Strathard Heritage Digital Archive





The Navvies at Loch Chon by James Kennedy.

Canals, railways, reservoirs, aqueducts, roads and bridges built since the Georgian era remain in many instances part of daily life. The contribution of the civil engineers is often recognised but this is rarely the case for the people who provided the physical labour, namely, the navvies. Telford, Brassey and Grainger will be familiar to many; doubtless so will Moleskin Joe and Carroty Dan, immortalised by Patrick MacGill in Children of the Dead End(1). This article explores the experience of navvies in the construction of Glasgow’s water supply, originating from Loch Katrine in the Trossachs between 1856 and 1859.

The Navvy

‘Navvy’ is an abbreviation of navigator, the term used to describe the labourers who ‘cut the navigation’ or dug 3000 miles of canals in Great Britain in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The word was also spelt as ‘navie’ or ‘navey’ until The Times established the modern spelling. Some of the early men emerged from Lincolnshire, Huntingdon and Cornwall and subsequently from Scotland and Ireland. These were usually men who had few home ties and for whom physical work exercised a crude attraction. Massive social and economic changes in Scotland meant that the workforce was amplified by dispossessed tenants from the Highlands (2).

The Irish were another source of migrant workers keen to gain employment; like the Highlanders they often had been dispossessed of their land. The Famine of the 1840s added significantly to the influx of Irish immigrants into Scotland(3).

There was an organised hierarchy for navvies as follows (in ascending order): navvy, under-ganger, ganger and sub-contractor. Typically, an ambitious worker would start as a navvy and then if he had the right skills he might take on a role supervising up to 300 others for extra payment. Over time, having saved some money and gathered a group together, his aim would be to obtain a sub-contract for earthworks and perhaps ultimately aspire to full contractor status. A successful contractor like Thomas Brassey had several contracts employing up to 45000 navvies (4). A sub-contractor would agree a set payment with the main contractor and establish a ‘butty gang’, consisting of ten to twelve men who would then complete the job as quickly as possible. There was a pecking order amongst the navvies, with the best paid and highest status role being the miner or tunneller, who formed part of an elite group. Many would feature on the Glasgow water project. In descending order of payment and status were the navvy, stableman and carter(5).

Fig.1: Navvies near Frenich above Loch Chon. From Thomas Annan’s ‘Views on the Line of Loch Katrine Water Works’, 1859. Courtesy Special Collections, Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

Coleman offered a way of defining the navvy (6). Firstly, there was the nature and severity of the work, which would involve excavating, or tunnelling, or blasting, or bridge-building on public work. While the main activity of this kind was on railways, between railway jobs navvies would work on canals, docks, reservoirs and roads. Secondly, navvies were required to work and live together in encampments and be inclined or willing to move to new jobs. Finally, the third requirement was an ability to drink and eat like a navvy. Two pounds of beef and a gallon of beer a day was considered acceptable. The dress was was also distinctive, especially amongst the English navvies. They wore moleskin trousers, double-canvas shirts, velveteen square-tailed coats, hobnail boots, gaudy handkerchiefs, and white felt hats with the brims turned up(7). Finally, they were often known to the contractor, and to everyone else, only by their nicknames such as ‘Gipsy Joe’, ‘Bellerophon’, ‘Fisherman’, ‘Fighting Jack’.

Fig.2: Navvies with Spades: a gang of eight navvy labourers working on the construction of Calvert Station in Buckinghamshire. Top right is the gang foreman, looking down very grandly upon his team, c.1897. Courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

                                                                                                                                                                                               Water Supply to Cities and Towns

Of all the work that the navvy undertook none was as beneficial to public health as the supply of fresh drinking water. Traditional sources, such as wells, springs and the gathering of rain water were inadequate to support population growth and industrialisation. One of the earliest schemes was for the town of Greenock in 1825 and gradually other towns followed(8). While villages and rural towns could still rely on springs and wells, the public authorities in areas where heavy industries and the population were both growing found that they needed to act.

A cholera scare in 1832 awakened authorities to the public health dangers of contaminated water. Cholera is a gastrointestinal infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae and was often very sudden in onset, with episodes of profuse diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Severe dehydration and circulatory collapse could lead to death. Initially it was thought that the disease was spread by a poisonous form of bad air emitted from rotting organic material –this was known as Miasma theory (9).

By 1854 Dr John Snow in London had established that a cluster of cholera deaths from local households was related to the collection of water from one particular pump. Snow wrote:

“Within 250 yards of the spot where Cambridge Street joins Broad Street there were upwards of 500 fatal attacks of cholera in ten days. As soon as I became acquainted with the situation and extent of this irruption of cholera, I suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street pump” (10).

Glasgow recorded its first case in November 1831 and an epidemic in 1848-49 led to 3800 recorded deaths (11). Following the introduction of a fresh water supply from Loch Katrine the situation changed dramatically. When cholera struck again in 1866, there were over 14000 deaths in England and Wales and 1170 in Scotland. However, in Glasgow there were only fifty-three deaths compared to 5596 in London and 2122 in Liverpool (12).

Glasgow’s Water Supply

The expansion of Glasgow as an industrial city led to a major increase in its population and consequent requirement for water. By 1852, with a population of 360000 it had a daily water supply of fourteen million gallons. This supply was inadequate and it was also of poor quality. The idea of bringing water by gravity from Loch Katrine was suggested in 1846 by Lewis Gordon (1815-76)(13) The city council decided to take direct control of the intended City supply. John Bateman was the engineer they secured to establish the best sources of supply. In September 1853 he reported on seven possible schemes, from which he recommended the Loch Katrine Scheme as the one that would meet all requirements (14).

In 1855 an Act of Parliament established the legal basis for the new source of supply and also enabled the takeover of existing private companies. The Glasgow Corporation Water Works Act 1855 was very significant as it was the first time that a British city had planned to move away from disease-ridden wells and instead to bring fresh water from a rural reservoir. Opponents complained about the cost and some experts were not convinced of its public health benefits. Also, Professor Penney of the Andersonian Institute was worried about the long-term effect of the lead piping. He believed that ‘The water was so pure as to act on the lead pipes and poison our people’(15). His objection and that of several others were overruled and the Loch Katrine Scheme went ahead.

Fig.3: Allt a Choin and Loch Katrine. RM Adam Collection RMA-H1791, April 1927. Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library.


The scheme had several inter-related parts. It involved the building of masonry and earth dams across the outlets of Loch Vennachar, Loch Drunkie and Loch Katrine, to secure sufficient water to guarantee the supply. An aqueduct twenty-six miles long from Loch Katrine to to a newly-built reservoir at Mugdock (Milngavie) was built and twenty miles of trunk mains from this reservoir to the City were sunk. Finally, about forty-six miles of new pipes for distributing water throughout Glasgow and its suburbs completed the project. Insight into the complex nature of the project was offered by Bateman (16) : In summary, over the twenty-six mile length between Loch Katrine and the service reservoir at Mugdock, thirteen miles were of tunnelling, three and three quarter miles were of iron piping, and the remainder, where the ground had been cut open, was on an arched aqueduct eight feet in diameter, having the same inclination as the tunnels. Where the ground was excavated, it was back-filled over the aqueducts and the surface restored to its original condition. The use of gradient of ten inches per mile was sufficient for the water to flow freely. At several points the aqueducts were supported by bridges.

The Blairhullichan Contract and Loch Chon

The project was divided into ten contracts and the first, the Blairhullichan contract, involved the construction of the aqueduct from Loch Katrine to the valley of the Duchray Water. Blairhullichan house and estate were part of the Montrose estate and extended from the shores of Loch Ard to Loch Chon (17) The house, which was built between 1850 and 1852, was used as a shooting lodge. The contract for this section was awarded to Simpson, Parkinson and Mann of Halifax in early 1856, with a completion date of 1 June 1859 and a quoted price of £95,500 (18).

Fig.4: Blairhullichan near west end of Loch Ard, Steggall Album Ref 7.6, 1890s. Courtesy of University of St Andrews Library.

Tunnelling was a major undertaking and the most difficult part of the project. Preliminary surveys of the Blairhullichan section had indicated that the rock through which the tunnel would have to be driven, consisted of a combination of gneiss and mica slate, both of which are extremely hard rocks. The completed tunnel would be 2146 metres (2325 yards) long and almost 185 metres (600 ft.) beneath the summit of the intervening hill. In 1856, the main power sources were men and horses. After the line of a tunnel had been established, a series of vertical shafts were drilled until the intended depth of the final work had been reached. In some cases, this was done using drills, operated by ropes and pulleys and driven by a horse-powered gin. Gin ropes, exceeding 5045 metres (5466 yards) were used in the Loch Chon shafts. Drilling was done manually, often with teams of three navvies working together, one holding a long iron pole, sharpened at one end, which acted as a drill. In some instances, this pole had a heavy weight moulded into its lower part; this part of the drill was called ‘the jumper’. The drill was held firmly by one man, while the other pair struck its top end rhythmically with large hammers, driving it into the rock. When it was deep enough the hole was filled with gunpowder. Before detonation a bugle was sounded or a bell was rung to warn all people in the vicinity. When it was confirmed that all but the man designated to activate the fuse had taken cover, he set fire to the rag, often with a candle, and moved as quickly as possible to the nearest cover(19).

This procedure was repeated regularly day and night, the men working twelve hour shifts by the light of paraffin lamps. When the vertical shafts were completed, teams were set to work drilling out the lateral tunnels, working simultaneously in opposite directions from each shaft. In the Loch Chon tunnel an average of sixty drills were constantly in use at each face, indicating a total of over 1400 drills at any given time. Twelve vertical shafts were excavated in total, ranging in depth from fifteen metres (sixteen yards) to 151 metres (163½ yards). One benefit of the prevalent type of rock was that it was impervious to water penetration, so brick lining was unnecessary. Beyond the main tunnel, where the aqueduct ran along the west side of Loch Chon, it passed through a succession of mica slate ridges. So apart from several short stone aqueducts, construction continued as a series of short tunnels (20). Men excavated the soil and rocks into large buckets (21). Working conditions were very difficult, with miners in constant danger from the explosions and from breathing foul air, made all the worse by the fumes of gunpowder.

Fig.5: Miners at work using a ‘jumper’ inside the tunnelled section of the west wing trench for the Howden Dam, Derbyshire. From Memories of Tin Town-The navvy village of Birchinlee and its people (2005), page 13. Courtesy of Professor Brian Robinson.


Navvies had been employed on this type of construction work from when Telford had embarked on a vast scheme of road building (22). The building of tracks and roads in the wilds of the Trossachs was a formidable one. Rock-cuttings had to be made, retaining walls built, trenches dug and rivers crossed. Navvies had been employed in this type of work from the time when Telford had embarked on a vast scheme of road and bridge building.

Fig.6: Gang of eight navvies working on trimming the batter of an embankment near the village of Woodthorpe, Leicestershire. Tools in use include spades, shovels and wicker baskets. Courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

Elsewhere in the route from the Trossachs, the creation of embankments and cuttings continued in parallel with the tunnelling. The building of raised embankments was essential and usually the earth was taken from a side cutting so that the finished work would consist of a raised embankment with a ditch running on both sides. Use of carts and horses was the main method, with the navvies undertaking the shovelling and clearing (23).                                  5


The number of people employed, exclusive of iron founders and mechanics was about 3000, most of whom were accommodated in temporary settlements in remote and inaccessible areas. There were camps at Loch Chon, Drymen Moor and Mugdock. The majority of navvies were employed in the Blairhullichan and Kelty contracts, in all over 2000 men and 150 horses (24). Sebastopol was the temporary village for the navvies on the north east shores of Loch Chon near, Frenich Farm. It is thought that the name derives from an association with the Crimean War, with the noise from the blasting of the tunnels reminiscent of explosions and gun firing in the Crimea (25). Some of the navvies in this scheme may have been at the Crimean Sebastopol to build roads and railway tracks (26). The name was later used for a worker’s settlement on the Settle and Carlisle Railway in the early 1870s, along with other settlement names like Jericho, Jerusalem, Inkerman and Belgravia (27).

Fig.7: Sebastopol: from Thomas Annan’s ‘Views on the Line of Loch Katrine Water Works’, 1859. Courtesy Special Collections, Mitchell Library.

The Sebastopol site had twenty-one labourers’ huts and a house for Robert Simpson, one of the partners in the company. Workshops, stables, a gunpowder magazine, a store and a missionary hall made up the reminder of the village (28). At its peak there were up to 600 men and their families living there (29). An area near where the horses were kept was called Midden Bay (30).

Living Conditions

In July 1858 the Water Commissioners spent two days visiting the scheme, following which there was comment in The Glasgow Herald(31) : ‘We do not wonder that the navvies have christened their turf and timber village at the mouth of the Loch Katrine Tunnel by the name of Sebastopol’(32) Various banners with greetings such as ‘Peace and Plenty’ and ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ were there to meet the visitors. One was over the storehouse where there were between 500 and 600 workmen gathered with their wives and families. These were mainly Englishmen who lived in a line of wooden huts, said to have beds tier-upon-tier, more ‘closely packed than an emigrant ship’. Men in different shifts would share a bunk. As elsewhere the huts were looked after by the wife of a ganger who had the privilege of a separate room, also receiving her food free of charge. A further insight describes how nestling with the navvies could often be found dogs with litters of puppies, mostly bull hounds or lurchers, which were intended for dog-fighting or poaching (33).

Fig.8: Navvy woman and dog stand outside their cottage. She has the distinctive features of a navvy woman, and wears a high-necked thick black outfit. Courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

For families there was no separation. In one bunk slept a man and his wife and one or two children; next to them some navvies and perhaps then another family. The report notes that ‘there are also families of Scotch and Irish connected with this part of the works but they seem desirous of living apart’. It describes the building of turf houses in the side of the hill using the rock structure and turf to create a wall. The roof was so low that despite bending over the visitors still hit their heads, but the navvies were considered to be happy with these living arrangements. The English navvies were by far the most numerous as they were in the habit of following the contactor around, on various jobs. At Loch Chon, as elsewhere, there was often animosity between the English, Scots and Irish. This was based on longstanding differences of religion and political belief. The influx of Irish migrants after the Famine (1845-1847) was perceived by the English and Scots as leading to low wages.

Later in 1859 conditions were described in starker terms by The Penny Post. The newspaper stated that while the Commissioners were able to drink toasts and have comfortable dinners the state of accommodation experienced by the navvies remained unsatisfactory. The huts in the glen above Loch Chon were described as simple caverns in a peat bog. It was also reported that workmen were paid their wages in the form of written orders that were passed to store keepers employed by the contractors, obliging the workers to use the stores. By this time the practice of workers being paid by tickets rather than cash in what was known as the ‘truck system’(34) was illegal, but the more remote the location the greater the likelihood that it could remain in place (35). The workers paid a surcharge for credit on goods and also had to purchase their own tools. If they went elsewhere for food, they ran the risk of credit being withdrawn, leaving them to starve. Navvies with families were especially disadvantaged. The store keepers were employed by the contractor who provided the accommodation and created a type of bondage with the navvies and their families. The navvy was ‘in truck’ for housing, schooling, mending and sharpening of mining tools as well as the supply of food, clothing and alcohol. The justification was that if navvies got paid more frequently, they were likely to go drinking (called ‘having a randy’) or disappear to a different job (36). In some instances navvies had to wait at least two months for payment (37). The contractors could make more money from the works store than on the main contract itself.

Fig.9: Shameful Condition of the Navvies at the Water Works, Penny Post, 8 June 1859 p.2 col 2. Courtesy of The National Library of Scotland.


In April 1857 Mr. Alexander Clark a divinity student of the Church of Scotland from Lennoxtown was appointed as the teacher for navvy families. Individual missionaries headed to remote work camps to offer support but it took until the 1870s before a Mrs Hunter of Hunterson House in Ayrshire promoted the organised welfare of navvies in Scotland (38 ). A larger hut was set aside as a schoolroom and reading room, divided by a light partition. The library consisted of newspapers sent up by friends in Glasgow and volumes provided by the Railway Library. Clark lived in a little wooden dwelling attached to his schoolroom and acted also as minister on Sundays when the partition was removed and the entire space used for worship. Given the varied backgrounds of the men in the camp it is doubtful if his services were attended by the majority. The school had around thirty-two pupils in July 1858 (39).

Fig.10: Advertisement for Teacher at Frenich. Glasgow Herald, 6 April 1857 p.1 col 3. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (

There was a much larger number of children in the camp but most of the boys of school age were employed by the navvies and they were known as ‘nippers’. Acting as messengers, they moved between the smithy and the tunnel shaft heads with drills and jumpers, keeping up a constant supply of sharpened tools. Meanwhile the bulk of the girls were engaged in looking after the younger children as many of their mothers worked as hut keepers or servants (40).

Fig.11: Navvies including a ‘nipper’ by a hut in Leicester. Courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

Working on the Sabbath was generally frowned upon but because the site was remote the convention was ignored. The matter was discussed by the Works Committee of the Glasgow Water Commissioners (41) in October 1858 and it was agreed that the matter should be further investigated. A further report was received by the Committee in December 1858, as follows: ‘Some cases by the nature of the work required to continue past mid-night on Saturday and start early on Monday’. The Committee Clerk was instructed to notify the contractors that it was their desire that Sunday work should not be required unless by ‘absolute necessity’. The issue was again reported in January 1859, in The Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser (42).

Fig,12: Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 22 January 1859. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.


Wherever they lived navvies had a reputation for eating large amounts of food and drinking to excess. Pay days and funerals were the main occasions for drinking. With the bulk of the English navvies coming from Yorkshire their tastes pre-dominated, including beer produced in Halifax. Early on a hut for consumption of alcohol had been built on the site by Alexander Blair, tenant of the Aberfoyle Hotel, but in March 1857 the Corporation received numerous complaints: not only was the excess consumption of alcohol contributing to delays in output but it was reported that at least one man had died as a direct result of his drinking (43). Blair was warned that his licence only permitted the sale of beer. While agreeing to comply he complained that the excessive drinking was caused by illicit stills and not his hut. This was very likely the case, as often the ganger’s wife would offer alcohol. It is also possible that the Irish contingent was distilling a spirit, known as poteen, from potatoes.

A little cottage on the road between Loch Ard and Loch Chon was also a regular stopping off point. ‘The Teapot’ was a favourite resting place for visitors travelling between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid. It was reputed to be a well-patronised shebeen where illicit whisky was served in teapots. The local excise officers raided the house at regular intervals, but it was said that every time they did so they found only visitors sitting around drinking tea (44).

Fig.13: The Teapot between Loch Chon and Kinlochard, during the late nineteenth century. Author’s Collection.
Fig.14: Near Loch Chon. Steggall Album ref. 2.6 circa 1890.Courtesy of University of St Andrews Library.


There are very few reports of trouble at Sebastopol. In November 1858, The Stirling Observer described an incident in Aberfoyle where two navvies had started a fight with another, who as a result was in ‘dangerous peril’ (45). Later in the year the same newspaper described the robbery of a navvy who had purchased several bottles of rum and was on his way to Gartmore when he was attacked and the bottles stolen. Two other navvies were apprehended charged and lodged at Stirling prison (46).

Further afield, there was a report of serious rioting at Balfron in March 1859(47). The Glasgow Herald described ‘the angry spirit’ between English and Irish navvies and used the term ‘The Battle of Balfron’. A military detachment was sought from Stirling to deal with 200 navvies who were armed with bludgeons. When the detachment of seventy-five soldiers and three officers arrived, the rioters fled. A false rumour that the English navvies had murdered an Irishman on Drymen Moor had been in circulation. In October 1859 The Stirling Observer published a news item concerning navvies from the railway works in Callander and Glasgow Water Works below the headline ‘Navvies Riot’. It confirmed that the navvies had been generally well behaved during the previous two years, including regular attendance at Sabbath evenings in their huts. (48). However, on this occasion two drunken navvies were ‘having a bit of fun’ when a visitor called the police and insisted that the men should be arrested. Showing some sympathy with the navvies, the report suggested that despite their detention in Dunblane and a 60-day jail sentence, the entire exercise was an over-reaction.

Life and death

Sebastopol had what was described as a ‘medical man’ although ironically the only mention of his activities was occasioned by his assistance at the scene of a fatal accident involving visitors on the road between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid (49).

Establishing information about individual people has proved difficult, as most had moved elsewhere by the time of the 1861 census. The habitual use of nicknames adds to the challenge. In the search for detail about individuals all births deaths and marriages for the years 1857-1860 in Aberfoyle parish were reviewed (50) Over this period there were nineteen deaths at Loch Chon and it was reported that fewer than six of them were caused by accidents(51). The only newspaper report of a death was that of Peter McEwan, a visitor from Gargunnock, who died following an accident as he helped to return some material to Loch Chon (52).

Donald Sutherland died at Couligarten when he sustained serious head injuries in August 1858. His death certificate described him as a mason, so he is likely to have been engaged in building the aqueduct bridge in that area. He had been born in Dornoch in 1813, where he first worked as a labourer before becoming a mason.

Fig.15: Aqueduct Bridge No 1 near Couligarten. Photograph by Thomas Annan, 1859 © Courtesy of Historic Environment Scotland.

Other causes of death among adults included conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia. David Bray, a twenty-five-year-old miner, died following blood loss in an accident while he was drilling. Several young children died including one-year-old Jessie Simpson who had pneumonia. She was the twin daughter of Robert Simpson, the contractor. All were buried in the local parish graveyard in Aberfoyle in unmarked graves. On a happier note, there were thirty-six births, amongst them a son to John Blackwood, the storekeeper. His son John was born at Loch Chon in 1857. John senior was a native of Strathblane and had been a carter before becoming a storekeeper. In the 1861 census he was a storekeeper in Neilston; his son John became a plumber.

There were five marriages of people residing at Loch Chon and all were held at Aberfoyle Church. They included the marriage of Angus Livingstone, originally from Ballachulish, and Jane McKenzie who was born in Killin. They married in Aberfoyle Church in January 1858 and before the end of the year their first son Donald was born. Angus was a miner who probably worked in the Aberfoyle slate quarries before finding employment in the construction of the aqueduct. His son Donald followed a similar career, in coal mining in Leigh near Wigan. Initially he had worked as a colliery sinker and eventually he became a colliery contractor. He died in Leigh in 1919 at the age of 60. In turn his son Donald was a miner and he sank the Parsonage Colliery in Leigh in the 1920s (53).

The Royal Opening

The work was completed within three and a half years and the total engineering cost was £630000 which was about ten per cent above the parliamentary estimate (54). On 14 October 1859 Queen Victoria performed the ceremony by opening a sluice near the centre of the south bank of Loch Katrine at Royal Cottage to allow water from the loch to flow into the aqueduct. Water began flowing into Glasgow on 28 December 1859.

By 1885 a second aqueduct and further developments were required to increase the water supply. These included the completion of the Craigmaddie Reservoir in 1896 with the aqueduct being completed in 1901. The supply continued to be increased through the diversion of water from Loch Arklet to Loch Katrine through a connecting aqueduct, thus increasing the maximum quantity of water that could be drawn from Loch Katrine in one day from 50 to 110 million gallons. Subsequently this was added to by increasing the level of Loch Katrine and the creation of a supply from Glen Finglas to Loch Katrine in 1955.

Fig.16: Loch Katrine Supply and Line of Aqueducts. Strathclyde Regional Council (Water Dept.), 1983. Courtesy of Scottish Water.

The Legacy of the Navvies

By 1860, the navvies had left Loch Chon, except for a small maintenance team. During the development of the second aqueduct navvies returned and were based at Frenich as well as other places along the line to Glasgow albeit, never in a distinct village like Sebastopol. The numbers were much lower as the aqueduct was built over a longer period of time.

Their legacy remains and endures as a continuing supply of fresh water to the city of Glasgow. The physical presence and sight of the aqueducts and the tunnels capture the imagination of visitors and locals alike. A number of local history and heritage groups continue to recognise and celebrate this achievement. In 2009 exhibitions were held at the Mitchell Library and in Aberfoyle to celebrate 150 years of the water supply. Glasgow City Council also held a Civic Dinner as part of the commemorative events.

In 2018 Milngavie Heritage Centre held an exhibition ‘Milngavie Waterworks: an Incredible Story’; and in 2019 Loch Ard Local History Group celebrated its twentieth anniversary with commemoration of 160 years of continuous water supply from Loch Katrine to Glasgow in an exhibition ‘Water to Glasgow’. Over 300 people attended the one-day exhibition – a clear indication of continuing interest in this significant achievement.

Fig.17: Local visitors on the walkway at Mugdock Reservoir, September 2018. Courtesy of Hilary Howatt.
Fig.18: ‘Water to Glasgow’ Exhibition, October 2019. Courtesy of Loch Ard Local History Group.

In 2019 when Scottish Water was closing one of its buildings several glass photographic slides were recovered from a skip and these have given the entire project a renewed interest.

The Legacy of the Navvies

Perhaps the time has come to establish a permanent tribute to the effort and achievement of all involved? Time will tell if the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park’s recent proposal to develop a project associated with the aqueduct path emerges as a definitive plan (55). If so, it will require support from several organisations, including history and heritage groups as well as Scottish Water and Forestry and Land Scotland. The National Park’s Loch Chon campsite, within a mile of Sebastopol, could also become a focal point. In the meantime, some modest funds could be designated to create interpretation of the project, starting at Stronachlachar, continuing at various key points along the route and ending in Milngavie. Central to this should be the contribution of the thousands of navvies, several of whom gave their lives for the sake of a daily wage and the greater good of the residents of Glasgow.


This article forms part of a wider and ongoing study. It was first published by the Scottish Local History Forum in Issue109 of Scottish Local History. My thanks for their permission to publish the article on this website. My thanks for support provided by archive and local study services in Stirling, Perth and Glasgow; and Special Collections at The Mitchell Library.

Notes and References

  1. P MacGill, Children of the Dead End: the autobiography of a navvy (Leopold Classic Library, 2019), p.99.
  2. J Handley The Navvy in Scotland (Cork University Press, 1970), p.15.
  3. Handley, op.cit, pp.12-13.
  4. D Sullivan, Navvymen (Coracle Books, London,1983), p.164.
  5. Handley, op.cit, p.27.
  6. T Coleman, The Railway Navvies (Head of Zeus, London, 2015), pp.29-30.
  7. Ibid, p.30.
  8. Handley, op cit, p.70.
  9. E Ashworth Underwood, ‘The History of Cholera in Great Britain’, Proceedings of the Royal College of Medicine 41 (1947), p.165.
  10. J Snow, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera (Churchill, London, 1855), pp.19-21.
  11. These are only estimates as it was not until 1855 that registration of deaths became compulsory.
  12. Underwood, op cit, p.170.
  13. L Stott, ‘A Right Royal Occasion: the Glasgow Waterworks and the Royal Opening’, The Voice 24 (2019), p.16.
  14. Corporation of the City of Glasgow Water Department, The Water Supply of Glasgow a century of public ownership (City of Glasgow, 1950),pp.11-15.
  15. TC Smout, A Century of the Scottish People 1830-1950 (Fontana Press, London, 1987), p.43.
  16. JF Bateman, Glasgow Waterworks Supply of Water from Loch Katrine: summary of description given to section G of the British Association at the meeting at Aberdeen 1859 (LSE Selected Pamphlets). accessed 30-09-2019, p 4.
  17. P Joynson, Local Past (self-published, 1996), p.198.
  18. Glasgow City Archives F 13.1.1 Water Commissioners Minute Book 26 July 1855-18 July 1861; and 13.5.1 Minutes of Sub-Committee of Water Works 1855-1861.
  19. WB Black, 150 years of Glasgow Water Supply (unpublished, 2009), p.90.
  20. Ibid, p 91.
  21. Coleman, op cit, p.56.
  22. Handley, op cit, pp.80-1.
  23. Coleman, op cit, p.53.
  24. Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1858 p.5 col.8.
  25. RD Campbell, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs (Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh,1999), p.164.
  26. Sullivan, op cit, p.144.
  27. A Burton, Railway Builders (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2016), p.138.
  28. Perth & Kinross Council Archive CC1/8/1/2 Valuation Roll, County of Perth 1858-59.
  29. Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1858 p.5 col.5.
  30. Joynson, op cit, pp.105-10.
  31. Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1858 p.5 col.5.
  32. Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1858 p.5 col.4.
  33. Coleman, op cit, p.97.
  34. Truck meaning barter or trading by exchange of commodities; and the phrase itself denoting the payment of wages otherwise than in current coin.
  35. Handley, op cit, p.198.
  36. Sullivan, op cit, p.26.
  37. Black, op cit, p.93.
  38. Handley, op cit, p.326.
  39. Glasgow Herald, 12 July 1858 p.5 col.4.
  40. Glasgow City Archives, op cit.
  41. Glasgow City Archives Works Committee Minutes 1856-1889 1st volume.
  42. Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, 22 January 1859 p.2 col.5.
  43. Perthshire Advertiser, 4 June 1857 p.3 col 4.
  44. S Gordon, Highways and Byways in the Central Highlands (Birlinn, Edinburgh, 1995), p.27.
  45. Stirling Observer, 4 November 1858 p.3 col.4.
  46. Stirling Observer, 30 December 1858 p.3 col.1.
  47. Glasgow Herald, 10 March 1859 p.3 col 3.
  48. Stirling Observer, 6 October 1859 p.3 col 4.
  49. Stirling Observer, 25 August 1859 p.3 col 6.
  50. Births, deaths and marriages of Aberfoyle parish 1857-1860, accessed on and subsequent research in Ancestry
  51. J Burnet, History of the Water Supply to Glasgow (Bell & Bain, Glasgow, 1869), p.118.
  52. Glasgow Sentinel, 10 January 1857 p.4.col 6.
  53. Personal communication from A Foulds, great grandson of Donald Livingstone.
  54. Bateman, op cit. p.6.
  55. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Active Park Healthy Peopleoutdoor recreation delivery plan consultation document 2019, p.38.

James Kennedy has a background in nursing and health care management. He has had a longstanding interest in local history and is Chairman of Loch Ard Local History Group and a Trustee of the Scottish Local History Forum.