History of Portsmouth & Gosport Water Supply
Chapter 6 Gosport Water Supply
This has been supplied by Andy Neve and Diane Bourne of Portsmouth Water Ltd and I want to offer my grateful thanks for their time and I hope that you find it of interest.
Originally the Town of Gosport was the built-up and fortified part of the Parish of Alverstoke on the west shore of Portsmouth Harbour facing Old Portsmouth. In 1894 the Parish became the Gosport and Alverstoke Urban District, and in 1922 it was promoted to the status of the Borough of Gosport.
Its fortunes have been closely linked with those of Portsmouth, because they have both depended for their .main livelihood upon the development over the years of H.M. Dockyard and its many subsidiary establishments in the district. Gosport is, in effect, the western division of the Port of Portsmouth. But although they are neighbours, the wide expanse of the Harbour between them caused their respective water supplies to be developed quite independently of each other.
It appears that for a short time Gosport had a piped water supply more than a hundred years before Portsmouth. Dr. L. F. W. White, in his booklet, The Story of Gosport (1947) writes :
“As far back as 1698 an enterprising Londoner named Thomas Lewis obtained an Act of Parliament for the erection of a waterworks at Forton, just outside the boundary of the town, but the Company got into financial difficulties, and only 240 houses ever received their supply through hollowedout elm-tree pipes. . . . .”
Evidence of this supply in the then Middle Street (now High Street) has been provided by the wooden pipes that have been dug up from time to time along this roadway.
The next known reference to an early public water supply is found in The Times dated 28th March, 1816. It contains an advertisement giving notice of a “Special General Assembly of the Proprietors of the Gosport and Forton Water-Works. . . . to consider the propriety of proceeding to effect an immediate sale and disposition of all the property and effects belonging to the Company. . ..” Little else is known of this Company. It was not in existence in 1808, because, as already recorded, the promoters of the old Portsmouth and Farlington Company in that year intended to include Gosport in its Area of Supply – a proposal that was soon dropped. On the other hand, there is in the records of the Portsmouth Company a letter dated November, 1811, referring to a pump “exactly the same as made for the Gosport Water- Works”. The inference appears to be that this Company had a short life, from about 1809 to 1816. The works were a well and pumping station at Forton, which were later purchased by the Government for the supply of the nearby Marine Barracks.
Apart from these two brief enterprises, both started by London promoters, the inhabitants of Gosport had to rely upon shallow wells and water-carts in much the same way as in the early Portsmouth. White states:
“Even in 1850 over 7,700 gallons a day came from three main wells and 36 great carts each carrying a ton of water plied through the streets selling water at 1/4d a bucket. It was poor in quality and intermittent in supply, although the vendors collected about £1,700 a year.”
Gosport, Forton and Anglesey Water Consumers’ Company Ltd.
Gosport Waterworks Company
The Act was passed on IIth May, 1858, under which the provisional Company became a statutory water undertaking named the “Gosport Waterworks Company” with a capital of £17,000 in £10 shares; and with power to borrow on mortgage up to £4,000. The Area of Supply was “the whole of the Parish of Alverstoke, in the County of Hants, in which the town of Gosport is situate” (about 6 sq. miles), and power to carry out the Bury Cross Works was confirmed.
The first directors nominated by the Act were the seven named above, of whom the Rev. Edward Burney became the first Chairman; he was to remain in office for 30 years. He was was part-proprietor with his brother Henry of the Gosport Royal Academy, a large boarding school chiefly for naval and military pupils. Horatio Compigne, solicitor, was confirmed as the first Secretary and held that position for 29 years.
The Head Office of the Company remained at the Market House until 1890, when it was transferred to 1 High Street. In 19IO it was moved to Thornfield House, 4 High Street, which in 1955 became the Gosport Office of the present Company.
Lee-on-the-Solent Water Undertaking
Second World War (1939-45)
The threat of a Second World War and the War itself threw an unprecedented strain upon the Company’s water resources. By the end of the War the total demand was nearly 2 1/2 times larger than in 1935; the average daily supply had increased from under 1 1/2 million gallons to more than 31/2 million gallons. Most of this remarkable increase had come from the many Government Establishments in the Area, whose consumption rose to more than 4 1/2 times above that in 1935. Other supplies also increased substantially, and in addition much extra water had to be supplied on account of wastage caused by air-raid damage to mains and service pipes and by the lack of labour to deal with normal repairs.
It became clear that, with the further extension of the headings at the Soberton Works in 1938, the probable maximum reliable daily yield of about 2 million gallons from that source had been reached; moreover, it was unwise in the event of war to rely wholly upon a single means of supply. In consequence an Act was obtained in 1940 to develop a new independent source at Hoe, about one mile south-east of Bishop’s Waltham.
The initial works were carried out during 1940-41. They consisted of a deep well in the Chalk, with headings, the water being pumped by two electrically-driven units with a daily capacity of 1 and 2 million gallons respectively, housed in a temporary blast-proof building. A 15-inch pumping main, about two miles long, was laid to the Shedfield Reservoirs. After the War the smaller unit was replaced by another of 2 million gallons capacity, together with a stand-by oil-driven power unit, and a permanent building was erected. The daily yield of the well proved to be at least 11/2 million gallons.
In addition to the Hoe Works various other War-precautions were taken. The Foxbury water tower was kept filled; an electrically-driven pump was installed at the Bury.Cross underground tank, and an oil-driven pump at the Lee-on-the-Solent well. The private wells at the Gosport Gas Works and at the Inverness Laundry were fitted up to provide a limited supply, and a fleet of mobile drinking water tanks was acquired. In addition, emergency connections were made between the Company’s mains and those of its neighbours – the Southampton Corporation and the Fareham Urban District Council.
During the War Gosport shared with Portsmouth in the wide-spread damage to water mains caused by the many air raids. The worst experience occurred on the night of 10th/11th January, 1941. During the following three days the loss of water due to broken mains and service pipes and extra water used for fire-fighting was so large as to cause the two Shedfield Reservoirs, which together hold about 6 million gallons, to be nearly emptied. By good luck the essential parts of the new Hoe Works and the pumping main there from were at that time on the point of completion; an emergency effort to make the final connection brought the station into immediate use, thus obviating any curtailment of the supply. Throughout the War all the Company’s principal works fortunately escaped damage.
Bishop’s Waltham Water Undertaking
The piped water supply to Bishop’s Waltham has had a varied history. It began in 1894 with the formation of the “Bishop’s Waltham Waterworks Company Ltd.”, the principal promoter of which was Charles Liddell Simpson, civil engineer, of London. The works consisted of a shallow well in the Chalk and pumping station situated in a dis-used chalk-pit at Northbrook, about half a-mile north of the Town, together with a service reservoir at Vernon Hill, a little further away, and holding about 183,000 gallons.
In 1914 the Undertaking was acquired by the then South Hants Waterworks Company, but this in turn was purchased in 1921 by the Southampton Corporation. By the Gosport Act of 1940, the Bishop’s Waltham supply was in 1941 transferred to the Company, the purchase price being £11,170. As the original pumping plant had become obsolete, a connection was made in 1942, by which the greater part of Bishop’s Waltham was supplied from the Shedfield Reservoirs, and an existing small borehole at the Northbrook Works was brought into use, from which water was pumped by means of electrically driven plant to the Vernon Hill Reservoir for the supply to the higher parts of the locality.
Later developments at Northbrook
Up to 1904 the Company’s Area of Supply was confined to the then Gosport and Alverstoke Urban District, about six square miles.
The first extension took place under its Act of 1904, by which were added the adjoining Parish of Crofton (since 1932, Crofton Ward in the Fareham Urban District), together with a separate Area to the north of Fareham, comprising the Parishes of Wickham, Shedfield and Swanmore, all in the Droxford Rural District, thus increasing the Area to 28 square miles. These Parishes were subsequently supplied from the first Shedfield Reservoir.
A second extension was authorized by its Act of 1940, which added the Parishes of Boarhunt, Bishop’s Waltham and part of the Parish of Durley, all in the Droxford Rural District; this increased the Area to 38t square miles. With the exception of the higher parts of Bishop’s Waltham (supplied from Vernon Hill Reservoir) they were also supplied from the two Shedfield Reservoirs.
A third extension was made under its Order of 1951, which added most of the remaining Meon Valley Parishes, namely, Corhampton, Droxford, Exton, Soberton, Warnford and West Meon, together with the Parish of Upham to the north of Bishop’s Waltham, all in the Droxford Rural District. Thus the Area of Supply became 77 square miles. At that time the only existing piped supply in these Parishes was at West Meon, where in 1939 the Droxford Rural District Council had introduced a supply to the village from a small borehole in the Chalk at Vinnell’s Lane with an electrically operated pumping station and reservoir. Under the Order this was transferred to the Company.
One of the effects of the very rapid increase in demand during the War was to cause an excessive drop in the day-pressure of the supply in Gosport; it had also been necessary on occasion during droughty periods to impose restrictions on the use of water. At first it was thought that this situation would right itself after the War with a marked decrease in the requirements by Government Establishments and industrial users. In the outcome, however, these supplies fell off only to a slight extent; moreover, a substantial increase was to be expected due to large housing schemes being developed by the Borough Council and by the Fareham Urban District Council. In consequence, the Company decided on an extensive programme of new works, which was carried out in the period 1953-56.
To safeguard the main supply a second electrically-driven pumping set with a daily capacity of 3 million gallons was installed at the Soberton Works, together with a diesel-driven power unit as standby. Consequently, the remaining steam driven pumping plant hitherto relegated to stand-by use, was finally superseded; it had pumped water to supply for the last time in 1952. The second old engine, transferred from Foxbury in 1907, and the “Worthington” engine were removed in 1953, and the “Uniflow” engine in 1957. Thus ended the use of steam, raised by coal-fired boilers as source of power at the Soberton Works.
To improve and regulate the pressure in the Gosport area an intermediate service reservoir and water tower on the line of the gravitation mains from the Shedfield Reservoirs were constructed at Hoads Hill, about a mile south of Wickham; the reservoir has a capacity of about 2,000,000 gallons. An additional gravitation main (18-inch reducing to 15-inch) was laid there from into Gosport.
A large borehole was sunk at the Northbrook Works, which proved to have a daily yield of about 1 million gallons. As this quantity was much in excess of local requirements, it was decided to use it for the main supply by laying a I5-inch pumping main therefrom to the Hoe Works, where, by a connection to the existing main, water could be delivered direct to the Shedfield Reservoirs. Since the local conditions seemed favourable to producing even more water, a second borehole was sunk, which proved to have a daily yield of 11/2 million gallons. The Northbrook Works thus became a valuable addition to the Company’s water resources.
As to the extension of the rural supplies for the Parishes added by the Act of 1951, many parts were too high to be served from the existing Shedfield Reservoirs. For the supply to Upham a service reservoir holding 200,000 gallons was constructed at Street End on Stephen’s Castle Down, about two miles north of Bishop’s Waltham, water being boosted thereto from the Vernon Hill Reservoir. For the supply to the Meon Valley Parishes a service reservoir holding 200,000 gallons was constructed at Fir Down, about a mile north-west of Droxford, water being pumped thereto direct from the Soberton Works.
In 1956-57 the existing supply to West Meon from the nearby independent works was safeguarded by the provision of a second borehole and pumping plant.
A Short Review
The Company ceased to be an independent Undertaking in 1955, when it united with the Portsmouth Water Company.
The Portsmouth Water Company was established as the Borough of Portsmouth Waterworks Company in 1857, and the Gosport Waterworks Company in 1858. But since the latter had actually begun the construction of its first Works at Bury Cross in 1857, it is justifiable to regard the two Companies, now united, as having attained their Centenary in the same year, 1957.
Thus the final chapter of this History comes to an end at an appropriate and significant stage in the development of the Portsmouth and Gosport Water Supply. It is a record of a long sustained and worthwhile service to the local community, promoted by local private enterprise.