Loch Katrine - Times Past

In partnership with the Glasgow Times our archivists are exploring Glasgow's fascinating history. This week, Nerys Tunnicliffe writes about the Loch Katrine Water Works.


The Loch Katrine Water Works were officially opened on 14 October 1855 by Queen Victoria. It was a very ambitious scheme to increase and improve Glasgow city’s water supply, aiming to provide 50 million gallons of water in any one day.


Up until the early 1800’s many ancient public wells, the River Clyde and streams were the main water supply for Glasgow. The quality of water from these sources was dubious to say the least! One 1848 report, now in the City Archives, states that ‘fluids’ from the sewers were likely flowing into at least two old wells, and other wells including those at George Street, Glassford Street and St Vincent Street, were ‘impure’. The quantity of water was also far from sufficient for the needs of the city’s growing population and industry, or for fighting any fires.


From 1807 several private water companies attempted to solve the issue but failed mostly due to financial reasons. The tragic 1848 outbreak of cholera intensified the demand for a better water supply. Eventually in 1852 the Glasgow Corporation decided to take over from the private companies and appointed English civil engineer John Frederick Bateman, who was just then becoming known for his work with water supply, to investigate possible solutions for the problem.


Bateman produced a report, held in our archives, exploring several schemes. His recommendation was to use Loch Katrine, around 40 miles outside of Glasgow.


However, his proposed scheme was vehemently opposed by private water companies, landowners affected by the works, and even the Admiralty who claimed that the loch’s water was impure and that such a scheme could affect ships navigating the River Forth. Careful scientific studies were commissioned debunking these claims (dredging equipment designed for the River Forth helped the water flow there). On the 19 April 1855, an act of parliament was passed for the work to begin.

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The works were a huge undertaking, involving tunnelling, the building of an aqueduct 26 miles long, dams across Lochs Vennachar, Loch Drunkie and Loch Katrine, a reservoir at Mugdock, construction of some 20 miles of trunk mains from the reservoir, and 46 miles of new pipes to distribute the water through Glasgow and its suburbs. 


It took over 3 years to complete and a ceremony was held on 14 October 1859 with speeches from Bateman and others before Queen Victoria turned the handle to open the sluice at the Royal Cottage in typically rainy conditions.


Surprisingly not all of Glasgow’s citizens welcomed the change of supply, with the story that one old woman, on the closing of the hazardous public wells complained to the press that ‘Huh I just canna’ thole that new water, it’s got neither taste nor smell!’.


Today the supply of plentiful clean water is recognised as a vital improvement to the health of the city and one that allowed industry to thrive. Since its opening the Loch Katrine works have been expanded, now supplying over 230m litres of water a day. 


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