An Unfortunate Episode

The letter from Dr. Bell startled the members of the Council. They knew there was some truth in the charge, for the old Waterworks Company was not able to obtain a sufficient supply for the inhabitants from the wells at Tettenhall and Goldthorn Hill. The company arranged with Mr. Dixon to supplement the supply from his old colliery workings on the Rough Hills. After hearing Dr. Bell's letter, one of the Aldermen rose and said the water supplied by the company was so bad that, on mixing a little of it with a glass of brandy a few evenings before, it immediately turned it as black as ink. The statement was greeted with laughter.

A few months later the Corporation attempted to take control of the water company. The Mayor, Mr. Neve ordered the Public Works Committee to inquire and report on the best way of obtaining a plentiful supply of pure water. 

Tettenhall Pumping Station.

 The Committee came to the conclusion that the most economical method would be for the Corporation to take control of the water company, and with a moderate outlay new works could be added to obtain an ample supply. The Committee opened negotiations with the water company for the purchase of their undertaking, but after much correspondence and many interviews with the directors, the negotiations were called off because the asking price was far too high.

The Council was determined that the matter would not end there and that a pure water supply would be provided for the town. In May 1854 a resolution was passed which stated:

"That it was indispensably necessary for the Borough to have the water supply in its own hands."

The Public Works Committee was ordered to take the matter up at once, and to employ engineers to locate an alternative supply. In a short time the location of a suitable supply was found. It was near the River Worfe at Cosford, where four streams joined the river. In November 1854 the Public Works Committee recommended the scheme to the town Council, who ordered a Bill to be drawn up and a petition to be presented to Parliament, asking for the power to erect a waterworks at Cosford.

Cosford Waterworks in the 1950s.

On hearing this decision the Waterworks Company prepared to oppose the Corporation’s Water Bill in Parliament. The Public Works Committee immediately entered into negotiations with the Waterworks Company and agreed to purchase the concern for £62,280 on the understanding that the company would withdraw its opposition to the scheme and that the Corporation’s Water Bill was passed through Parliament. The town Council was delighted with the outcome of the negotiations and readily agreed to them in a meeting on 21st April, 1855.

An advert from 1901.

Three months prior to this meeting another contender appeared in the form of The Water Supply Company, which also intended to erect a waterworks at Cosford. The company had a start-up capital of £100,000 and intended to draw water from near to the Council’s chosen location. The new company also applied to Parliament for a Bill to allow their works to be built and so everything now depended upon what happened in London.
The Council decided to do all that it could to oppose the new Water Supply Company Bill and a committee was appointed and instructed to engage expert witnesses to support the Corporation’s Bill.
This all came to nothing however, as the Corporation’s Bill was rejected and the new Water Supply Company’s Bill was passed. In giving Judgment the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee said that the Corporation had no power to levy a rate on the inhabitants for the repayment of the money they proposed to raise for the purchase of the old waterworks, and they had no right to promote a Bill in Parliament for establishing a waterworks at the cost of the ratepayers, without first obtaining their consent. He also said that the Committee approved of the town’s water supply being in the hands of the Corporation and gave the Corporation power to acquire the works of both the new company and the old company at some future date, at a price to be settled by a system of arbitration, or on any plan mutually agreed upon.

Almost immediately the jubilant new Water Supply Company joined forces with the old Waterworks Company, the two amalgamating after a peaceful settlement.

The defeat of the Council’s Bill came like a thunderbolt out of the blue, it was totally unexpected. The Council found itself in a terrible position and appointed a committee to find the total costs and who was liable to pay. The Council found that it was faced with a bill for £6,500 which it was unable to pay. A ratepayers meeting was called in the Exchange, and the Town Clerk, Councillor Shoolbred moved that the agreement to buy the old waterworks be cancelled. The actions of the Corporation were denounced in strong terms. Mr. T. Bolton, a solicitor, said that the two water companies and the Corporation had been engaged in a "Comedy of Errors", and now that the Corporation’s Bill had been rejected, the Corporation was appealing to the ratepayers for help in paying the Parliamentary costs and counsel’s fees. Mr. H. Underhill spoke, and urged the ratepayers to have nothing to do with it. The Corporation sent the Town Clerk to London to consult some of the leading solicitors on the question of liability. He was also instructed to draw up a case to be submitted to Sir F. Thesiger, one of the leading counsels of the day.

Inside Tettenhall Pumping Station.

Sir Thesiger said that the Corporation had no right to promote a Bill in Parliament at the cost of the ratepayers for establishing waterworks. In second place he considered the contract with the old Waterworks Company was void, for the reason that the sanction of the Board of Health had not been obtained previously. Consequently the Corporation was liable for all legal expenses, and these could be recovered by process of law and the property of the Corporation was liable to be taken by the creditors in satisfaction of their debts, which could not be taken from the rates of the Borough.

An advert from 1901.

The corporation was in a unique and awful position. It had to sit back and watch as bailiffs descended on the town hall to recover property to the value owed. The mayor’s robes, mace and chair were removed along with furniture from the Town Hall. Uniforms, helmets and handcuffs were taken from the police barracks, and it was said that the police were unable to get up for lack of uniforms or stay in bed for lack of beds. Even the municipal fire engine was taken. The mayor and the rate collector had to go around the town cap-in-hand to ask for contributions to pay-off the debt and recover the items that were removed. The rate payers, to their credit paid-up and agreed to a voluntary rate of one shilling in the pound.

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