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Book opens up insight into building techniques from two-centuries ago

We've uncovered a book at one of our offices which has shed light on how reservoirs and dams were built 125 years ago in the Victorian-era. 

The book, Bradford Corporation Water Works, is a treasure trove of photos of the construction of Gouthwaite reservoir and a series of bridges over the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, River Aire and smaller becks in the area. 

The album’s first inside page features photographs of six employees and the town clerk, and is titled Bradford Corporation Waterworks, Nidd Valley Scheme, 1892. A hand-written annotation suggests the photographs were taken by Oliver Nicholson from Bradford. 

Dated 1894 to 1896 the photographs of work provide evidence of engineering and construction techniques, as well as a rich social history.

Mark Broady, Project Manager for the scheme, said: “We were doing some research for our current scheme to refurbish the overflow at Gouthwaite reservoir and found the scanned copies of the book on our system. 

“There was certainly a different view of health and safety back then, with hard hats swapped for bowler hats. As an engineer, it was fascinating to see the low-tech solutions they used and what they achieved without machinery. It was basically brute force, sweat and hard work that built Gouthwaite Reservoir. I’m not sure I’d want to do it that way!”

The book also shows the pride taken in the visual appearance of large engineering works, starting with a sketch of Gouthwaite reservoir showing its ornate towers and detailed balustrading on the top of the bridge. Photos show various stages of the construction of these features, as well as the quarrying of stone and diverting of the river to allow a safe space to create the dam and reservoir. 

The current £7m scheme to refurbish the overflow at Gouthwaite reservoir started in May and is due to finish in the summer of 2018. 

Construction of Gouthwaite reservoir started in 1894. It is a compensation reservoir, releasing water back into the River Nidd. It took eight years to build and is unusual as it’s managed by the Gouthwaite Management Board, which was set up by an Act of Parliament. The Environment Agency and ourselves provide advice to the board.

Some work to improve access to and operation of the reservoir’s valve towers has already been completed. 

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