By Louis Stott
Reproduced from The Voice with kind permission
Local historian and literary expert Louis Stott describes one of Scotland’s engineering wonders and the grand opening by Queen Victoria 160 years ago.
One of the most striking monuments in Glasgow is the French gothic fountain in Kelvingrove Park dedicated to Robert Stewart, (1810-66), Lord Provost from 1851-5, It commemorates the completion of the first part of the Glasgow Corporation Water Works Scheme which supplied the city with fresh drinking water from Loch Katrine. The fountain was erected in 1871 to acknowledge Stewart as the driving force behind it. The imagery on the fountain relates to the Trossachs, particularly to Scott’s poem, The Lady of the Lake. For example, the topmost figure represents the heroine of the poem, Ellen Douglas.
Glasgow’s water was drawn from wells and streams until 1807, when Thomas Telford and James Watt built a new works at Dalmarnock. However, the river became progressively more unsuitable as a source of potable water, as cholera became rife in densely populated areas of the city.
The idea of bringing water by gravity from Loch Katrine, 55km away from the city was suggested as early as 1846 by Lewis Gordon (1815-76), the UK’s first professor of engineering. The project was further developed by others, including John F. Bateman, the renowned nineteenth century water engineer, whose views were supported by both Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The scheme was approved by the Glasgow Corporation Water Works Act in 1855; thereafter John F. Bateman (1810-1889) designed and constructed the works. James M. Gale assisted him and was responsible for the rearrangement and redistribution of the pipework within the city. Gale later became Chief Engineer to the Glasgow Corporation Waterworks and was to play a part in the supply of water to Glasgow for forty-five years. Though the scheme has been augmented and improved over the years, the original structures remain in continual use. When John Bateman visited the site during the construction of the aqueduct, he stayed at Tigh na Traigh, on the shore of Loch Ard. James Gale rented, but must have then bought, Daldrishaig, at the foot of Loch Ard where he died in 1903.
The first aqueduct is in two parts, the first, 41.5 kilometres (25.7 miles) long, between Loch Katrine and Mugdock Reservoir, on the outskirts of Milngavie. The second part is a 13km (8 m.) aqueduct of twin cast iron pipes from the reservoir into Glasgow. The 2.4m diameter subterranean tunnels are unlined and have been constructed to a flat gradient of 158mm per km. (about 10 inches per mile). All the boring had to be done by hand as there were then no pneumatic tools.
The second longest of the 70 tunnels, next to Loch Katrine, lies 183 m. (600 ft.) below the summit of a hill. It was worked from 12 shafts. The rock is gneiss and mica slate. About 60 drills were constantly in use at each face and on average a fresh drill was required for every 25mm gained in depth. There are 25 substantial iron and masonry aqueduct bridges, up to 24m in height and 27.4m in span, crossing the deep valleys of the Duchray, the Endrick and the Blane. A typical example is the bridge over the Duchray. This three-span aqueduct bridge consists of a rectangular cast iron tube about 2.5m high and 2m wide. The tube contains two cast iron pipes, one above the other.
Of the other bridges, the five principal ones consist of cast and wrought iron troughs on masonry piers with masonry embankments at each end. The longest is the 304m (nearly 1000 ft.) long aqueduct bridge at Corrie (NS485957), with a 134.4m long on Castle Burn (NS470988) and three at Couligartan (NN450002) of 113.4m, 140.8m and 194m in length. Of these, the aqueduct bridges overlooking Loch Ard are the easiest to see.
One of the principal objections to the entire scheme was that flow in the River Teith would be reduced, so compensation water was provided by building a masonry dam at the western end of Loch Venachar.
Construction was begun with a ceremony on the ridge between Loch Katrine and Loch Chon in May 1856, and, remarkably enough, finished in three years and six months. Between 3,000 and 5000 people were employed on the project and there were two large camps, one at the head of Loch Chon and the other on Drymen Muir. At the camps were provision stores, reading-rooms, a school-house and a church; a resident medical man and school-master were provided. Medical provision was available at Frenich, between Loch Chon and Loch Katrine, where a Dr Blackwood was based, while at Drymen Alexander Clarke, a young minister, was employed to run a school and provide religious services
At the camp at the head of Loch Chon, nicknamed Sebastopol because of the incessant blasting, reminiscent of the Crimean War, Alexander Blair provided a beer hut. Early on he was chided for selling spirit. He claimed that he was innocent, but that several illicit distilleries existed. The most famous shebeen was in a cottage on the road to Loch Chon, known as the Teapot. It was so named as every time the Excise raided it, it was said that they found the occupants quietly drinking tea. Regrettably the cottage was unrecognisably rebuilt in recent years.
Queen Victoria, accompanied by the Prince Consort, Princess Alice, and Princess Helena, inaugurated the Loch Katrine scheme on 14th October 1859, by opening a sluice near the centre of the south bank of the loch at Royal Cottage to allow water from the loch to flow into the aqueduct. Water began flowing into Glasgow on the 28th of December 1859.
The weather was highly unfavourable. Fortunately, conditions improved during the time of the ceremony and the Queen’s inspection, but, after she departed, the storm came on again. The plight of thousands of spectators was pitiable; the coaches and carriages available could not carry even a tenth of those present, and most of the onlookers had to trudge for miles over hilly and almost impassable roads before they reached a point where transport could be secured. However, not even the appalling weather conditions could dampen the enthusiasm with which they hailed this memorable occasion.
Details were given in the local papers of the various routes by which dignitaries would arrive at the remote spot chosen for the opening. One of these routes was, of course, from Stirling via Aberfoyle and Loch Ard. ‘Royal Cottage’, then called the Commissioners’ Cottage, was refurbished for the occasion, and to look at it, one might suppose that the party were to stay at the house for at least a week. In fact, they had lunch there. The weather was appalling with thick mist and heavy rain. There was an address from the bailies of Glasgow, and the Queen responded, saying, in effect, that she was pleased to be associated with any scheme to reduce the number of her subjects who were unwashed. The proceedings concluded with, as the Stirling Journal put it, ‘a long prayer’ from a Glasgow minister. It was not until 1869 that Queen Victoria saw Loch Katrine under favourable conditions.