Glossop Heritage Trust

Theo Walter Ellison's Glossop Dale Reminiscences.


Water Supplies (published 8 March 1935).

Following in the train of the exceptional periods of drought during the past two years, the inhabitants of extensive areas of England’s fair Counties, the City of London and some of the Provincial Towns, have been affected with nervous apprehension of the dread consequences of a vanishing supply of water. Endowed by natural situation, with abundant sources of supply, always with certainty replenished before vital deficiency of the quantity in storage occurs, we in Glossop Dale have been saved the unpleasant experience of carrying water for miles, and buying it by the pail or bucketful, and yet the value of our possessions is not fully appreciated by our townspeople. Let us consider the matter in its full and broadest aspect. The natural abundant supplies afforded by situation and the environment of the surrounding hills and moorlands rising to a height of 2,000 feet above sea level, either flow on the surface, forming defined watercourses, streams and rivulets, or into brooks and rivers, uniting and eventually discharging into the sea; or, are absorbed in and percolate through the ground by defined or undefined channels emerging in the form of springs, or being tapped by wells. The owners of land adjoining the streams have certain rights to use the water for domestic purposes, watering cattle, motive power, and industrial and other purposes, but not to abstract the water to such an extent as to sensibly diminish the flow, unless such a right has been acquired as an easement; but neither they nor their tenants may pollute the streams or obstruct the flow of the waters, unless a right has been acquired by prescription or otherwise. The Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1870, restricted the right to discharge effluents or offensive matter into rivers or streams. Legal questions of momentous import concerning water rights have been the subject of actions in the Courts too numerous and varied to receive consideration here.

The construction of Reservoirs is our more immediate concern, and these are mainly for two purposes; first, in order to preserve for dry seasons a supply of water for domestic and other purposes which would otherwise have passed on, and secondly to provide motive power for mills and works, as indicated in an earlier article – not only woollen, cotton and paper mills, but also bone mills, saw mills, corn grinding mills, and so on. The supply for domestic purposes and chiefly for human consumption is of prime importance and in times of great shortage the supply must be restricted.

It is absolutely essential that the supply for human consumption shall be protected from pollution to prevent disease arising from contamination. So, the water which is impounded in the reservoirs for domestic supply is obtained as near the source as possible – on the high lands. And should it happen that the reservoirs have to be constructed in or below lands upon which farmhouses or other buildings are erected or which are manured or used for cattle grazing, then such lands are required for what is termed ‘gathering grounds’ and all risk of pollution removed, or the water passing through such lands is impounded only in the reservoir containing the supply for owners of mills and works, which is usually called compensation water, because it is a compensation supply for the water taken from the streams for domestic supply. It follows that if a large body of water is taken from the streams, impounded in reservoirs, and consumed in domestic supply, the water is not returned to the streams until it has been consumed, passed through the sewers and purified at the Sewage Outfall Works. Hence, Statutory powers are required for public water works, and the rights of mill owners and all landowners on the streams affected have to be considered. Surface water from the roads finds its way through drains into streams. As already narrated, the Glossop Waterworks were constructed under the Glossop Water Act, 1845, and purchased from Lord Howard of Glossop by the Glossop Corporation in 1880. Improvements to the reservoir and extensions and renewals of water mains have since been made, and the revenue increased.

I notice from the Corporation Abstract of Accounts that there is an item for ‘chemicals’ in connection with the Waterworks. Probably owing to the transit through peat and bog on the moors some addition of this kind is thought necessary, but it is of the utmost importance that nothing deleterious should be introduced, and no doubt the Council will have had expert advice on the subject. Perhaps the Chairman of the Waterworks Committee will enlighten the consumers and tell us the nature of the chemicals we are drinking with our Swineshaw water. Our tastes vary.

The Hadfield Waterworks were also constructed by Lord Howard, but not under any Statutory power. The Corporation having acquiesced in the supply for Hadfield district being undertaken by his Lordship for so many years could not equitably establish any waterworks for supplying that part of the Borough without purchasing the reservoirs and mains there or compensating his Lordship or whoever might be the owners of the Estates. I gather from the Accounts the ‘Hadfield Waterworks’ and gathering grounds at Glossop and the Mossy Lea Reservoir have been acquired by purchase, but exactly what works or what rights have been acquired I do not know.

According to the Abstract of Accounts the Glossop Waterworks capital account at 31st March stood at £38,281 and the Hadfield Waterworks and Glossop Gathering Grounds at £30,058, which includes £1,950 paid for the purchase of Mossy Lea Reservoir.

The ratepayers of the Hadfield Ward had the doubtful pleasure for some years, until the Glossop Waterworks became a profitable undertaking, of assisting to repay the loans raised by Mortgages for the purchase and for the cost of extensions and renewals of water mains, and they did not fail to complain loudly; but as the Loans were gradually reduced and the profits increased, there came a time when the surplus income was a most appreciable nest egg for the ratepayers. Then Hadfieldians ceased their complaints, though they had other grievances. Now the boot was on the other leg, and Glossop ratepayers may declaim and ask why they should pay for water for Hadfield as well as for their own supply? History will probably repeat itself in good time, and end the mutual congratulations upon ownership of the whole of the undertakings for supply of water in the Borough.

In 1892-3 there waxed a battle royal over the scarcity of water and the mode of increasing the supply. The deficiency was felt acutely at some of our mills and the question was whether another reservoir capable of holding as much or more then Swineshaw should be constructed. Lord Doverdale, on his own motion, consulted an Engineer, Mr Muir, to inspect and report on the advisability of constructing a reservoir in the Shelf Valley and the probable cost, but did not at first submit the report to the Committee, which raised some unpleasantness. A scene also was narrowly averted at a meeting of the Waterworks Committee owing to an unguarded remark made by a certain member, now deceased, which might have led to unpleasant consequences had it not been for the timely intervention of my father. Feelings ran high. Mr Muir’s report was eventually laid before the Council in November. I believe the estimated cost of a reservoir across the Shelf Valley was given as £8,000. Later, Mr Hill of Manchester was called in, who advised against the suitability of the Valley for the construction of a reservoir across the stream. In July of 1893, when Alderman W.S. Rhodes was the Mayor, a meeting of ratepayers was held and a resolution passed urging the Council to take immediate steps for an additional supply of water, and on the 30th August the Water Inspector reported that there was only three weeks’ supply in the reservoir.

Alderman James Sidebottom, who then resided at Millbrook, Hollingworth, was in communication with well known experts in Manchester and London on the question of rainfall and drought, and as I was at that time his tenant, and residing at ‘Springfield’ Hollingworth, not far from Millbrook, he sent for me and explained, whilst taking his breakfast, the statistics he had obtained, and asked me to publish the result, his point being that a period of thirty years had elapsed since there had been an equivalent drought, and that statistics showed that this was only occasional and did not justify any such special outlay as was being urged. The council, after much debate, accepted this view, and the matter ended for the time being.

In 1902 the question was reopened, and it was felt that the cost of providing an additional reservoir was more than Glossop could reasonably be expected to incur, a joint scheme with Hyde was suggested, the reservoir to be constructed, I think above the Mossy Lea Bridge, and not as originally suggested, and in October of that year members of both Councils met at Mossy Lea. The estimated cost was, I believe, £170,000, and the Hyde Council, after careful consideration of the cost, especially of laying pipes to Hyde, and the benefit to be derived, and the disadvantage of a joint scheme, decided it was not expedient to proceed with the scheme.

Still, an additional supply of water appeared necessary, for the population and the consumption of water for domestic purposes had increased, and the millowners were unwilling to give up their right to the one half of Blackshaw stream or their rights to compensation supply for the other half of that stream which the Corporation had the right to impound. Then came a happy solution of the problem. Let me briefly explain. Mossy Lea reservoir was reputed to ‘leak’, and certain wiseacres and wire pullers, who were opposing the purchase of that reservoir and urging the construction of another reservoir, sedulously spread that report. The late Lord Doverdale had his suspicions and doubted whether the supposed leakage affected the holding capacity of the reservoir. He propounded a scheme for taking a lease of the reservoir from Lord Howard for a term of years at an annual rent and to store the flood water only in rainy seasons, and to send this down the stream in time of drought in lieu of the compensation water from Blackshaw, which would then be available for domestic supply. Lord Howard was willing and only the consent of the millowners who would be affected was necessary. The scheme met with opposition in the Council and there was acrimonious debate. A Daniel came to judgement in the person of Councillor S.H. Wood, who met Lord Doverdale and myself and John Garner at the reservoir, when the scheme was intelligently explained to him in all its bearings, and his acquiescence gained. It really required only this cool businesslike consideration to appreciate the advantages. Returning across the field we paused by the side of the tail race, where I suggested sampling the quality of the water, producing a flask of something more delectable than chemicals, and it was pronounced good. The opposition to the scheme was overcome. The millowners all agreed, save one, who commenced an action against the Corporation on a mistaken idea as to his rights, which he withdrew when enlightened on the subject. So ended the great water ‘battle’.

The demolition or sinking of old mills and works, homesteads and even ancestral halls, the construction of capacious reservoirs to conserve for the utilitarian needs of an increasing community in populous centres a good and sufficient supply of pure water, its carriage and distribution through or past intervening municipal, urban and rural districts, culminating in expansive engineering works in Longdendale and Thirlmere (for Manchester), Derwent Valley (for four Counties), Kinder Valley (Stockport) and a host of others, some entailing prodigious expenditure, and occasionally costly preliminary failures, illustrate and emphasise the magnitude and importance of the work entrusted by Parliament to Local Authorities singly or combined, and invite serious consideration as to the qualifications to be possessed by men to initiate, guide and control such vast undertakings and as to the share, interest and responsibility of the ratepayers.

It is strange that there are still some who urge that because water flows freely in rainy and stormy seasons and passes along our streams past our Borough, reservoirs should be built to store the water, forgetful of the needs of others on the stream regardless of the question of adaptability of site or cost of construction, and other material considerations. Such extreme drought as lately experienced may to a certain extent be met by keeping existing reservoirs from silting and preserving their storage capacity. Look around and see! Another and not insignificant matter is that notwithstanding the elementary knowledge that water should be kept free from contamination there are still in these days thoughtless or careless people who persist in depositing pots, pans, bottles, garbage and filth in pure water streams, although the removal of all refuse is undertaken free by the Corporation and the cost included in the rates.

Time was when rod and line and skilled angling yielded a catch worthy of the disciples of that renowned piscator, Izaak Walton, who esteemed water in importance before air or earth. But all were not so skilled. My father loved in the summer, when hunters were resting, to angle with float, fly or sea line, and gave encouragement to his boys to do likewise by providing them with rod and lines for ‘bottom fishing’, thus securing indirectly willing, if not enthusiastic, hands to unearth the best worms and carry the bait can – and so we hied on occasions to the Longdendale Reservoirs, especially the Rhodes Wood, but when the results were negligent, sport was dull. I remember deciding upon a frontal vigorous attack and fished every day for a fortnight early morning and late at night in reservoir and streams, but without avail; they did say the poachers had cleared the streams. However, fortune did not altogether fail us; a shoal of perch at the Rhodes Wood Reservoir came round on one rainy afternoon, and a fine catch so completely put in the shade the paternal efforts, that he had difficulty in believing our success to be genuine, though he enjoyed sharing the repast.

Mossy Lea also recalls memories of an afternoon with a pleasant companion and good angler, Clarence Thorp, son of Water Thorp, J.P., fishing for trout in the Shelf stream. My enthusiasm, however waned and the exigencies of a professional career put an end to my piscatorial pleasures which were only once revived when the late Edwin Collier a year later invited me to fish with him. I marvelled how, with consummate ease, he passed the fly and hooked half a dozen or more trout, a brace of which I was to enjoy. Was it not due to him that Mossy Lea Reservoir was stocked and a Fishing Club established?

Mossy Lea, nestling picturesquely amid green meadows, purple and yellow clothed moorland; the soothing ripple of the ever flowing waters of Shelf and Yellow Slack; the calls and songs of birds, beloved by scholar, poet and artist; scenes of moonlight skating, romantic rendezvous, fond embraces and troths pledged, yet traversed in the days of old by Caesar’s brave legions, from Rome, and now by Britain's sons and maidens fair. Naturalists, Ramblers and Hikers tracking by Doctor’s Gate to the enchanting moorlands of the Peak of Derbyshire. It is pleasant to know that the reservoir is now the property of the Corporation.

TO FOLLOW: Travel by Road and Rail, past and present; Some principal Tradesmen in the past; Administration of Justice.


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