Glossop Heritage Trust

Hydraulic Engineering Works on the Glossop Brook in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Neville Tomlinson Sharpe (1929-2017) made a great contribution to the study of the history of Glossop, not least by transcribing Hamnett's notes from Chronicle articles before they became unreadable. In the mid 1990s he documented the results of some of his research in a series of self-published booklets before going on to have several larger books published by mainstream companies.
Neville always had time to help others who displayed an interest in the history of Glossop and the surrounding area and was a strong believer in making it as widely available as possible. As he said in his introduction to the transcription of Hamnett's notes "Mr. Hamnett must have spent years in collecting this information which I feel should be made more easily available to anyone interested in local history. After all, the history of the town is part of our heritage, not the preserve of some narrow academic clique.".
The following article was written by Neville in 2002, in the form of one of his earlier booklets. It was never published but was instead given to Glossop Heritage Trust. We publish it here in pursuit of Neville's belief in making our heritage as widely available as possible.

It was the plentiful and reliable water supply from the Pennine streams that attracted the woollen, fustian and cotton manufacturers to set up their mills in Glossop Dale in the first instance. Once the water wheels, weirs, leats1, tail races had been built they provided a very cheap source of power which enabled local manufacturers to compete with mills equipped with steam engines for many years and Glossop mills continued to rely on water power after mills to the west on the Lancashire coalfield had converted to steam power. There was also the problem in Glossop Dale of finding coal in sufficient quantity, and of suitable quality, to provide the steam. With the opening of the railway in 1845, cheap coal of superior quality could be brought from Yorkshire and larger steam engines could be installed. Before steam engines were introduced, coal was still needed to produce the steam for heating the factories and to increase the humidity.

Some notion of the former number of mills which had water wheels can be gleaned from the following details for 1847:
Hurst Brook:
John Kershaw, Hurst Mill, 35 horse power, 57 feet 6 inches fall;
John Hadfield, Cow Brook Mill, 12 horse power, 33 feet 2 inches fall;
William Walker's Trustees, Rose Green or Silk Mill, 14 horse power, 34 feet 2 inches fall;
Messrs Milburn & Roberts, Cross Cliff Mill, 10 horse power, 15 feet 5 inches fall.
Glossop Brook:
John Wood and Brothers, Howard Town Mills, 30 horse power, 14 feet 5.75 inches fall;
Abraham Jackson and Co. occupying one fifth of Lower Whitfield or Shepley Mill, 20 horse power, 14 feet 0.5 inches fall;
Francis Sumner, Wren Nest Mills, 30 horse power, 19 feet 9 inches fall;
Samuel Oliver, Dinting Mill, 20 horse power, 13 feet 7.5 inches fall;
Edmund Potter and Co., Dinting Vale Printworks, 25 horse power, 20 feet 6.5 inches fall;
John & William Shepley, Brookfield Mill, 25 home power, 19 feet 3 inches fall.

The waterfalls of each mill were annually and occasionally inspected, to see that the mill occupiers did not take more water than they were assessed for. All the above mills had mill ponds fed by the Hurst or Glossop Brooks.

Despite the ample rainfall of the district, in times of drought the supply was insufficient, causing stoppages. To get over this problem a group known as the Glossop Commissioners which consisted mainly of mill owners, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1837 empowering them to construct the Glossop Reservoirs which were intended to provide power for the water wheels driving their mills. Public drinking water was not one of their priorities; that is if they even spared it a thought. It was their intention to build three reservoirs to be called Chunal Wood Reservoir, Shelf Reservoir, and Hurst Reservoir; but the rapid development of the steam engine was making water power redundant and only the Hurst Reservoir was actually constructed, in 1838, from plans which were drawn up by Mr. J. F. Bateman.

Naturally the Duke of Norfolk, as the major landowner, had an important part to play in the scheme. The more prosperous the mill occupiers, the greater the value of the rents raised on his estates. This prosperity would in time spread through the whole community; the more people employed in textiles, the more customers for shopkeepers, publicans, and the greater the demand for food thus aiding the farmers. It must have been an interesting time to live in Glossop Dale in the nineteenth century as it changed rapidly from an agricultural backwater to a thriving industrial town.
The engineer for the reservoir project was Thomas Ashworth and his surveyor was the 28 year old John Frederick Bateman. It is quite remarkable how young some of the Victorian engineers were, to be entrusted with major works! Such men were tackling work of a size and complexity previously unknown and were forced to rely to a large degree on their intuition rather than any body of earlier experience. The very notion of a dam bursting and flooding the valley was sufficient to ensure that they erred on the side of excessive caution. This is why so much of the work is characterised by its obvious strength and why some of it stands to this day performing its original purpose. The name of John Frederick Bateman the famous water engineer is usually linked to the building of the chain of reservoirs in Longdendale, but he had previous experience of hydraulic engineering on the Upper Bann in Ulster and in dealing with flooding problems on the River Medlock.

Mr Thomas Ashworth of Turton, made a survey of the streams and eventually selected a site at the Hurst for a reservoir. His report reads:-
Report upon the Reservoirs at Glossop, proposed to be made on the estate of his Grace the Duke of Norfolk, for the purpose of impounding water in wet seasons, in order to provide a more efficient and regular supply in times of scarcity to the Mills and Waterfalls on the River Mersey and Glossop Brook.
Two situations have been selected, naturally well adapted for this purpose situated in a deep valley, a short distance above the highest mill on the Glossop Brook, and which may be made available by throwing an embankment across the valley at the lower end to a height of 50 feet, and if required may be increased to 100 feet, covering altogether 33 statute acres and containing about 20,756,000 cubic feet of water, being equal to a supply to the works below of eight cubic feet per second for a period of ten weeks, 12 hours to the day, exclusive of the usual supply flowing into the reservoirs; This I have no doubt would be considerably more than double the present supply of Glossop Brook.
The estimated cost of no. 1 is 2,695
The estimated cost of no. 2 is 1,857
Total 4,552,
which sum is proposed to be borrowed, and the interest and yearly expenses defrayed by a annual rate to be imposed on each occupier per foot of fall occupied, between the reservoirs and junction of the Irwell with the Mersey. Unoccupied falls are not intended to be rated. The quantity of fall at the present occupied is stated to be upwards of 400 feet, with a considerable quantity of unoccupied fall. The annual rate calculated upon 400 feet would amount to 11s. 4d. per annum, or about 15s. per horse power per annum. The principal advantages I conceive would be in obtaining an increased and more regular supply, thus obviating the principal objection to water power ensuring to owners a greater certainty of production and to workpeople, more constant employment. Water power will be created to 297 horses power, thereby lessening the consumption of coals about 11,000 tons per annum. If it should be thought advisable to raise the proposed embankment and thereby increase the quantity of water power such increase will be in the following proportions as nearly as I am able at present to estimate it from the plans and information I have obtained:-
Contents of
water cu. ft.
Height of
No of cu. ft.
per second
No of weeks
Estimated power
400 feet fall
20,756,000 50 8 10 297 33
40,358,000 60 16 10 594 45
63,316,000 70 24 10 920 55
89,452,000 80 36 10 1287 60

THOMAS ASHWORTH, Turton 5th 11th 1833

Hurst Reservoir
Hurst Reservoir

The millowners were asked to subscribe to the expense of the project, and the Duke sent the following form to them:
"Whereas an application is intended to be made to Parliament in the ensuing session for an Act for making and maintaining three certain reservoirs upon the tributary streams of the River Etherow, otherwise the Mersey, which arise in the Parish of Glossop, in the County of Derby, for the purpose of impounding the water of the said streams therein for the more effectually and regularly supplying with water the mills, manufactories, and works, on the tributary streams and the said River Mersey, otherwise the Etherow, We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do hereby agree and undertake to advance and lend upon security of the said reservoirs to be made upon the said tributary streams of the tolls, rates, or charges to be levied and collected from the mills, manufactories and works upon the said tributary streams, the several sums of money set opposite to our respective names for or towards the expense of obtaining the said Act of Parliament and of making the said intended reservoirs as above mentioned, and to pay any respective, subscriptions, or so much thereof respectively as shall not have been paid for or towards the expense of obtaining the said Act at such time or times and in such manner as shall be appointed or directed in that behalf by and under the authority of the Act of Parliament to be obtained and passed for the purpose above mentioned."
7th February, 1837.

In obedience to the directions of an Act of Parliament passed during the present session, and entitled "An Act for making and maintaining reservoirs upon the tributary streams of the River Etherow, otherwise the Mersey, in the Parish of Glossop, in the County of Derby, for more effectually and regularly supplying with water the mills, manufactories and works on the said tributary streams and river." We, the undersigned, Robert Shepley, John Kershaw, junior, and John Wood, being three of the Commissioners named in the said Act, do hereby give notice that the first meeting of the Commissioners named in the said Act will be held at the Norfolk Arms Inn, at Howardtown, in the Township of Glossop, aforesaid, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon
Glossop, July 5th, 1837

The contract for the work on Hurst Reservoir was advertised for tender in the Manchester Guardian at the end of May 1838.
THE GLOSSOP RESERVOIRS-CONTRACT FOR WORKS.-TO BE LET, on Monday the 25th day of June next, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, at the house of Mrs Wagstaffe, the Norfolk Arms, in Howard Town, within Glossop Dale, in the County of Derby, the EMBANKING, PUDDLING, STONING, MASONRY, and other work, of the Hurst Reservoir, in Glossop Dale aforesaid. The earth consists of upwards of 90,000 cubic yards. The plans, specification, and working drawings, will be ready for inspection, on and after the 6th day of June next, at the office of Mr. J F Bateman, civil engineer 48 Pall Mall, Manchester, from whom any further information may be obtained. The commissioners do not pledge themselves to accept the lowest tender, and the contractors must be prepared with satisfactory security at the time of letting.
THOS. ELLISON, Clerk to the Commissioners
Glossop, 25th May, 1838

The successful contractor for the building of Hurst Reservoir was Samuel Taylor who was later to obtain the contracts for building Arnfield and Hollingworth Reservoirs. We can read endless articles about cotton masters who made fortunes, or the splendid lives of great landowners, but too little attention is paid to men of the calibre of Samuel Taylor without whose skills, vast civil engineering projects would not have been possible. Samuel was born in Saddleworth and started his working life as a stonemason, but from 1822 to 1825 he was an innkeeper in Hadfield at the Spinner's Arms. He then returned to building work and progressed so well that by the census of 1851 he describes himself as a Contractor for Public Works. At that time he was living in the substantial Ryecroft House in Manor Park Road which he had just completed in 1850.

Map showing water courses ,weirs, leats and mill ponds
Map showing water courses, weirs, leats and mill ponds

Building Hurst reservoir was only a portion of the work required by the mills. Each water wheel along the streams would require a mill lodge to store water; a weir to build up a head of water and a leat to convey the water from the weir on the river to the mill lodge. One example is the weir near the bridge as you enter Manor Park from Corn Street. This weir holds back the water which is taken by a leat and tunnel under High Street East into the reservoir above the former weaving sheds of Wood's Mill which is presently occupied by Volcrepe Ltd. The remains of many of these leats and mill ponds can still be made out, but others have disappeared as a result of improvements to the water courses and the filling in of mill lodges so that housing estates could be built on the site.

Evidence of engineering works still to be seen.
The recent improvements to the water course serve as a reminder of the practice in the days of the Duke of Norfolk. The fast running Pennine streams when in spate carry down vast amounts of stone, sand, and gravel which in time raises the level of the water course and is one of the causes of flooding. Men were employed periodically to clear out the brook courses and cart off the stone to the Workhouse where it could be broken up for road mending. As one old gentleman told me "In the Duke's day you could have driven a horse and cart under any of these bridges."

The old bridge in Slatelands which would benefit from the attention of the Duke of Norfolk's men
The old bridge in Slatelands which would benefit from the attention of the Duke of Norfolk's men

One has only to stand at the bridge over the Glossop Brook2 at the bottom of Cross Cliff and look downstream to see that the river follows an artificially straight course. A similar straight length can also be seen lower down by standing on the bridge which now leads to the Tesco Supermarket and looking upstream past what remains of Wren Nest Mill. These artificial lengths are the result of work carried out around 1838 in connexion with the water supply to the water wheels at John Woods

Wood's Mill as it appeared circa 1960
Wood's Mill as it appeared circa 1960

Around 1980 I was talking to Mr Webster who lived at the farm on the way down to Lower Bank from Kershaw Street which overlooks what is left of Howard Town Mill. Amongst other things he said, "Old men told me that the river once flowed closer to the High Street."
This anecdote was probably correct and a strong clue as to the the original course of the Glossop Brook can be discovered by examining the boundary between the townships of Glossop and Whitfield. Township boundaries were often delineated by streams and it used to be said that Whitfield was an island because it was surrounded by water. Not strictly true, of course, but most of the boundary of Whitfield township follows the line of the Hurst and Glossop Brooks on its north side from near the summit of the Snake Pass to where the Glossop Brook meets the Gnathole Brook near the Junction Inn. The Gnathole Brook marks out much of the rest as far as its source at the head of Whitethorn Clough.

In the area under consideration the boundary follows the Hurst Brook downstream to its confluence with the Glossop Brook near the bottom of Cross Cliff and then follows the combined stream as far as Victoria Bridge where there is a stone set in the parapet clearly marking the boundary.3 From this point the boundary leaves the course of the brook as it flows under the Market Ground and heads in the direction of Chapel Street and meets the brook again where it flows under High Street West near the bottom of Shrewsbury Street. Once the Glossop Brook has passed under the road it makes a sharp turn and flows down the straight length by the mill, but originally it carried on where the sluice gate is now and flowed round the back of Wren Nest Mill. The boundary followed the same route.

Remains of the water system for driving the water wheel at Wren Nest Mill
Remains of the water system for driving the water wheel at Wren Nest Mill

Returning to where the Glossop Brook re-emerges after passing under the Market Ground. If you lean over the parapet and look downstream and to your right you will see the weir and the valve gear for the sluices that once directed the water into a leat which flowed parallel to Chapel Street behind the houses and after passing under a bridge in George Street the water was stored in a reservoir for Lower Whitfield Mill, or Shepley Mill as it was perhaps better known. Note the name Lower Whitfield indicating which side of the township boundary it stood on. The manner in which this leat extended in an easterly direction almost to Market Street may also be an indication of the former course of the Glossop Brook. The curved stretch of the brook course from the Market Ground to where it passes under High Street West is also artificial and is also relatively swift flowing so as to provide a head of water in Shepley Mill reservoir to drive the water wheel.

Sluices which allowed water to flow into Wren Nest Mill Pond
Sluices which allowed water to flow into Wren Nest Mill Pond

By redirecting the brook in a straight line past Wren Nest Mill and building a weir near the west end of the mill it was possible to provide a greater head of water as can still be seen by comparing the level at this weir with the level as it flows under the bridge.

There is other evidence of considerable alterations to the original course of the Glossop Brook. During the mid 1990's, old terraced properties in George Street were demolished and replaced with offices etc. While this work was in progress the nature of the ground was open to inspection and it could be clearly seen to consist largely of rounded stones which had at some time been carried along by the brook. In fact we were able to see part of the former flood plain of the brook. Note also the height of the Coronation Bridge above the water course which has been caused by the need to build a retaining wall for the lodge of Shepley Mill.

The foregoing engineering works are not the full story because in addition there were a large number of reservoirs, some quite small, built into the hillsides on both sides of the valley. Some were constructed by damming small streams, others by making an excavation and filling it from one of the many natural springs. In some cases these small reservoirs were connected. For example on the slopes of Mouselow are two small reservoirs now used by Glossop Anglers and water which flows out passes under Park Crescent and through Howard Park in to the Reservoir which is now a duck pond. This water was then carried under Dinting Road into a very deep reservoir on the south side. The stream which emerges from this last reservoir enters a culvert under Spire Hollin and eventually re-emerges near Grab Alley where it enters the Glossop Brook. Incidentally, for most of its length from the top of Mouselow to where it meets the Glossop Brook, this stream marks the township boundary between Glossop and Dinting.

Ten Foot Fields were once best known to small boys as a grand sledge run, but Ten Foot Lodge was built to supply water to Wren Nest Mill. The water pressure low down in the valley was sufficient to raise water from the mill to Ten Foot Lodge. At one time it was the practice to surreptitiously pump water up into this small reservoir during the night using the water in the mill sprinkler system and to draw off water during the day as required. The advantage of this piece of skullduggery was that the water in the sprinkler system was not metered. We are usually told stories of the model behaviour of local wealthy mill owners, so it is perhaps as well to show that they were capable of a spot of sharp practice in addition to their well publicised acts of philanthropy.

Francis Sumner started in business at Wren nest Mill in December 1827 when the mill was worked by a water wheel. He soon replaced it with a steam engine, erecting his first engine house in 1829.

Before the building of the Victoria Bridge at the bottom of Victoria Street the turnpike road ran from the Trap public house to line up with Ellison Street. The Bridge End Mill took its name from this long demolished bridge. Before the building of the new bridge, Victoria Street was known as Littlemoor. The original Bridge End Mill was sold by public auction at the Howard Arms Inn on 5th March 1819, Mr John Wood being the purchaser for 1,900. It was called the Howardtown Mill after the sale. Some idea of his rapid progress in business can be gained from the facts that by 1823 he had 5,580 spindles and 143 looms, which by 1836 had increased to 38,500 spindles and 915 looms.

One unhappy feature of nineteenth century life was the number of suicides, many people drowning themselves in mill ponds. There were so many cases of drowning in Ten Foot Lodge that it was eventually surrounded with unclimbable railings.

N. T. Sharpe March 2002

1. A leat, or goyt, is an artificial water channel built to convey water from a weir placed upstream of a mill wheel, to a pond close to a mill so as to provide a regular water supply at a suitable head above the tail race.
2. This bridge is worth a closer look. It has recently been upgraded but originally was much narrower and the arch of the original bridge could be seen underneath. It was a simple stone arch similar to the one above Gnathole Mill or the one below Slatelands House.
3. There was once a similar stone set in the bridge over the Hurst Brook near the entrance to Glossop Golf course. It was washed away in one of the periodic floods, probably in 1944.

Return to the Local History Main Menu, Return to The Industry Articles, Return to the Home Page.

Page last updated: 28 December 2018.
Copyright 2018 Glossop Heritage Trust. All Rights Reserved.