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

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:




As shown above, the Waterworks Clauses Act of 1847 required Waterworks Authorities to provide a pure supply of water in the mains. The water from our high moors is unpolluted, the chief complaints being due to discolouration by peat. This, it was pointed out, while unpleasant in appearance, did no harm to the consumer, but with increased knowledge of bacteria, the significance of pollution, especially at lower levels, was more fully appreciated and closer attention was paid to the examination of supplies, but for some time no recognised method of examination was followed.

Owing to the lack of uniformity in the technique employed by different workers in the examination of water supplies, neither the actual data obtained nor their hygenic interpretations have been comparable. In consequence the Ministry of Health, in co-operation with the leading Analysts and Bacteriologists of the country, issued in March, 1934, a pamphlet, No. 71, on "The Bacteriological Examination of Water Supplies" in order to provide a description of technique, the adoption of which will ensure sufficient uniformity in the practice of bacteriological examination of water to permit of comparison of results obtained in different laboratories. In this they point out that the main object of the bacteriological examination of water is to find whether excretal pollution is present. It is not until several examinations, with satisfactory results, have been made at different times of the year, and especially after heavy rainfall, is it legitimate to conclude that the water is free from dangerous excretal pollution. The evidence generally sought is (1) an estimate of the number of bacteria of all kinds capable of developing in suitable nutrient media — the greater the number, the greater presumably is the amount of decomposable organic matter present in the water : and (2) the number of bacteria of faecal origin ; the more bacteria of species inhabiting normally the animal intestine, that are present in the water, the more likely is it that pathogenic intestinal species may gain access to it.

Following the lines laid down in this Memorandum, Mr. W.D. Scouller, M.Sc., A.I.C., and his staff at the Sewage Works Department, take samples quarterly from the reservoirs and make chemical and bacteriological analyses. Bacteriological analyses are also made of water taken from consumers' taps, in various parts of the Borough, these are made fortnightly, always from different houses, and reports are supplied to the Waterworks Department. Examples of these analyses are given below.

Sample of drinking water marked Blackmoorfoot North.

The following are the results of the analysis of the above sample :
Analysis Expressed in Parts per 100,000.
Total solid matter dried at 212°F 9.20
Loss on ignition 2.68
Appearance in a two foot tube Hazen No. 7.8
Chlorine as Chlorides 1.62
Nitrogen as Nitrates 0.04
Nitrogen as Nitrites nil
Ammonia, free and saline 0.0058
Ammonia, albuminoid 0.0038
Reaction pH. 7.3
Oxygen absorbed in 3 minutes 0.038
Oxygen absorbed in 4 hours 0.110
Hardness (total) Calculated as Calcium Carbonate 4.25
Hardness (permanent) Calculated as Calcium Carbonate 3.00
Hardness (temporary) Calculated as Calcium Carbonate 1.25
Lead absent
Alumina 0.03
Silica 0.30


Bacteriological Examination of Water Supplies.png


By the Huddersfield Improvement Act of 1880 the Corporation obtained powers to deal with the problem of pollution of wells and cisterns. In section 50 of this Act the Corporation were empowered to test the water of wells and that if the Sanitary Inspector or the Medical Officer of Health had reasonable grounds to suspect water of any well, cistern, or pump as being unfit for domestic use, he was authorised to obtain supplies of such water between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, to be analysed by a competent analyst, and if found unfit, to order the Well to be permanently or temporarily closed.

Under this Act closer supervision was exercised, Mr. George Jarmain was appointed Borough Analyst, and frequent samples were submitted for examination. As a result a number of wells, which in the past- had yielded valuable supplies, were condemned and closed, including Bradley Spout, Northgate Wells, the Wells in St. Helen's Gate, Almondbury, and many others. These, however, were rendered less essential owing to the provision of Corporation supplies. Nevertheless, there still remain a large number of houses in our District of Supply, which depend upon wells and cisterns for domestic use. The following cases will serve to illustrate pollution of these sources of supply :— Wells at Taylor Hill belonging to the Taylor Hill Waterworks Company; a reservoir and Wells at Milnsbridge ; and another at Lower Head Farm, Slaithwaite, though the latter is outside the County Borough, it is within the Huddersfield District of Water Supply.


The wells at Bluebell Hill, as we have seen above, have provided a local supply of water for nearly a century, but recently they came under suspicion, and the Medical Officer, Dr. J.M. Gibson, had a number of samples taken from both wells between May and October, 1938, and from these, both chemical and bacteriological analyses were made. Chemical analyses were made by the Borough Analyst, Mr. H.T. Lee, in May, 1938, who reported as follows :—

Sample from tap of Enclosed Well Sample from Stone Trough
Total solids 23.10 19.74 pts. per 100,000
Chlorine 2.5 2.3   "     "     "  
Free Ammonia 0.0080 0.0035   "     "     "  
Albuminoid Ammonia 0.0045 0.0070   "     "     "  
Oxygen absorbed in 4 hours at 80°F. Nil 0.0204   "     "     "  
Nitrous Nitrogen Nil Nil   "     "     "  
Nitric Nitrogen 0.010 0.150   "     "     "  
Temporary hardness 13.4 1.6 Degrees
Permanent hardness 3.8 8.8   "
Total hardness 17.2 10.4   "
pH. Value 7.0 6.8   "
Enclosed Well :— Judged by the above Chemical results, the condition of the water is satisfactory.[1]
Stone Trough :— No excessive pollution is indicated by the above results, at the same time I would not certify the water as satisfactory for drinking purposes unless the bacteriological results showed that the water satisfied the standards of the Ministry of Health.
Bacteriological Examinations made from 8 samples, with the following results :—
Enclosed Well :— Presumptive Bacillus coli ranged from 130 to 350, per 100 m.l.
Stone Trough :— Presumptive B. coli ranged from 175 to 1,800 + per 100 m.l.
The higher numbers occurring during the summer months.

As the limit allowed by the Ministry of Health must not exceed 10 B. coli per 100 millilitres, the Waters of both wells were condemned as unfit for domestic use and at the Council Meeting, November 9th, 1938, it was resolved "that the said well and stone-ware trough be permanently closed" in accordance with the Huddersfield Improvement Act, 1880, Section 50.

Opposition was raised to the closing of the wells and a deputation of three members of the Taylor Hill Waterworks Committee had an interview with the Highways Committee on December 2nd, 1938, and it was arranged that the Company should have the Wells cleaned out and properly sealed, and that when the work had been done, further tests of the water would be made, and that in the meantime the water was not to be used for drinking purposes.


On the re-arrangement of boundaries in 1937 a part of Milnsbridge which was taken into the Borough included the Vicarage, the Church Schools, caretaker's house, and fifty-seven dwelling houses in Manchester Road and Whiteley Street. The water supply to these premises is from two sources : one of these is piped to a brick chamber and from this to the schools and caretaker's house. The other is piped from a drift which feeds a reservoir, made by the Radcliffe family about a century ago, and this now supplies the fifty-seven dwelling houses. The pipe leading to the reservoir gives off a branch to a brick chamber from Which the Vicarage obtains its supply. Eventually the reservoir was taken over by the Linthwaite District Council and when this area became part of the County Borough, the Medical Officer and his staff made an examination of the water supplies. The results have kindly been supplied by Dr. J. M. Gibson, Medical Officer of Health :—

One series of samples, collected from May 3rd to November 25th, 1938, included water from the Vicarage, the reservoir, and Manchester Road houses. Bacteriological examinations showed them to contain from 13 to 170 colonies of Bacillus coli in 100 m.l. The limit allowed by the Ministry of Health is 10 per 100 m.l.

From the other source, supplying the school and caretaker's house, two samples were unsatisfactory and doubtful; of two others, one gave 5 and the other 8 colonies of B. coli per 100 m.l., and the remainder, 25 to 140 colonies per 100 m.l. These samples were collected from 10th February to 25th November, 1938.

In all these tests, the coli isolated were typical "faecal coli." The agar plate counts showed a preponderance of organisms growing at 37 deg. C., compared with growth at 22 deg. C. The chemical analysis of the school supply was satisfactory.

As a result of these analyses, it was resolved " that pursuant to Section 50 of the Huddersfield Improvement Act, 1880, the Council order that notice be affixed to the aforesaid public wells that the water supplied thereto is unfit for human consumption." It was further resolved, January 4th, 1939, " that pursuant to Section 76 of the Huddersfield Water Act, 1869, notice in writing be given to the owners requiring them within 42 days of the service of such notice to do all works necessary for obtaining and to obtain a proper supply of water to such premises/'

As usual in such cases, strong local opposition was raised to closing these supplies, and it was pointed out that people had been drinking this water for nearly a hundred years without harm to the consumers.


Another case of pollution was that at Lower Hey Farm, Slaithwaite, in the Colne Valley Urban District and within the District of Supply of the Huddersfield Corporation. An examination of samples from the spring which arises in the vicinity of the farm, was found to be polluted so as to be prejudicial to health. The water from this spring was piped to an open trough and then to a covered cistern, from which it Was piped to houses in Hollins Glen and Stocker Head Lane. Another pipe took the overflow to another cistern to supply houses in Hollins Glen. 18 houses in Hollins Glen and 22 in Stocker Head Lane were involved, and about 130 people were affected by the supply.

The Urban District Council asked the owners to cut off the supply, but this was not done, and in June, 1938, the Council decided to take proceedings. Bacteriological examinations of many samples had been made during the previous twelve months, from water taken from this trough, the cisterns, and dwelling houses. As shown above, according to the standard set by the Ministry of Health, the number of B. coli must not exceed 10 per 100 millilitres of water, but out of 28 samples taken from the above supplies, two only were below 10, the remaining 26 had numbers ranging from 100 to 1,800 + per 100 millilitres.

The case came before the West Riding Court at Huddersfield on October 27th, 1938, when it was decided that such a supply was unfit for domestic use, and must be cut off before January 31st, 1939. Although some of the houses had been recently built, this was their only supply ; the Huddersfield Corporation, in whose area of supply it is, would have laid a main, free of charge to the houses ; the property owners to provide the service pipes. During the hearing of the case, several of the tenants said they had used the water from this spring for periods ranging from 7 to 25 years, without ill effects to themselves or their families, and said "we have been very well satisfied with it." But as Dr. B. L. Sutherland, pathologist to the West Riding County Council, remarked "one never knew when typhoid or paratyphoid might arise."


As we have seen, many users still place confidence in these wells and say no harmful results have followed their use. Such pollution, however, indicates the presence of animal excrements and should this come from an infected person or disease carrier, the results may be serious, as experienced during the outbreak of Typhoid Fever at Croydon in 1937, and nearer home at Denby Dale in 1932, just outside our District of Supply. The following details of the latter outbreak have been kindly supplied by Dr. T. N. V. Potts, County Medical Officer, which show what serious consequences may result from drinking polluted water.

The first case was notified on the 17th September, 1932, and subsequently notifications were received during the following months of October and November. The number of persons notified as suffering from Typhoid Fever were :—

Skelmanthorpe 3
Denby Dale 64
Clayton West 3
Penistone 1
Other Areas 4
Total 75

As a result of the above oubtreak, 12 persons died.


In the light of recent experience, the Minister of Health in a circular dated 12th March, 1938, drew the attention of Water Undertakers to the needs for unremitting care in order to maintain the purity of the water supplies under their control. In a further circular dated 30th January, 1939, he issued a "Memorandum on the safeguards to be adopted in day to day Administration of Water Undertakings." In this it is pointed out that between 1911 and 1937 there were 21 serious outbreaks of disease conveyed by Public Water Supplies, viz. :—

Pollution prior to storage and distribution (Supplies : overground 4, underground 9) 13
Pollution during storage 2
Pollution during distribution 6

Cases of disease resulting from these outbreaks :—

Enteric fever, including paratyphoid 1,237
Bacillary dysentry 2,800
Gastro-enteritis 7,439

Stress is laid on the need to exercise care in the selection of a new man employed on any part of the works and the steps to be taken to ascertain whether or not he is likely to be a typhoid carrier. All buildings, machinery, apparatus, and yards, should be kept scrupulously clean.

Every effort should be made to secure that the raw water is protected from pollution, and where practicable the undertakers should acquire the whole of the gathering ground and thus control it, also to protect the reservoirs by adequate fencing. All wells and bore-holes should be made watertight to such a depth as will prevent surface pollution. Service reservoirs should where practicable be covered.

Frequent analyses should be made if the water is supplied without treatment. Even if provision is made for chlorination, safety is not necessarily secured. Reliance on a single line of defence between the consumer and a polluted source of water supply is fraught with danger. Treatment should provide at least two lines of defence, e.g., chlorination or some other effective form of sterilisation, after storage and filtration. These methods have long been recognised as good practice in Water Administration, and as we shall see, the Huddersfield Authority provide three lines of defence :— Storage, Filtration, and Chlorination.

Continue to Chapter VIII...

Notes and References

  1. The popular names "Hard Well" and "Soft Well" are not supported by these analyses.