d.
——— ———————
4,003 £1,796 4s. 8d.
——— ———————

In a table of Annual Rental from 1829 to 1843, it is shown that the Water Rents received in 1829 were £842 18s. 7d. and the Water Rents received in 1843 were £1,695 17s. 7d. But in the years 1839 and 1841 two reductions in the Water Rents of 25 per cent, each were made (together 50 per cent.). In 1842 there was "a decrease in consequence of empty Houses and a reduction was made in Brewerys and also a many Dyers gave it up."

In the Commissioners minute book are frequent references to the pressing need for better supplies and eventually application was made to Parliament for an amended Act embracing powers to purchase lands and construct additional works, in order to secure increased supply. In 1845 an Act was passed entitled "An Act to alter, enlarge and amend an Act for supplying with water the Town and Neighbourhood of Huddersfield."

Steps were at once taken for the construction of a larger reservoir adjoining and above the earlier one at Longwood (Fig. 25).

The altitude of this, the Upper Longwood Reservoir, completed in 1848, is 700 ft. O.D., top water level; the Reservoir has a capacity of fifty million gallons and covers an area of seven and three quarter acres. The water from the springs is piped direct into this Upper Reservoir, the Lower Reservoir (situated at the foot of the embankment of the upper one and supplied with water from the same source) acts as a service reservoir.

Even this increased supply proved insufficient to meet growing demands, and in July, 1853, Mr. George Crowther, Engineer to the Commissioners, reported that "As the Town is fast increasing in size and population, it is reasonable to infer before the lapse of many years, other Districts and sources for a supply of water must be had resource to ... I have fixed upon Meltham as the legitimate District from which Huddersfield ought to have her supplies and I beg most respectfully yet strongly to urge you to take formal possession of that district by fixing a Rain Gauge on the Hill west and south-west of the village of Meltham." Meanwhile in January, 1855, the Commissioners decided to purchase land and bore for water at Longwood "to the west of the conduit from Bunney Clough."

In a "Report on the Longwood Waters" in 1857, Herbert Sugden of Woodsome Lees (19), gave an analysis of water from Clough Head, Nettleton Hill, Petty Royds, Mauls Head and the New Borings. The following compares the analyses of Clough Head Springs and the new Borings :—

Clough Head New Borings
Organic Matter 2.00 3.50
Carbonate of Lime 1.00 4.00
Carbonate of Magnesia 1.53
Sulphate of Lime 2.05 0.58
Sulphate of Magnesia 0.75
Chloride of Sodium 0.19
Chloride of Calcium 0.72
Chloride of Magnesium 0.83 0.39
Phosphates trace 0.50
Silica trace 1.00
——— ———
total 6.82 12.22
——— ———
Degree of Hardness 5°.40 7°.27
——— ———

On September 27th, 1861, Mr. George Crowther presented the Report of the visit he made along . with a deputation of the Waterworks Commissioners to the Meltham District. In this the Engineer gives details of suggested reservoirs at Blackmoorfoot and Deerhill. A Committee was appointed to consider the proposals and their report was presented on September 21st, 1865, when it was resolved that the report be adopted by this Board and that the necessary steps be at once taken to apply to Parliament for an improved supply of water for the Town and neighbourhood of Huddersfield.

Meanwhile the Improvement Commissioners were pressing forward an Application for Incorporation of the Borough ; they asked for the support of the Waterworks Commissioners and urged them to delay the application for an Act for further powers to improve the water supply until Incorporation had been achieved and in that event to transfer the works to the Corporation.


At this period, the value of maintaining a regular water supply for trade purposes was appreciated as shown by the efforts made to construct reservoirs in both the Colne and Holme drainage areas ; also to reduce dangers of flooding during heavy storms. In the Colne drainage by the Wessenden Act of 1836, the Wessenden Commissioners were constituted and were empowered to make and maintain a reservoir called the Wessenden Reservoir. It was the first reservoir made in this valley and is the one we now know as the Wessenden Old Reservoir ; it has a capacity of a hundred and seven million gallons (Fig. 28).

Early efforts in the Holme Valley illustrate not only the need for a constant supply so as to ensure more regular employment, but also some of the difficulties to be overcome in constructing reservoirs in these faulted gritstone valleys, which in one case was attended by tragic consequences. A detailed account is given by Morehouse (16, page 229–239), from which these extracts are taken. "In the year 1837, on the 8th June, an Act of Parliament received the Royal assent, authorising the construction of several large reservoirs within the graveship of Holme, for the better supply of water to the mills in the Holme Valley during the dry season.

The Act gave power to construct eight reservoirs on the streamlets emptying themselves into the River Holme ; with an authority to borrow money to the amount of £40,000 for their construction. The superintendence and perpetual management of this undertaking was vested in commissioners, under the title of "Commissioners of the Holme Reservoirs."[1]

he preamble of the Act recites that, "Whereas there are many mills, factories and other premises situate near the line or course of the overflowing of the waters in the River Holme," etc., "and of streams flowing into the said River Holme, using water wheels, engines, or other machines worked by water flowing along such streams and brooks ; and whereas the supply of water to such mills is very irregular and during the summer months is frequently insufficient for effectually working the wheels, engines, and machines in such mills, factories, and premises, which irregularity might be greatly remedied by making and maintaining an embankment and reservoir on the brook called Digley Brook, at Bilberry Mill," etc. The Act then goes on to appoint commissioners, consisting of mill owners and owners and occupiers of falls of water in the district of the value of £100 a year and upwards.

The estimated cost of the reservoirs which the Act empowered the Commissioners to make was early discovered to be wholly inadequate and three only of the eight reservoirs were completed, viz., the Boshaw (56 million gallons), the Holme Styes (68 million gallons), and the Bilberry (67 million gallons), each situated on the largest tributaries of the River Holme, within the graveship and made at the cost of £70,000.

The construction of Bilberry Reservoir was let to Messrs. Sharp and Sons, of Dewsbury, in 1838, for £9,324, but in consequence of some dispute arising during the making of the embankment about a defect in the foundation, owing to a spring in the centre of the puddle-bank, the contract was broken and the Commissioners Were involved in a chancery suit. The contract was afterwards re-let to Messrs. David Porter and Brothers, and by the advice of Mr. Leather of Leeds, engineer to the Commissioners, a coffer-dam was sunk in the centre of the embankment to get to the seat of the spring and means adopted which it was then hoped would remedy the defect. These means proved, however, ineffectual, and the embankment leaked more or less up to the time of bursting.

The test came in the early days of February, 1852, when during heavy rains the reservoir on Wednesday, the 4th, was filling at the rate of eighteen inches an hour. About one o'clock the following morning, February 5th, the embankment gave way and the water in the reservoir, estimated at 86,248,000 gallons and about three hundred thousand tons in weight rushed with fearful velocity through the broken embankment. Two large pieces of rock, each weighing four to five tons, were torn from the side of the embankment and deposited a quarter of a mile away. Eighty-one people lost their lives and great damage was done to property.


In 1841 application was made to the Privy Council for a Charter of Incorporation but this was refused. Efforts to improve the system of local government continued and when application was made in 1848 for a new Local Improvement Act it was granted and a Board of Improvement Commissioners was formed. This Board consisted of twenty-one members. Sir John Ramsden had the right of appointing three members, the remainder were elected by the ratepayers annually, six retiring each year by rotation. The Board, however, had jurisdiction only in that portion of the township which lies within a radius of twelve hundred yards from the centre of the Market Place, except where the circle was broken by the Colne, which formed the boundary to the south and east (Fig. 30), thus greatly limiting the area. This Board was independent of the Waterworks Commissioners. The population of the area was 24,100, with a rateable value of £100,108.

The town was surrounded by a number of small districts mostly governed by Boards of Surveyors which after the passing of a Local Government Act in 1858 were formed into Local Boards of Health. At this time there were eleven governing bodies each with a separate and independent jurisdiction within the area now (1936) comprising the County Borough — the Improvement Commissioners, and the Local Boards of Longwood, Lindley, Fartown, Bradley, Deighton, Marsh, Moldgreen, Almondbury, Newsome and Lockwood.

During the twenty years when the town was governed by the Improvement Commissioners many useful schemes were initiated and developed, e.g., they opened the Cemetery at Edgerton, built the Model Lodging House in Chapel Hill, made new streets, laid down eight miles of sewerage, leased the Market Tolls from Sir John Ramsden, and provided an effective Police Force.

Efforts made by the Commissioners to improve and extend the social services were hindered by the difficulty of securing effective co-operation with the surrounding Local Boards, and it became essential to good local government that these outlying districts should be incorporated under one authority and joined to the existing Borough.

During this time the Waterworks Commissioners were anxious to obtain extended powers to increase the water supply and to further their project asked the Improvement Commissioners if they would grant an interview to consider giving their support. As a result, a special meeting of the Improvement Commissioners was held on October 25th, 1865, in the Board Room, Ramsden Street, to meet the Parliamentary Committee of the Waterworks Commissioners.. For the latter body Colonel T.P. Crosland stated their case at length during which he said, "We intend in our application to Parliament to go to Meltham for an increased supply of water. We there find that we have a catchment of 1,584 acres. We find that we have a very excellent site for a reservoir, perhaps as good a site, if not the best almost, that could be desired, and if any of the Commissioners were rambling about in that direction, it would well repay them if they threw their vision across the space I am about to mention. It is eighty-four acres of land and is situated at Blackmoor Foot, bounded by a self-made embankment to the east, the same to the south and to some extent to the north ; the western embankment would almost be a natural rising embankment. We have had Mr. Hawkesley over the ground ... He was certainly struck with the very great advantages this site presented to our view. We had proposed securing two very excellent streams of water in the Marsden valley, near Wessenden, but We find some difficulties raised which at present appear unsurmountable. However, we came to the conclusion that with the 1,584 acres which we have, after giving compensation to the millowners on the stream at Meltham we shall have a sufficient supply of water to give what is considered an adequate amount approximating to twenty-five gallons per individual per day in the district we propose to include, if it had 100,000 inhabitants ... At present we have something like a population of 34,000 in Huddersfield proper, and in connection with it we propose to take in Lockwood, Newsome (Local Board district, which includes Berry Brow), South Crosland, Moldgreen, Lindley, and to do what I think aught to have been done before, to do some justice to Longwood by including it in our scheme. That would give us a population at present of about 63,580."

On May 3rd, 1866, the Select Committee of the House of Lords met to consider the Huddersfield Waterworks Bill. This was opposed by the millowners and Local Boards of Meltham and Linthwaite, the millowners of Longwood and the Colne Valley. Much concern was expressed for the safety of the embankments. After the experiences of the reservoir at Black Syke Mill, September 21st, 1820 ; Bilberry Reservoir, February 5th, 1852, involving the loss of 81 lives ; and about two years before this enquiry, the bursting of Bradfield Reservoir, belonging to the Sheffield Waterworks Company, on March 12th, 1864, when about 250 lives were lost, and great damage done to property.

This bill did not succeed and further efforts were delayed until after Incorporation of the Borough and the works of the Commissioners taken over by the Corporation.

As we have seen above in 1743, and for many years later, it was considered safe to draw water from the Colne for domestic and trade purposes but industrial development led in time to greatly increased pollution. To replace this a pure supply was provided by the Waterworks Commissioners by the construction of the Upper and Lower Longwood Reservoirs.

In 1866 a Rivers Pollution Commission enquired into the "Best Means of Preventing the Pollution of Rivers," including the rivers Aire, Calder and their tributaries. A Report published in 1867 included much evidence relating to Huddersfield and District (pages 96–163). Captain Graham, land agent to Sir John Ramsden, was one who gave evidence and said the streams and rivers in the neighbourhood — the Holme and Colne — were extremely polluted and that manufacturers in selecting sites "avoid those portions of land which are near the river as being useless to them for mill purposes, they all go away to the canal side in order to get clean water." This had a great influence on the value of the land. He admitted, however, that the four miles of the Ramsden Canal, to its junction with the Calder, was fed by a goit from the Colne near King's Mill, and was polluted and stagnant, and is a greater nuisance through part of the town than the river itself. In the report published in 1871, after giving details and analyses indicating degrees of pollution of the Holme, Colne and their tributaries, the Commissioners say, page 12, "Wakefield with its 26,000 inhabitants is the lowest town on the Calder, making the last considerable addition to its pollutions, and suffering from all those which are brought down from the towns higher up the valley. The river is here polluted by many kinds of liquid refuse, and is very much discoloured. We received from Mr. Charles Clay, agricultural implement manufacturer, whose works are situate on the Calder at the foot of the town, the river's own testimony to its occasionally miserable plight, in the form of a memorandum reproduced in facsimile on the adjoining page. This document was written on the date specified upon it, the pen having been dipped in the river water immediately below the outfall sewer of the town at a time when there was an unusually filthy discharge from it" (Fig. 30a).

Describing an inspection of the Calder at Wakefield on 29th September, 1869, the Commissioners say, page 12, "At a point ... about a mile below the main sewer outlet, the water supply of Wakefield is taken from the river."[2]


At a meeting of the Waterworks Commissioners held on July 31st, 1868, a letter was read from "Mr. Batley as secretary to the Incorporation Committee with the accompanying Resolution as to an application to Parliament for an increased Water Supply and a transfer of the Work to the Corporation."

Resolved that this Board would be willing to promote an application to Parliament for an increased supply of Water to Huddersfield and the surrounding district containing clauses for the ultimate transfer of the Works to the Corporation if satisfactory arrangements can be made with the Council when formed. The Incorporation Committee joining the Commissioners in a guarantee for the expenses to be incurred until the formation of the Council.
(Signed) Joseph Crosland, Chairman.

At the last meeting of the Waterworks Commissioners held July 9th, 1869, they "record their high sense of the value of the services rendered by Mr. Hare, as Manager of the Works but more especially in reference to the late successful Application to Parliament — for the Water Bill of 1869."

In this Act it is stated "And whereas the Commissioners have completed the works authorised by their Acts, and have raised a capital amounting to £49,457 10s. by borrowing on the security of their undertaking, and have expended on their works and in the extension of their mains and pipes of supply the amount so raised and a further considerable sum out of income."

In May, 1867, the Improvement Commissioners unanimously resolved that it was desirable that a Charter of Incorporation for Huddersfield and the adjoining districts should be again applied for.

This resolution was supported by a public meeting held on May 29th and petitions were signed by ratepayers resident within the districts proposed to be incorporated.

Application was made and on November 18th and 19th, 1867, a public enquiry was held at the new George Hotel in St. George's Square. The case for the petitioners was presented by Mr. Joseph Batley, the Clerk to the Improvement Commissioners and was supported by Sir John Ramsden.

Continue to Chapter V...

Notes and References

  1. Later the Holme Valley Reservoirs Board.
  2. The common drink of the period, however, was home-brewed beer.