Water, water everywhere : A History of the Water Supply of Langcliffe

Harold Foxcroft


The effects of the social conditions of the 19th century on the health of the general population are well known. Quoted figures for death rates such as 22 per annum per 1,000 in the 1840s do not convey reality in the same way as examples such that 75% of those buried in Settle Churchyard between 1839-1849 had not reached the age of 40. It is also well known that the Victorians and Edwardians made great efforts to improve this. Equivalent figures for Settle Churchyard in the 1960s show that only 4.5% of burials were by then people under 40; 60% of burials were of those between 70 and 90 years of age (NCHT Journal 2000).

Several areas of improvement of Public Health were responsible. There was preventive treatment such as immunisation and vaccination and isolation and disinfection of persons and environments affected by contagious diseases. Improvements to water supply quality and treatment of sewage also played a tremendous role in the attack on disease. The parliamentary Victorians made several attempts to introduce effective Public Health measures, with mixed success until the passing of three parliamentary Acts - Local Government Board Act 1871, Public Health Act 1872 and the very important Public Health Act of 1875. The first of these established the Local Government Board, thereby eliminating the split control between the Poor Law Board and the combined responsibility of the Home Office and the Privy Council for Public Health legislation. The second mapped the districts of England and defined clearly who was responsible for Public Health control. The last laid down the duty and mechanism for the emerging District and City Councils to provide adequate water supplies and sewage systems for the greater part of the population. Councils were enabled to borrow money to finance their schemes following examination by the Local Government Board followed by a Public Inquiry.

Settle Rural District

The Board of Guardians, and then the Council of the very extensive Settle Rural District, followed the large cities and urban districts in providing the infrastructure of water and sewage systems for its townships from the 1890s onwards. The West Riding Medical Officer of Health had reported on the Sanitary Condition of the District in 1897. Most of the townships had water supply schemes planned and implemented by about 1906. Ingleton was the first in 1902, followed by Keasden, Burton, Bentham, Settle (Upper reservoir), Austwick, and Airton/ Scosthrop/ Hellifield. Clapham had a satisfactory supply from the Farrer Estate.

Langcliffe, although its Parish Meeting urged the District Council to prepare a scheme in 1895, only achieved a proper supply in October/ November 1914. The reasons for the delay tell an intriguing story of how the land owners could influence and delay progress, purporting to minimise cost, but actually increasing cost due to delay.

As stated in the West Riding 1897 report, Langcliffe's supply was from a spring feeding the fountain, from which water had to be carried. Although the spring supplied 2,700 gallons per day during normal flow, the tank feeding the fountain was only 530 gallons in capacity. Even allowing for a consumption of only 6 gallons per head, a daily supply of some 3,000 gallons was required. It is hardly surprising that the fountain dried up frequently during the summer. There was another spring near the School that fed a tank and water was piped from there to the house called Bowerley. (Bowerley was occupied by Dr F E Atkinson, the Medical Officer of Health to the District Council).

The chronology of the implementation of the supply is summarised below. The proposed scheme took water from a spring at Cowside, holding it in a reservoir of 22,500 gallons capacity and feeding it by 4" and 3" cast iron pipes via Winskill down to the Langcliffe/ Stainforth Road and thence to the village.

The chronology reveals that the main stumbling block was Hector Christie, the owner of the mill and therefore a major local employer. He commissioned a report from a Chesterfield water engineer suggesting an alternative supply, but gaugings of flow had been carried out over many years by the Council and it could be shown that the supply was barely adequate for present needs. There was much delay in the decision-making. Finally the owner of the Cowside Spring (Cllr W Hunter), in exasperation, withdrew his offer to sell the land and spring in January 1910.

Design Considerations

The Council's Cowside scheme was based on springs of sustainable high flow, so high that the reservoir was much smaller than might normally be expected. The new Settle Upper tank was of 3 million gallons capacity, very different from the one of 22,500 gallons proposed for Langcliffe.

It was assumed that for the existing population, and using the then standard assumed consumption of 20 gallons per person per day, some 11,600 gallons per day was required. Measurements over many years showed that these springs provided a minimum of 10,600 gallons in 24 hours (and sometimes more than 70,000 gallons). Thus a reservoir of 22,500 gallons could provide the shortfall (1,000 gallons) above the minimum yield for 22 days without drying up.

In contrast the springs in the Christie scheme would fall short of requirements in drought conditions by 5,000 gallons daily, requiring a reservoir of 209,000 gallons to match the Council scheme.


A number of problems required resolution before the work started, even after submission of the plan to the Local Government Board, which drew attention to certain aspects of the design of the scheme. For example, a pressure-reducing valve was incorporated at the point where the pipeline dropped rapidly from the plateau near Winskill to Howson Lane. The Local Government Board required that pipes having a thicker wall be used at this point in case of failure of the reducing valve. The changes required increased the cost by 75.

Further problems arose following the serving of the Statutory Notices on the owners and tenants of the lands concerned. The notice to Mr George Arthur Paley, of Ampton Hall in Suffolk, who owned much estate in Langcliffe, regarding the relevant parts of the route produced a response from his agents, Strutt & Parker saying that he was considering selling part of the estate and asking for early setting up of wayleave agreements before the auction. The Clerk to the RDC quickly informed him that no such wayleave agreement was required. It also revealed that Craven Lime Works, which already leased the existing quarry, were intending leasing further land from Mr Paley to extend the quarry. The planned pipeline would cross this. Plans were revised to divert the pipeline from this area and this would add 400 yards to its length and some 200 to its cost.

As the chronology shows, the supply was finally completed in 1914, at 550 over budget, most of which arose from this diversion.

This article is a summary of source material that is too extensive for inclusion here. It has been digitally scanned and has been stored in PDF format, readable on a PC by the Acrobat Reader programme. The Acrobat Reader programme is available from the Adobe web site (www.adobe.com) or as Freeware on many discs provided by computer magazines.

The material includes the West Riding report of 1897, the submission by the SRDC to the Local Government Board, the report commissioned by Hector Christie, the notices and plans served on the owners and tenants, the map of the pipeline and other material. The result has been placed on a CD-Rom, copies of which can be obtained from the author of the article at 4, Bankwell Close, Giggleswick, SETTLE, BD24 0BX for the basic cost of the materials concerned.

Chronology of the Langcliffe Supply

1895 Parish Meeting urged District Council to appoint Engineer to prepare scheme.

Preston and Johnson of Bradford carried out survey and recommended using spring at Cowside
Parish Meeting approved and requested District Council to proceed. (Cost estimated at 1400)
Tenants approved, but land owners recommended piped supply from fountain to stand pipes as a temporary measure.

1897 Parish Meeting objected to stand pipe scheme and requested District Council to proceed. District Council thought it desirable to try stand pipes.
County Medical Officer of Health for WRCC reports poor and polluted supply in Langcliffe.
1898 Stand pipes as requested by property owners provided. Realised that scheme was not satisfactory and Surveyor asked to take gaugings from springs. This was carried out continuously to 1907.
1905 Surveyor puts three alternative routes to Cllr Hunter of PC. 1. Along Pike Lane. 2. Down to road and along (eventually used). 3. Down to Stainforth via Goat Scar Lane and along road.
1907 Surveyor submitted scheme based on Cowside spring. Parish Council approved and asked District Council to proceed. Provisional agreement entered into for purchase of land, spring and easements for 200.
1908 Parish Council have plans put before them and Hector Christie asks that matter stand over to allow him to examine scheme as he thought there was a cheaper alternative.
Christie pays for Mr Frith, a water engineer from Chesterfield to prepare alternative scheme. The prepared scheme proposed obtaining water from Cow Close and Prestons Spring on the hill behind the village.
1909 Parish Meeting resolved that in their opinion an adequate supply could be obtained from the hill behind the village. If the District Council disagreed, they should not proceed until fuller tests had taken place.
The Surveyor's gauging showed that the Cowside scheme was the only reliable one. Mr Christie suggested that a supply could be obtained more cheaply from the Settle & Giggleswick supply. Examination of this showed that could not be done without augmentation of that source.
1910 Letter from Mr Hunter (owner of Cowside) withdrew offer to sell on any terms. Possibility of augmenting the Settle & Giggleswick supply from Stockdale examined but this would be more expensive than local scheme. Negotiations continued. (Water diviner attempts to find another source)
1911 Absence abroad of some parties delayed further negotiations.
1912 Cowside owner (Hunter) finally agrees sale of spring, land and easements for 400.
Midland Railway agrees to the crossing of the railway by pipeline. (5s/p.a. suggested, Railway suggest 1/15/-Agreed at 1 year).
1913 Local Government Board Inquiry arranged, requesting loan of 2,250 for the works. Changes required amendment of amount to 2325.

Tenders sought and contracts placed for work in three sections.
Contract 1 - Paper Mill to village - Wm. Hayton of Settle - 218
Contract 2 - Cowside to Paper Mill - Wm Hayton of Settle - 446
Contract 3 - Service reservoir at Cowside - Messrs Brassington & Corney of Settle - 440.
Clerk of Works appointed - Mr P S Barstow of Huddersfield
Due to death of Cowside owner (Hunter) reservoir was built in absence of legal completion of purchase.
Work completed Oct/ Nov 1914
Expenditure over budget of 2325 was 541, of which 260 was additional expenditure due to extra pipe length round proposed quarry extension.

(fountain pictured page 20)