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History

Trevor Buck (in a paper entitled ‘Corporation Oaks’, 1983) tells us that Thomas Hawksley (1807 – 1893), ‘the greatest water engineer of the age’, was the force behind the Trent Waterworks Company which amalgamated with its rival in 1845 to form the Nottingham Waterworks Company. As more clean water was desperately needed for the growing city, Hawksley opened the Trent Bridge works and later took water directly from the ground at Bagthorpe (the junction of Haydn Road and Hucknall Road). Because demand was variable, storage capacity was required, and in 1846 the Inclosure Commissioners used their powers of compulsory purchase to force a very reluctant Ichabod Wright to surrender the top of Toad Hole Hill, part of his Red Lane Close, and Nottingham’s premier beauty spot, for the purpose of building a reservoir. Hawksley knew that the trees on top of the hill had to come down, and had to con a reluctant Wright, saying that he would only remove trees if necessary.

The Nottingham Date Book (1884) tells us that Hawksley’s partner Robert Jalland was the architect. The first reservoir built was opened on 16 May 1851 (we are told on 1 September that workmen digging the foundations found a large cannon ball) and was 160 feet long, 80 feet wide and 12 feet high, made of ‘good solid walls of brickwork’ with 288 arches (see below for full quote).

A second, larger, reservoir designed by T.C. Hine and built by John Loverseed was opened on 9.5.1864. This was 220 feet by 133 feet, and its capacity was 2.5 million gallons (Nottingham Date Book, Nottingham Journal 10.5.1864). The two reservoirs are contained within a circular plot bounded by a sandstone wall.

Water was originally pumped here from the Park waterworks on the Ropewalk, and later from the Bagthorpe works, on the corner of Haydn Road and Hucknall Road. On 27.11.1869 a notice was placed in the London Gazette (CRC PR 3825) giving notice of a mains link through Arnold and Bagthorpe from a new reservoir at Jarman (German) Close, Arnold “… terminating at the existing reservoir of the Company situated at Belle Vue, otherwise St Ann’s Hill…” Hawksley’s plans for this connection show the locations of the mains … In time, Belle Vue was connected with the Mapperley Reservoir at the top of Porchester Rd and a whole series of outlet pipes spread out in octopus-fashion from Belle Vue to the rest of the city.’ (T Buck op.cit.)

Trevor Buck wrote that in 1983 contractors laid down a thick plastic seals over the reservoir to prevent penetration from the roof.

Recent repairs

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It seems that previous work was done on the reservoirs was seventy years ago: the photograph shows the date of 1938.

Starting in the autumn of 2007 repair work was carried out.

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The foreman for the contractors was keen to explain something of what they were doing and what they had found. In addition he was good enough to take some photographs inside. Within the circle are two reservoirs. These pictures are of the smaller of the two reservoirs, in October 2007, and of the larger one in May 2008.

He explained (and the following is my fallible memory of what he said) that the water comes from boreholes near Halam, is pumped up to a reservoir above Oxton, and then is gravity fed to Belle Vue. It feeds the eastern side of Nottingham (how much I’m not sure: water from the Derwent Reservoirs feeds the western side). (This information should be taken in conjunction with what Trevor Buck says, above)

They are constructed of Mapperley bricks

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surrounded by puddle clay (holes in the brickwork allow the clay to stay wet, and therefore retain its waterproof character). The space inside the reservoirs is divided into chambers with vaulted roofs, connected by round-topped archways.

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Smaller reservoir

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Larger reservoir (which had a little water still in it).

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In the larger reservoir, the outer walls are stepped, so that the bottoms of the walls are stronger.

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Gauges:

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Since the original designs appear to have been lost,
some inspired guesswork has been necessary to understand
the exact purposes of some of the equipment found in the
reservoirs and accompanying pipework. They seem to show
unique and very clever early engineering solutions to problems.
Thus, the best guess about the purpose of a bell valve (?) is
to prevent pressure surges that might fracture pipes when valves are shut.

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The purpose of a vertical cylinder with holes in at the centre of
the large reservoir is not clear.

It was originally accessible from above, and may therefore have
been used to add chemicals. Its top has since been sealed by concrete.

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27″ Pipes bring water from Oxton, around the south and west of the reservoir (and worryingly close to some tree roots). Mains pipes take water from the reservoirs to pipes in Mapperley Road. Smaller pipes allow excess water into the sewerage system. Again, original plans have been lost, and it has been difficult to find the paths and purposes of some of the pipes. The construction of the pipes is also unique, again demonstrating ingenious early engineering solutions. The pipes are connected with flanges that fit no standard size (even imperial) and whose secrets are now known to only one Severn Trent employee. The waterproofing of the connections involves horsehair, animal fat flux, a heated clay surround, and then molten lead poured into the tapered gap between the flanges and tamped down with a specially designed series of graded chisels. Imagine the number of such connections between Oxton and Belle Vue!

The current work has included the replacement of some of the pipework with modern plastic.

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Every morning someone from Severn Trent examines the quality of the water and adds chemicals to ensure drinkability. The vents at the top are alarmed to prevent tampering.

© Tom Zadik


Notes by © Ken Brand:

Notes on the Reservoirs of the Nottingham Trent Waterworks

From The Nottingham Date Book (1884)

September 1 1851

In digging for the foundations of the reservoir on St. Anns-hill the workmen found a large cannon ball, giving rise to a supposition that at some period ordnance was stationed on that elevated spot. A description of the reservoir may be appropriately introduced here. It was formed by a deep square excavation being made in the centre of the table land at the summit of the hill, within which good solid walls of brickwork wore constructed, 160 feet long and 80 feet wide; then in parallel rows were raised shafts of masonry, along which were turned no less than 288 arches, which entirely cover the whole reservoir, with the exception of two trap doors for the purpose of ingress and egress. The floor was puddled with soft clay, on which was laid a layer of bricks. To a spectator the interior presents the appearance of a cellar of interminable extent with brick arches overhead. The height within from the floor of the arches to the roof is 12 feet. Some idea of the altitude of the situation may be formed when it is stated that the reservoir is 50 feet higher than the top of Derby-road, from whence, it obtains a portion of its supply of water, and is level with the top of Trinity church spire. Half a million of bricks were used in the formation of it, and the various works pertaining to it incurred an outlay of £8,000. A circular boundary wall of stone surrounds it and the surface is laid with grass. Mr. Jalland was the architect,

May 9 1864

Opening of a new reservoir, Robin Hood’s Chase, which is capable of holding two and a half million gallons of water. This reservoir was made to prevent any inconvenience which might arise from the cleansing or repairing the one in the neighbourhood noticed in a former portion this work [i.e. above], to which it is similar in conformation with the exception that it is three times the size, being 220 feet by 133 feet, and covers an acre and a half of ground. It was constructed by Messrs. Loverseed & Hine, at the cost of £3,000.

Taken from my biography of Thomas Hawksley (1807-93) – Some repetition from the above.

It must be remembered that while Hawksley was getting immersed in the fight for the inclosure of the Nottingham’s common fields and starting to get involved with the water undertakings of other authorities he remained the chief engineer of the Nottingham Waterworks Company and was still actively engaged in ensuring future supplies of water for the new company. His first important work for the new company was the design and construction of the Park or Sion Hill works at the Derby Road end of the Ropewalk in 1850. Water was obtained here from wells sunk in the Bunter Sandstone. These were of 7 feet diameter (=2.1m) and about 250 feet deep (=76.3m) with a daily output between 850,000 – 900,000 gallons.

Although additional reservoir capacity was planned from c.1846, work on a new reservoir to be built on the summit of St. Ann’s Hill, off Mapperley Road, did not start until 1851. He gave the commission to his architectural partner Robert Jalland. To quote from The Nottingham Date Book: It was constructed of “good solid brickwork 160 feet long and 80 feet wide; then in parallel rows were raised shafts of masonry along which were turned 288 arches, which cover the whole of the reservoir with the exception of two trap doors for the purpose of ingress and egress.” The height from the floor of puddled soft clay covered with a layer of brick, to the roof was 12 feet. A million bricks were used in its construction, the overall cost of which was £8,000. The Date Book (published 1884) stated: “that the reservoir was 50 feet higher than Derby Road (i.e. the Ropewalk pumping station), from whence it obtains a portion of its supply of water.”

(Later in text)
Work started [on the next reservoir] in the early 1860s and it was formally opened on 9 May 1864. It was capable of holding two and a half million gallons of water, being three times the size of the earlier reservoir on St. Ann’s Hill. It was 220 feet long by 133 feet wide and covered an acre and a half of Ground. It was constructed by Messrs Loverseed & Hine, at a cost of £3,000. (Presumably the contractor Loverseed carried out the construction and the eminent local architect T.C. Hine was involved in design and supervision). The reservoir was fed from the recently completed Basford pumping station, and if the St. Ann’s Hill reservoir needed cleaning or repair, it was capable of maintaining a continuous supply to the Company’s customers.

From the Nottingham Review 23 May 1851

THE RESERVOIR ON ST.ANNS HILL

Friday last the 16th instant, being the day appointed by the committee of the Nottingham Waterworks to celebrate the event of water being forced into the new reservoir, St. Anns Hill, we proceeded thither at the appointed hour (two o’clock) and found on the works the managing committee and other ladies and gentlemen enjoying one of the finest prospects from the summit, within many miles of our ancient town of Nottingham. We then descended into the reservoir and found it illuminated by lights, all around its spacious walls. The numerous arches gave a pleasing effect, and its clean and neat appearance convinced us that no fear need be apprehended but that pure water would flow therefrom.

Among the company we observed our much respected townsman, the chairman of the Waterworks Company, Francis Braithwaite, Esq. Edward Munk, Esq. (vice – chairman) and sisters; W. Gibson, Esq. lady and family; James Simpson, Esq., W. Hannay, Esq., J. Braithwaite, Esq. Mr. H. Cheetham and family; and Messrs. Smith Fowler, Thomas Gimson Cursham, jun., John Whyatt, Aldermen Wells and Cullen, and Mr. Jalland, engineer, &c.

Refreshments being served out, the Chairman gave success to the “Belle Vue Reservoir”, which was done justice to by all present, after which Mr. J. Whyatt appropriately commenced the National Anthem, being joined by all present, crowned with three times three: Mr. Pickering amused the company present by singing “Rule Britannia”, and one of his clever comic songs. The time now having arrived for seeing the stream of water emerge from the pipe, soon we were gratified by observing the first gentle indication, at twenty minutes past three oclock, which was hailed with the old English hurrah! A very few minutes proved the efficiency of their powerful engine filling the small space against the mouth of the pipe, and flowing rapidly over indicated the prudence of ascending, as volumes of water were running along the floor.

The managing committee with a few of their friends then adjourned to the Black Boy Inn to dinner. After which the chairman on the occasion (Mr. Edward Munk) gave – The Queen – Prince Albert and the Royal Family – Nottingham Waterworks Company – The Chairman, Francis Braithwaite, Esq., who returned the thanks on his own account and in a neat and concise speech, entered fully into the. Company’s exertions, and showed the advantage the town would derive by having so good quality of water, without ever fearing but that the quantity they could raise would meet all demands.

The following toasts then followed:- Vice-Chairman of the Company, Mr. Munk – The Clerk to the Company (responded to by Mr. Cursham, jun.) – the Engineer (in his absence by Mr. Jalland) – Duke of Wellington – the Agricultural interest and Mr. Simpson, of Arnold, who replied – Mrs. Gibson and the ladies who were present on the occasion (Mr Gibson responded) – Town and Trade of Nottingham – the Press (Mr. C. N. Wright and Mr. Whitehead acknowledged it) – the Corporation and Committees for securing the beautiful walks about Nottingham (given from the chair) – Mr. Fowler in responding alluded to the advantages which the people now enjoyed, and the ultimate satisfaction and pleasure which would be experienced when the grounds were all completed. – Mr. Ald. Cullen also made some remarks responsive to the toast, in the course of which he instituted a comparison between the former impure water from the river Leen and the present wholesome and abundant supply.

Mr. T. CULLEN then gave the following toast and sentiment – The seminaries and institutions for the advancement of the rising generation, and may they who are taught in them, become valuable members of society and far surpass the present.

Mr. John Whyatt and Mr. Pickering enhanced the enjoyment of the evening by their musical powers. The company broke up at an early hour.

For the information of those of our readers who are interested in such matters we subjoin a brief description of the manner and source of this large supply of water. Some time ago the Waterworks Company, with the public spirit which they have always manifested, and to meet the increasing wants of the public, resolved, under the direction of their engineer, Mr. Hawksley, to erect new works and a reservoir, on such principles and of such dimensions, as to ensure a pure and plentiful supply of the liquid element for a great number of years in our town and neighbourhood. The works, as is well known, are beautifully situated on a rising ground at the back of the Park, near the Sir John Borlace Warren Inn; on Derby Road. The building is neatly erected in the Gothic style, and can be discerned for a considerable distance by its large and handsome chimney. Three shafts are sunk into the sandstone rock to the depth of about seventy yards, and workmen are now actively employed in excavating, so as to establish a communication between them, and thus afford ample standage room for the water, as it oozes from the rock. Having thus described the source of supply, our attention is now directed to the motive power, by which the water is not merely pumped to the surface, but along a mile and a half of 12 inch piping, into the reservoir on St. Ann’s Hill.

Of course, as in all such operations, the grand agent is steam, and it is impossible not to be struck with admiration when we witness the effectual manner in which, on this, as on all occasions, it performs its work. The large engine used in this establishment is from the manufactory of R. and W. Haythorn, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and is built on the Cornish principle, and technically termed the single acting condensing engine. It is capable of being worked to the extents of 65 horse-power, but it is only intended to be used to the extent of about 50 horsepower, and at a speed of about twelve strokes per minute. The cylinder is 48 inches and the stroke 8 feet. The beam is 48 feet in length and weighs about 10 tons. The main cylinder of the engine is cased with hair felt and an outward covering of wood, in order to confine the heat. There are three boilers about 25 feet in length, and four feet in diameter, and at the top of these is a steam receiver, which communicates directly with the cylinder. (Peter Ellis corrects this, saying: ‘… the actual length [of the beam] was 24 feet, and the boilers were 26ft 7in x 5ft 6in diameter.’) There are four safety valves, one on each boiler and on the receiver. Close outside the building is a large tank in which the water from the engine is cooled, and then received into the condenser so that it is used over and over again and there can be no waste.

We now come to the manner in which the power is applied. The working piston descends into the centre shaft and forces up the water into the reservoir by means of the immense weight which is affixed to it, and then ascends by the power of the engine. During the excavating operations below, the water is not very clear, there is therefore only an intermittent supply furnished to the reservoir. Water is pumped up and allowed to run off, merely to enable the workmen to proceed with their task. Close to the shaft the large supply pipe commences its career, and runs thence across the road, down Forest side, then along the windmills to the Mansfield Road, which it crosses, after which it traverses a short distance direct to the reservoir. The dimensions of the “Bellevue Reservoir” are as follows: 160 feet in length by 80 feet in breadth. Highest level of water from the floor is 9 feet, having attained which elevation the surplus water runs into the sewers.

From the Nottinghamshire Guardian Thursday Evening 22 May 1851

BELVUE RESERVOIR

(The text is as published except that I have omitted lists of guests, catalogues of ‘toasts drank’, etc. KB )

On Friday last the enormous tank recently constructed at the top of St. Ann’s Hill, hereafter to be known as “Belle Vue” Reservoir was publically opened in the presence of the committee of the Nottingham Waterworks Company and a small circle of friends.

Prior to describing the proceedings connected with this interesting event we must endeavour to convey to those who have not seen the reservoir some idea of what it is like. In the first place be it known that St. Ann’s Hill formerly more vulgarly known as Toadhole Hill, situated a short distance to the north east of Mansfield Road next to Mapperley Hill is the highest eminence within a circle of several miles round Nottingham. Deeming this a suitable position for an additional reservoir, the Water Works Company very judiciously selected it, shortly after the passing of the General Inclosure Act, for the purpose of enabling them to supply the many new residences in the Sand and Clay Fields erected and likely to be built shortly, as well as the inhabitants of the Forest, Carrington, Ison Green, Radford, Lenton, Basford, and Sneinton. The talented engineer to the company Mr. Hawksley, suggested that, as the great objection to open reservoirs hitherto consisted in the fact that water contained therein was apt to decompose under the action of the atmosphere, an effort should be made to form this upon an entirely new principle, namely to arch it over and render it as clean and complete in every respect as an ordinary water cistern. The idea was moral and bold – but we are accustomed to things of this sort now-a-days, and therefore the company, relying on the judgement and skill of their scientific advisor, determined to carry out the suggestion.

An abundant supply of spring water having been obtained by boring on the top of Derby Road, a series of contracts were entered into, by which pipes of adequate dimensions were laid down from the new works there to the top of Saint Ann’s Hill, and the formation of Belvue Reservoir proceeded and was simultaneously completed. The whole of these works having been successfully finished, Friday last as previously stated, was selected as “the opening day”. But we have not yet completed our description of the reservoir. In the first instance a deep square excavation was made in the centre of the table-land on the summit of the hill, within which walls of solid brickwork were constructed 160 feet long and 80 feet wide. Then in parallel rows were raised shafts of masonry, along which were turned no less than 288 arches, which entirely cover the whole reservoir, with the exception of two ordinary trap doors, let in for the purpose of ingress and egress. The floor was afterwards puddled with soft clay, on which is placed a layer of bricks, and when thoroughly completed and cleaned presented as attractive an appearance as such a place possibly could do. But what extraordinary sensations were imparted by walking within it. Upon getting to the bottom of the steps leading into this receptacle, the first idea is it seems marvellously like a cellar with a brick arch overhead and brick walls on either hand but then right and left before you is a duplicate cellar, each with only one wall, and then as you walk on you get to other cellars, without any walls at all, the arch above being supported upon four pillars.

The height within from the floors of the arches to the roof is uniformly twelve feet. Some idea of its altitude may be formed when we state that the reservoir is 50feet higher than the top of Derby Road, whence it obtains its supply of water, and is just level with the top of Trinity Church spire. In forming it half a million bricks have been used, and the various works pertaining to it have incurred an outlay of £8,000. Mr. Jalland officiated as architect during its construction, Mr. Smart was the contractor, and Mr. M Kirk the builder, and when finished off, as soon it will be, as a specimen of ability, carefulness and judgement it will reflect the highest credit upon all therewith concerned. A circular boundary wall, of stone, has been erected around the works, the entire surface will be laid down with grass and otherwise ornamented, and as an additional object in conjunction with the pleasure walk which passes round its base it will possess many and very great attractions.

So much for our description; now for the opening: It had been arranged that the water should begin to flow into the reservoir shortly after two o’clock, and by that hour most of the company had assembled. After perambulating the vaults for a short time, which were illuminated on the occasion by a candle placed near each pillar, all present were invited to partake of a glass of sherry, of which some dozen bottles of prime quality, with biscuits, had been provided. “Success to the undertaking,” with hearty cheers was drunk and the health of the Queen with the National Anthem and more plaudits followed.

At twenty minutes past three o’clock a peculiar gurgling noise intimated that the rock had been struck in the right place and immediately the limpid fluid made its appearance. After waiting two hours and a half there has not often been such a rush and scramble for a first drop as was then witnessed. Half a dozen gentlemen endeavoured to immortalise themselves by being the first to taste it and so close were they upon the heels of each other that it is yet a matter of interesting dispute and discussion as to which first raised the palm of victory.

The long delay had been occasioned by an inadvertent derangement of a portion of the works; but now it came in a tolerably copious stream. The first flow brought up with it the rinsing of the new pipes and was therefore not very tempting to look at but soon aqua pura in tolerable abundance began to rush in, and before all the spectators could get up stairs some of them were dabbling in it half-shoes-over. At four o’clock the committee adjourned to the Black Boy Inn, with two or three invited guests, altogether numbering a round dozen, where an excellent dinner was provided without ostentation, extravagance or display After the usual loyal toasts, a succession of further toasts were drank, including “The Engineer”.

Thus unostentatiously was celebrated an event which socially, morally, and physically will ensure many blessings to Nottingham and its suburbs, both now and for ages to come. By completing these works in the manner they have done, the company – with the judgement and economy of men of business, combined with the wise and enlightened liberality of gentlemen – have placed themselves in a position to supply every demand that may be made upon them for water, no matter how extended. With the supplies derived from the Trent, from the old works at Lenton, and from the new springs on Derby Road, and aided in the liberal diffusion of these supplies by their extensive reservoirs, Nottingham and its surrounding circle, including upwards of 100,000 inhabitants, is considerably better off in this respect as well as some others than any town or city in the United Kingdom, probably in the whole world.

From Nottingham Journal Tuesday May 10, 1864:

The NEW RESERVOIR. – Yesterday, the new reservoir made by the Waterworks Company, at the top of St. Ann’s Hill, having been completed, the committee made a visit of inspection to the works for the purpose of formally opening it. After inspecting the works some remarks were made in reference to its object and intentions. Success to the undertaking was proposed and drank in wine by the members of the committee present. The committee afterwards dined together at the George Hotel. The former reservoir was capable of containing 1,500,000 gallons and the addition now made is equal to a capacity of 2,500,000.