Strathard Heritage Archive

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Glasgow’s Water Supply

by Peter Joynson

Reproduced from The Forth Naturalist and Historian, Vol. 24, pp. 105-110 with kind permission

Author’s note: I have a copy in loose leaf form of the book presented on 15th February 1877 by the Lord Provost of Glasgow to Thomas Mason, Dean Convenor and Member of the Water Commission. My wife’s family is related to that Provost, Sir Robert Stewart. This large book gives a detailed illustrated account of the 1855 contract, and it seemed a useful idea to make available a readable precis of its most salient points.

The book’s story to 1877

In 1842, the daughter of the Lord Provost of Glasgow died from typhoid from drinking the City’s water. At that time Glasgow’s water was pumped from the River Clyde, then little more than a stinking sewer. This tragedy spurred the Lord Provost to set up a Committee to investigate and put into place a pure water supply for the citizens of Glasgow.

In 1845, plans were put forward by the Glasgow Water Co. to use the Lochs of Lubnaig, Voil and Doune for this purpose and an Act of Parliament was obtained for the construction of the Works. On investigation, however, it as found that the Act did not provide sufficient storage in which to impound water to meet the great quantity required by Glasgow, together with the demands of the mill and fishing proprietors on the River Teith, and consequently the proposals fell to the ground.

Eight years later, in 1853. an Engineer named John Frederick Bateman was consulted by the Council. He saw at once the advantages of using Loch Katrine as the main source of water on account of its great storage capacity, amounting as it does to 9,000,000,000 gallons, which could be further increased by raising the Loch by 4 ft above its normal summer level. In addition to Loch Katrine, the Lochs of Vennacher and Drunkie could be included in the scheme, and their levels raised by 11 ft 9 inches and 25 ft respectively. These Lochs were never sought to supply Glasgow with any water, but rather, to supply the Compensation Water required by the Act of Parliament for the maintenance of the flow into the River Teith.

The watershed of Loch Katrine amounts to 23,000 acres or 36 square miles. The Loch is 367 ft above sea level with a maximum depth of 495 ft. The deepest loch in Scotland is Loch Morar being 1,009 ft maximum. Loch Ard is a mere 138 ft at its deepest.

The other great advantage of Loch Katrine is its proximity to the West Coast which intercepts the moist winds from the Atlantic. At the head of the Loch at Glengyle, the rainfall averages about 100 inches per year. Surrounded as it is, by the large peaks of Ben Venue and Ben Aan, the rain runs off the hard rocks with such rapidity and force that very little of it is lost by evaporation. There are only a few houses in the area and little or no cultivated land so that the water reaches the Loch in great purity. Any colouring of peat is quickly removed by oxidisation due to its long exposure in the Loch itself.

The source was thought to be right, but it took a huge amount of planning and preparation to work out the best way of getting the water out of Loch Katrine to the proposed Service Reservoir at Milngavie as the first stage, and as a second to convey it to Glasgow itself. The distance on stage one was 26 miles and stage two eight miles. Batemen surveyed the land and worked out the levels. A considerable task without the assistance of modern day equipment such as theodolites. He dug numerous investigation holes and found to his horror that much of the proposed route consisted of successive ridges containing the most difficult rocks separated by deep valleys. In addition there were no roads, tracks or building materials to hand, which would normally be considered as being essential in undertaking an engineering job of this magnitude.

Batemen came to the conclusion that ordinary surface construction was out of the question and tunnelling was the only possible solution for the aqueduct to be made to work. One of his major concerns was the water level in the ground, which, if arising from springs could in time do serious damage to the tunnelling and construction of shafts. Fortunately for him, no such problems were found as much of the under surface was slate into which no water penetrates. The problem of cost also concerned him. He had told the Council that the scheme would be cheap but he realised there could be considerable oncosts if due to the difficult conditions progress was slower than he had anticipated. In devising a route for the aqueduct he had to be sure that there was sufficient fall to convey the water through them. This he achieved with a drop of 10 inches to the mile.

Before the actual construction work could start on the 20th May 1856, a small village made of timber and turf had to be built complete with a church and a school near the head of Loch Chon to accommodate the workers. It became known as Sebastopol on account of the incessant noise from the blasting operations which continued day and night for three years. Almost everything had to be done by either horse or hand, and the bay near where the horses were kept was christened Midden Bay and is known as such to this day.

It was decided that water would be drawn from Loch Katrine almost three miles from its head at Glengyle. Sixty or more drills were constantly in use on the various faces of the route and where the rock was hardest a new drill or chisel had to be used for every inch of depth. Progress in some areas was very slow averaging not much more than eight yards a month.

About six miles from Loch Katrine the line of the aqueduct passed near the top of Loch Ard behind Couligarton. Here the ground was very broken requiring the building of a bridge 372 ft long and 47 ft 6 inches high. Further on a bridge over the Duchray Water was 462 ft long and 56 ft high and longest of all over the Kelty being 996 ft in length. The stretch of aqueduct near Couligarton was known as The Blairliullichan Contract. It cost £24,000 a mile, a sum which included the building of the Royal Cottage and other cottages.

The number of people working on the contract was about 3,000 men excluding inspectors and mechanics. Of the 26 miles between Loch Katrine and the Service Reservoir at Mugdock near Milngavie, 13 miles were tunnelling, three-and-a-half miles of iron piping and the remainder in arched aqueducts. The accuracy of this work was an amazing feat. The difference between the levels taken for Parliamentary purposes under the Act at the start and those subsequently taken at the end, was only about quarter of an inch in the 26 miles.

The Service Reservoir at Mugdock is about quarter of a mile from Milngavie and eight miles from Glasgow. It has a surface area of 62 acres with a mean depth of 50 ft, Capacity of 548,000,000 gallons or a supply to the City of 18 days in 1855. The water from the Reservoir was conveyed to Glasgow by four lines of 36 inch pipes.

On the 14th October 1859, Queen Victoria accompanied by Prince Albert and their two daughters Princess Alice and Princess Helena were present at the opening ceremony at the entrance to the aqueduct on Loch Katrine and opened the sluice which admitted the water. It poured with rain and the Royal party later had tea in the Royal Cottage. Later in the month, the Corporation gave John Bateman a banquet as a tribute to his genius and skill.

On 29th December 1859, the first water was introduced to a portion of the City and by March 1860 the whole City was included, and the pumping engines which for over 50 years had drawn water from the River Clyde were switched off. Thus Glasgow got its pure water supply at a cost of just under £2 million, the work was completed in less than half the time it took to build the Channel Tunnel in the present century.

Developments in brief subsequent to the book and 1877
Obviously after the plans laid down in 1855 for the supply of water to Glasgow, the population of the City increased each year. Measures had to be taken to account for this and in 1885, James Gale, the Chief Engineer and father of one of the late owners of Daldrishaig House, Aberfoyle, recommended that the level of Loch Katrine be raised by a further five feet. Consequently a second aqueduct was built which was two-and-a-half miles shorter than the first one and almost wholly underground. This work entailed raising the road on the North shore; building a new Stronachlacher Hotel; raising the 17th Century McGregor Burial Ground at Portnellan and building a wall around the small island near Stronachlachar Pier. This was the island where Rob Roy was said to have imprisoned the Duke of Montrose’s Factor and relieved him of his collected rents.

In 1909, the level of Loch Arklet was raised by 22 ft increasing the size of the Loch from 207 acres to 551 acres. The waters of this Loch, less five million gallons of Compensation water into Loch Lomond, was channelled into Loch Katrine. This contract was completed just before the First World War in 1914. It entailed a lot of work as the public road had to be deviated and a large dam had to be built at the outlet end of the Loch where it enters the Snaid Burn. The contractors experienced great problems in getting materials to the dam as they had to bring them by train to Balloch, by barge to Inversnaid and then over the hill by horse and makeshift electric aerial railway. After the war, in 1919, Loch Katrine was raised again by another 5 ft which required taking a new road and bridge between Stronachlacher and Glengyle House. The shepherds cottage at Dubh of Glengyle was demolished and a new one erected further up the hill. The McGregor Burial Ground had to be raised yet again and a completely new road on the North side of the Loch was built at a cost of £185,000.

In 1920, the Corporation bought the whole of the watersheds at Loch Katrine and Loch Arklet, extending to nearly 25,000 acres, from the Duke of Montrose at a cost of £77,000. In 1933, the water carrying capacity of two bridges on the second aqueduct was increased and in 1940, a subsidiary underwater sluice together with a salmon ladder was built at the sluices (near the Trossachs Pass) in case the original one was bombed in the Second World War. In 1960, the Loch at Glenfinlas was dammed and a two-and-a-half mile aqueduct built to feed the water into Loch Katrine. Although the existing scheme has served the people of Glasgow well for over 140 years, and the quality of the water has been regarded as very good, it unfortunately does not fully meet the stringent requirements of water quality legislation introduced in 1990. A new treatment works is now planned for Milngavie. Construction may begin in 2002, to be completed in 2005, and cost £98 million. The plans may have aroused considerable environmental concerns.

Selected sources
1 Glasgow Water 1175 to the Present: an audio visual presentation by Paul Maxwell, West of Scotland Water, 2000.
2 BBC 2 programme of 26 June 2000 on 100 years of the Sir Walter Scott steamer and a brief history of Glasgow’s water since 1860.
3 Water from the Tap: a video by Fasih Kahn et al, Strathclyde Water – presented to the 20th FNH 1994 – Man and the Landscape symposium ‘Waters of central Scotland’.
4 J F Bateman in Early Victorian Water Engineers by J Binnie. 1981.
5 J F Bateman (1810-89) Water Engineer. P Russell. Transactions of the Newcomen Society 52, 1981.
6 On Loch Katrine water purity … lead pipes, discontinued since 1968 … Richards et al. Journal of the Institution of Water Engineers and Scientists 34, July 1980, 315-33.
7 Glasgow Corporation Waterworks. J R Sutherland. Transactions of the Institute of Water Engineers 29, 1924, 53-6.
8 On the Glasgow Waterworks. J M Gale. Institution of Engineers in Scotland 11, 1863-4, p45.