Modern towns and cities rapidly grew during the Victorian period when large numbers of people flocked there to find work in the many factories and industries that were appearing at the time. This resulted in numerous problems including cramped living conditions that were often unsanitary.

The industrious Victorians found solutions to the problems and in doing so laid down the basis of modern town and city life, which is dependant upon many essential services such as gas and electricity supplies, refuse and sewage disposal, an adequate transport infrastructure and street lighting, schools, hospitals, and last but very far from least, a clean and reliable water supply.

The serious health problems that can arise from an unclean and inadequate water supply caused many deaths in the 19th century. Large numbers of people died as a result of the cholera epidemics that occurred in 1831 to 32, 1848 to 49, 1853 to 54, and 1865 to 66. The disease spread from India and became known as Asiatic Cholera. It spread via trade routes and reached Europe in 1826, spreading from Turkey to Russia, Poland, Germany and the Baltic ports, from where it came to Sunderland in 1831. In January 1832 it arrived in Newcastle and Gateshead and soon reached York, Leeds, Manchester, the Black Country, London, and reached Devon and Cornwall during the autumn.

In Bilston there were 745 deaths and from 50 to 200 deaths in each of the other Black Country towns. In London there were 4,218 deaths. Thankfully by the end of 1832 the epidemic had ended. The disease returned in 1848 and again lasted for around two years. This time there twice as many deaths.

When the disease returned in 1853 people began to realise that it had something to do with the unclean water supply, although the exact cause was not initially understood. As before there were many deaths in London, and after the "Great Stink" of 1858 when the River Thames smelled of raw sewage, something was finally done. During the next 7 years Joseph Bazalgette and the Metropolitan Board of Works constructed London’s immense system of sewers, which led to a clean water supply and the eradication of the disease. It was then accepted that cholera was spread by a water-borne bacteria, and the importance of a clean water supply became apparent.

Throughout the country local authorities built water works and these were greatly improved to provide a plentiful supply of clean water. Wolverhampton was typical in this respect and greatly benefited from the work of the local authority's water committee, whose members worked tirelessly to provide an essential and adequate supply of clean water. This greatly improved people's lives and helped to reduce the amount of disease, and the resulting death rate.

One of the important figures on the committee was its chairman John Marston, better known as the manufacturer of Sunbeam bicycles, motorcycles and cars.

By a strange coincidence, one of his homes, The Oaks in Merridale Road was purchased by the water company in the early 1950s and became the company's office. Partly thanks to his work the town eventually received the high quality water supply that it needed.

John Marston in his later years. Courtesy of the Marston Wolverhampton Heritage Trust.
To commemorate the committee's achievements a small booklet was published in 1911 describing the development of the water works. The booklet, which provides a detailed description of the works can be read below.

A Brief History of Water Undertaking and Description of New Works Officially opened by Alderman John Marston J.P. Chairman of the Water Committee.  20th July, 1911

In the year 1845 a small company was formed under the style or title of "The Wolverhampton Waterworks Company" which sought and obtained parliamentary powers to sink wells and establish works at Tettenhall, for the purpose of supplying water to the town and suburbs of Wolverhampton.

The scheme of the company was strongly opposed in Parliament by the proprietors of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, who feared that if wells were sunk below the level of their Canal and extensive pumping operations were undertaken, their waterway would be prejudicially affected, and as the result of their opposition the depth of the wells was limited to 18 feet below the level of the Canal at Newbridge.

The effect of this limitation practically ruined the scheme, for upon its completion the company found that they could only obtain about 150,000 gallons of water per day instead of the million gallons for which works had been constructed.

The Cornish "Bull" engines which were installed were designed by one of the most celebrated engineers of the day, Thomas Wickstead, and their duty was to raise the water from the wells and force it over a stand pipe fixed inside the structure which is now used as the smoke stack.

Tettenhall waterworks.

The comparatively small quantity of water obtained was inadequate for the needs of the district and the company decided to apply for further powers and in 1851 powers were obtained to sink wells and establish works at Goldthorn Hill, but the second scheme of the company proved more costly and even more disappointing than the first, for the new wells only yielded an additional supply of 120,000 gallons per day of very hard water.

Anticipating an abundant yield from their new wells and headings the company had installed a large Cornish beam engine and constructed two covered reservoirs to hold 750,000 gallons each, but the small yield of the new works was not commensurate with the expenditure incurred, and it utterly failed to satisfy the requirements of the district, consequently the company was again forced to seek additional parliamentary powers, and in 1855 embarked upon its third and last venture. In the same year the Wolverhampton Corporation and a new company styled "The Wolverhampton New Waterworks Company" promoted bills in opposition to the original company, and a three-cornered fight ensued for powers to construct a pumping station at or near Cosford Bridge, and to impound the upper waters of the River Worfe.

The bills of the original company and the Corporation were thrown out and the scheme of the new waterworks company was sanctioned by Parliament, and the following year the new company obtained another Act for the transfer of the properties and rights of the original company.

With the acquisition of the old works, the new company appears to have revised its scheme, for instead of constructing reservoirs to impound the upper waters of the River Worfe, the river course was slightly widened and a dam or weir constructed in conjunction with the authorised pumping station at Cosford Bridge, and considerable alterations and extensions were made to the works of the old company.

At Cosford the works undertaken by the new company involved the construction and erection of engine and boiler houses, chimney, two rotative Cornish engines, boilers, and a pumping main was laid to Tettenhall, and, in order to supplement the yield of the River Worfe during dry seasons, a borehole was sunk and the water therefrom was conveyed into a brick tank where it mixed with the river water.

At Tettenhall the works were extended, the erection of a new engine and boiler house (the old boiler house and smoke stack being demolished to enable this work to be carried out), a reservoir was constructed for the storage of the Cosford water; one of the old well engines was altered into a forcing engine, and the Goldthorn Hill well engine was taken down, altered, and re-erected in the new engine house as a forcing engine to deal with the Cosford water; new boilers were installed; the stand pipe was taken down and the brick shaft in which it was encased was converted into the smoke stack.

At Goldthorn Hill a small engine was erected in the place of the large Cornish well engine; a supply tank was erected on the top of the engine house the town mains were extended to the reservoirs and by this means the reservoirs were converted into balancing tanks to govern the pressure in the town mains.

Another view of the works at Tettenhall.

The wonderful interior of the waterworks at Tettenhall. A cathedral to water, and steam pumping engines.
These works took several years to carry out, but sufficiently good progress was made to enable the company to supply Cosford water into Wolverhampton during October, 1858.

A few years later the Corporation made provisional arrangements with the waterworks company for the acquisition of their undertaking, and in 1861 the undertaking was acquired by the Corporation under the powers of the "Wolverhampton Waterworks Transfer Act" and on the 1st January, 1868, the Corporation entered into possession of the works; the conditions of transfer being that the Corporation should, after a certain date, pay in perpetuity 5 per cent. upon the Preference Shares, and 4 per cent. upon the Ordinary Shares of the company.

Upon obtaining control of the undertaking it became necessary for the Corporation to obtain powers to continue, maintain, alter and improve the existing waterworks, and the requisite powers were subsequently obtained by the Wolverhampton Improvement Act, 1869.

The yield of the various works proved adequate for the demands of the district until 1874, when a very dry summer caused a shortage in the river supply, and the Corporation then sought advice as to the possibilities of obtaining an increased yield from underground sources by carrying out further sinking operations at Cosford. The late Mr. J. F. Bateman was consulted and he recommended the Corporation to sink a deep borehole, and acting upon the advice given, the Corporation sunk a large diameter borehole 918¾ feet deep. This work was commenced in May, 1876, and completed in December, 1877, and upon completion the borehole yield by artesian force, a very large additional quantity of water of most satisfactory character. A few years later, however, the increasing demands of the district caused the Corporation to again seek an additional supply, and upon the advice of the Consulting Engineer,

Mr. H. J. Marten it was decided to extend the Cosford Works by sinking a well in close proximity to the deep borehole and to connect the well and borehole together by a heading so that an increased yield from the underground sources could be obtained by pumping down below the normal water level in the sandstone formation. The well was commenced in 1881 and the following year it was completed, and the large Cornish engine which was then erected by the Lilleshall Company, speedily proved the wisdom of the course adopted.

It then became necessary to augment the pumping plant at Tettenhall to deal with the increased yield of the Cosford Works and to provide for the growing demands of consumers, and in 1884 another house was erected, and a large Cornish forcing engine was installed by Messrs. Hathorn, Davey & Co. of Leeds.

The next step the Corporation deemed it advisable to take was the duplication of part of their system to prevent the possibility of shortage of supply through breakdowns of engines at Cosford, or the bursting of the pumping main, and in 1888 operations were commenced which took several years to complete, and entailed a variety of work being undertaken.

An additional pumping main was laid from Cosford to the summit of Summerhouse Hill; another well was sunk at Cosford; the buildings were extended and two more engines were installed by Messrs. Hathorn, Davey & Co., one engine as reserve to the Lilleshall well engine, and the other as a reserve to the original forcing engines.

About the time this work was nearing completion the Corporation consented to release the Bilston. Commissioners from their agreement to purchase water in bulk, although the works were then quite capable of yielding sufficient water for the needs of the entire district, but one reason which influenced the decision was the prospect of largely increasing demands and consequently the necessity for incurring further capital expenditure upon entirely new works, and it was pointed out that the severance of Bilston from the water area would immediately relieve the Corporation of the demands of a population estimated to exceed 20,000; the margin of supply over demand would be largely increased and the question of providing additional works could be postponed.

Another interior view of the old waterworks.

From a financial point of view the action of the Corporation in thus disposing of part of the water area was undoubtedly a mistake, but from the point of view of conserving the supply, it must be admitted the anticipations of the advisers of the Corporation as to the capability of the works to maintain a constant supply of water to the district for a number of years, have been fully confirmed, for beyond improving the general conditions at the Pumping Stations and extending the distribution mains for the continued growth of consumers, the auxiliary works officially opened today represent the only actual additional supply works since undertaken. It should be mentioned, however, that an abortive attempt was made in the year 1896 to obtain an additional supply from the neighbourhood of Lower Penn; that unsuccessful applications were made to Parliament in 1901 and 1902, for power to construct works near Worfield, and that it was not until the Corporation succeeded in arranging terms with the proprietors of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company (which Parliament confirmed in 1903), that the sinking of deep wells or boreholes at the Tettenhall station was made possible.

The present Waterworks Engineer is responsible for the scheme of extension at this station and for the design and construction of the various works incidental thereto, which have involved the sinking of three boreholes; the erection of an Engine House; the construction of a triple expansion rotative pumping engine; the construction of an additional storage reservoir, and the laying of a 24-inch pumping main to Goldthorn Hill.

The ornate entrance to the old building at Tettenhall.

The boreholes were sunk by Messrs. A. C. Potter & Co., of Lant St., Borough, S.E., in the most expeditious manner. In the first place a trial borehole was sunk 1,001.75 feet deep by means of which the formations were proved and the quality and approximate quantity of water available was ascertained, and it is due to the success of this boring that the other works were then undertaken.

The trial borehole is 16ins. diameter from the surface to 300 feet deep; 12ins. from 300 to 632 feet; 10½ins. from 632 to 929 feet, and 9ins. From 929 to 1,001.75 feet.

The permanent or pump boreholes are 1,100 feet deep, and their diameters are as under:-

28ins. from the surface to 300 feet deep; 24ins. from 300 to 450 feet; 20ins. from 450 to 830 feet; 16ins. from 830 to 930 feet, and 14ins. from 930 to 1,100 feet.

From the surface to 300 feet, each borehole is lined with steel tubes; those in the trial borehole being 15ins. internal diameter, and those in the permanent boreholes 25ins. internal diameter. Specially designed shoes with lead pipe and india rubber compression rings, are fitted at the bottom of each set of tubes by means of which tight joints are made with the walls of the boreholes, but before proceeding with other work the effectiveness of the shoes was thoroughly tested and then the spaces between the tubes and borehole walls were filled with cement grout to prevent any possibility of surface water finding its way into the boreholes. From 830 to 930 feet the boreholes are lined with perforated tubes to prevent the pebbles and the faulty sandstone there met with, from falling in and choking up the holes.

As the work progressed samples of water were taken and submitted to the Borough Analyst, Mr. E. W. T. Jones for examination, and the following is a copy of his report upon a sample he obtained at the works on the 22nd January last.

  Grains per gallon
Total Solid Matter dried at 212 deg. Fah. 21.0
Free and Saline Ammonia.  0.000
Albuminoid Ammonia 0.000
Nitric Nitrogen 0.05
Combined Chlorine 0.98
Oxygen absorbed in 4 hours at 80 deg. Fah. 0.000
Colour through 2 feet very pale bluish-green tinge
Appearance Clear
Hardness before boiling 14.28
Ditto after ditto 5.50
Ditto Temporary 9.78

Bacteriological Examination:

No organisms were shown on Gelatine at 20 deg. C., nor on agar-agar at 37 deg. C. after 4 days incubation.

The Solid Matter in solution consisted of:
Lime 7.70
Magnesia 1.71
Soda 1.11
Potash 0.51
Sulphuric Anhydride 0.38
Nitric Anhydride 0.19
Chlorine 0.98
Silica 0.77
Carbonic Anhydride 7.87     21.22
Less Oxygen for Chlorine   0.22




From this it will be seen that although the water is a shade harder than the water hitherto supplied, it is an excellent water for a town supply, in fact, organically and bacteriologically it is perfect.

The engine which has been erected to deal with this water is a vertical triple expansion rotative condensing engine of the inverted type with the rams or force pumps placed directly under the steam cylinders and connected to cranks set at angles of 120 degrees, and with the borehole or lifting pumps operated from the ends of the main shaft.

It is capable of lifting 62,500 gallons per hour with the borehole pump from any depth not exceeding 260 feet below the floor level and delivering the same into a suction tank, whilst the rams are capable of forcing 125,000 gallons per hour against a head of 180 feet when running at a piston speed of 160 feet per minute. Steam for the engine is obtainable from the boilers which replaced the old ones a few years ago, and the working pressure will be 160 lbs. on the square inch.

The general arrangement is such that the engine can be worked either as a ram pump only, or as a lifting engine only, but in ordinary work it will perform both duties, and then it will pump equal proportions of Cosford and Tettenhall water into the distributing mains.

The leading dimensions of the engine are as under, viz.:-
Stroke 3ft. 6in.:  
High Pressure Cylinder 19in. diameter
Intermediate Cylinder 29½in. diameter
Low Pressure Cylinder 46in. diameter
Ram Pumps 16in. diameter
Stroke 2ft. 9in.:  
Borehole Pumps 16in. diameter
The flywheels are 12 feet diameter and weigh about 11 tons each. The valve gearing is of the well known Corliss type end is operated by eccentrics on the main shaft. The contract for the engine was placed in the hands of Messrs. Galloways Ltd., of Manchester.

An impression of how the interior of Tettenhall waterworks must have once looked when its Galloway's engine was there.

The photograph shows the preserved Galloway inverted vertical triple expansion pumping engine at Maple Brook Pumping Station. Courtesy of  Chris Allen.

The engine house is 48 feet long by 22 feet wide and 52 feet high, measured from the basement floor to the shoes of the roof principals, and its situation is between the boilers and the engine house which was erected by the new waterworks company about the year 1860, sufficient space having been left a few years ago, when substituting new boilers, for the purpose thereof.

The foundation portion of the house had to be carried out by piece work as parts of the boiler house had to be demolished; boiler and other foundations had to be taken out; the main flue had to be diverted and rebuilt, and provision made for safely continuing pumping operations, and this work was executed by Mr. H. Holloway, of Bilston Road, Wolverhampton, but the contract for the superstructure of the house was placed in the hands of Messrs. Willcock & Co., of Darlington Street, Wolverhampton.

The additional storage reservoir has been formed partly by excavation and partly by embankment. It has been constructed throughout with cement concrete, in the proportions of four parts by measure of broken Bentley stone and two of sand to one of cement, and the whole of the concrete was mechanically mixed.

The principal dimensions of the reservoir are as under, viz.:-
At coping of walls 312ft. long by 202ft. wide
At floor level 299ft. long by 189ft. wide
Thickness of wall at top 1ft. 6in.
Thickness of wall at floor 8ft. 0in.
Depth from coping to floor 19ft. 0in.
Capacity at normal working level (16 feet) 6,000,000
Surface area of water at working level 1.396 acres

The inlet main is laid along the embankment, and is controlled by a Venturi meter. The outlet main is connected to the outlet main of the old reservoir, so that in ordinary work the water level in both reservoirs can be uniformly maintained; but a branch main is laid from the outlet main to the suction tank of the new engine, and the arrangement of the mains is such that all the engines at the station can be fed with water from either or both reservoirs. The connections to the old mains were all made under pressure by means of one of Ruscoe's patent machines.

The object of the new reservoir is not intended for increasing storage accommodation, but its provision was felt to be necessary to enable the old reservoir to be emptied, cleaned and repaired. The contract for this work was placed in the hands of Mr. H. Holloway, of Bilston Road, Wolverhampton.

The work of laying the 24inch pumping main from Tettenhall to Goldthorn Hill was also entrusted to Mr. Holloway, and with the exception of the portion over the Smestow Brook and the canal at Compton, it is composed of cast-iron socket and spigot pipes. The portion over the brook and canal at Compton is of mild steel with flanges welded on, each length of which has been specially made to meet the peculiar conditions which existed.

The pipes generally used are 12 feet in length, and weigh approximately 1 ton 9 cwt. each. They are jointed together in the following way, viz.-

A ring of ⅜in. round lead rod was first forced to the back of the socket, then lead wool was inserted and caulked in layer by layer to within 3¾ inches of each socket face. Plain hemp was then caulked in to within 1¾ inches of the socket face, and finally the remainder of the socket was filled with lead wool, each skein of which was thoroughly caulked in.

The pipes were made by the Stanton Iron Works Co., and they were all subjected to a test pressure of 260 lbs. on the square inch before leaving the works. The main is divided into sections controlled by stop valves and provided, where necessary, with air, reflux, bypass and emptying valves, all of which valves were supplied by the Glenfield Co., of Kilmarnock.

A comparison may now be made of the conditions existing today with those at the time of the transfer of the undertaking to the Corporation. In 1868 the works were incapable of distributing more than 2,000,000 gallons per day whilst the demand averaged 1,500,000 gallons; 12,890 houses were connected to the mains and the income from water sales amounted to £12,943.

Today the works are capable of distributing over 5,000,000 gallons per day, whilst the demand during the year ending March 31st, 1911, averaged 3,474,000 gallons; 35,415 houses were connected to the mains at the same date, and the income from water sales amounted to £37,553.

At the transfer the actual expenditure upon works and plant amounted to £210,327. 10s. 0d., and at March 31st, 1911, the Capital actually expended amounted to £392,562, of which sum £93,567 had been paid off.

In concluding this brief account of the undertaking a reference may be permitted to those responsible for its present satisfactory position. From 1868 to 1881, Mr. Alderman Fowler (subsequently first Viscount Wolverhampton) presided over the Water Committee, and the fact must again be recorded that it was principally due to his initiative that the undertaking was acquired by the Corporation; from 1881 to 1891 Mr. Alderman J. G. Wright held the office of Chairman, and since 1891 to the present date, Mr. Alderman Marston has presided over its destinies.

From 1868 to 1892 the management of the works was entrusted to Mr. Lyons Wright, who formerly held the position of secretary to the waterworks co., and since July, 1892, the present Engineer, Mr. E. A. B. Woodward has managed the undertaking, and been responsible for the design and carrying out of the various additions and alterations which have been made to it since his appointment, and the date hereof, July 20th, 1911.

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