In 1854 the Corporation’s Public Works Committee engaged Robert Rawlinson to design a sewage system for the Borough. After he had been at work on the project for about a year he was offered the post of Sanitary Commissioner for India and so he left Wolverhampton and moved abroad. His leaving delayed the Borough’s sewage works plans for many years. In 1859 the Council formed a Sewerage Committee, with the following members:

Mr. Ironmonger, Mr. Walker, Mr. Foster, Mr. Simkiss, Mr. Kettle, Mr. E. Perry, Mr. Clark and Mr. Hicklin. They were asked to look thoroughly into a suitable sewage scheme and report to the Council at an early date.

An advert from 1901.

In 1861 the Committee reported that a number of large towns with various systems of sewerage had been visited and inspected, and the Committee recommended that the Council should spend £35,000 on a scheme which the members had developed. At the Council’s meeting there was much opposition, but the report was carried by just 3 votes. Many people spoke out against the expenditure including Mr. Sidney and Mr. Underhill. Mr. Fowler, who was in favour of the scheme was shouted down every time he tried to speak and the meeting unanimously passed a resolution condemning the proposal in the strongest terms.
The proposed sewage scheme did not go away however. The Council were stirred into action by an article in the ‘Times’ which referred to Wolverhampton as suffering from all manner of pestilential diseases and having the most deplorable sanitary condition. There were 931 deaths in just 91 days and the situation was getting worse. The Council authorised the Sewerage Committee to apply to the Local Government Board for sanction to borrow £35,000 as a loan for the Deep Drainage Works of the Borough.
After much delay the Committee recommended that the Council should purchase Barnhurst Farm, Oxley, from Mr. Shaw Helier for the sum of £27,915. The rain water from the streets would run into deep drains and be conveyed along with the sewage to Barnhurst Farm, where it would be treated. The Council adopted the recommendation and the farm was purchased in June 1868. The foundation stone on the sewage duct was laid by John Hawksford, Chairman of the Sewerage Committee and the treatment plant was up and running by the autumn of 1870.

An advert from 1901.

The scheme adopted was known as the downward intermittent filtration system. The water and sewage ran directly on to the 300 acres of farm land after going through subsiding tanks and passing through the soil. The whole sewage was filtered and purified, and the effluent, as clean water, passed from the land into Pendeford Brook via underground pipes. Unfortunately the system was inadequate, because during heavy rain the volume of water was so great that the sewage was carried directly into Pendeford Brook and the fields were flooded. This caused the Brook to overflow and adjacent landowners sued the Corporation and claimed enormous damages which the Corporation had to pay.

The Water Department's offices and works at Tettenhall.

The Corporation also purchased a further 337 acres of land and began to use the tank bacteria system. After two years this was abandoned because of the large amounts of acid and iron from the sewers which interfered with the process. The problem was solved with the introduction of a dual system in which the sewage was partly dealt with using downward filtration and partly by a process known as lime filtration. 
Large buildings and machinery were erected at Barnhurst works and parts of the farm not suitable for sewage were used for cattle and general agriculture.

As a result of the scheme the death rate was much lower and the Health of the Borough greatly improved.

Work on a new sewage treatment plant began in 1925 and was completed by 1933. Approximately £300,000 was spent on the project which occupied 60 acres of the original sewage farm adjoining Oxley Moor Road. In the 1950s the new works treated 8,277,000 gallons each day and removed 92 percent of the polluting matter from the waste water. Subsidiary plants were built at Merry Hill and Coven Heath and a service was offered to industrialists who needed facilities for the disposal of trade effluents. In the early 1970s the Corporation’s works were treating a total of 100,000,000 gallons of polluted water daily.

In the early 1970s a ten year scheme began to replace the existing sewage system. The scheme, which cost over £8,000,000 separates the foul and surface water and can handle even larger volumes of sewage for treatment.

Return to
A Municipal Water Supply
Return to
the beginning
Proceed to