The Glasgow Water Supply

The Blane Valley is the final stage of what justifiably can be called one of the greatest civil engineering achievements of the 19th Century. In an effort to eradicate cholera from the City of Glasgow, the Lord Provost, Robert Stewart, appointed a Committee of Enquiry to find an adequate and reliable source of clean water to serve the growing needs of an ever-burgeoning population. Various schemes were mooted including the use of Craigallian Loch as a possible source. However, with considerable foresight, the scheme to use Loch Katrine and surrounding lochs was decided on. The Bill to enable this received the Royal Assent on the 2nd July 1855.

Work commenced on the 20th May 1856 and was carried on with so much vigour that it was completed in 3½ years, a remarkable feat in the days before pneumatic machinery. On the 14th October 1859, Queen Victoria accompanied by the Prince Consort, members of her family and many dignitaries, opened the sluice, which admitted the water of Loch Katrine to the aqueduct. On the 28th December 1859, the first water from Loch Katrine was introduced to the city and by March 1860, the supply was city wide, putting a halt to the pumping engines which for the past 50 years had drawn water from the River Clyde for the city. The entire aqueduct was fed by gravity and cost £468,000 (just over £18,000 per mile).

The Construction

The construction of the Loch Katrine water supply was a major undertaking. The number of people employed in the construction of the works, exclusive of iron-founders and mechanics, was estimated to be about 3,000. Huts, offices, roads and sleeping accommodation had to be provided for most of them, given the inhospitable nature of the country. Three valleys had to be crossed: the Duchray, the Endrick and the Blane. Use was made of the railways and the roads in the area to transport pipes and for the last two miles a temporary railway had to be constructed and even then the pipes had to be dragged up steep slopes by block and tackle.

To cross the Blane, three feet pipe was laid down. At the northern or upper ends of the piping across each of the valleys there is a sluice house with sluices on each end of the pipes so that should one of the pipes burst, only the line to which it belongs is shut off and emptied for repairs, while the supply to the reservoir at Mugdock is maintained by other lines. The aqueduct follows the east side of the Blane Valley. A bridge was constructed up near Haggles Cottage with eight small arches. A little further is the one known as Ballewan Bridge with two arches, each with a 50-foot span, which carries the aqueduct at a height of 80 feet above the bed of the stream. All these bridges were covered with light cast iron beams and arches of cement to afford a secure passage for the watchmen and to exclude snow and leaves. Along these five miles of the aqueduct there are a few tunnels, the principal one being opposite Duntreath Castle. Near the twenty-third mile, the aqueduct passes the south side of the Blane Valley by cast iron pipes. The length of these pipes is nearly three-quarters of a mile. The remaining portion of the aqueduct is a tunnel of one and a half miles long, which discharges into Mugdock Reservoir.

The First Aqueduct supplied Mugdock Reservoir. As Glasgow and the surrounding area grew so did the demand for water. In 1885 there was a further Act of Parliament, which resulted in the Second Aqueduct being built to supply Craigmaddie Reservoir. This Second Aqueduct was completed in 1896.

Several interesting photographs, shared with Strathblane Heritage by Angus Graham, record the building of the aqueducts at Cantywheery. The first, taken in 1887 shows water being emptied from the First Aqueduct in 1887 through a discharge sluice, created to carry out maintenance on the adjoining section of the pipe.

A second shows the temporary railway constructed near Cantywheery Cottage to bring in materials for the construction of the Second Aqueduct. Two others photographs show the actual construction, employing cranes, pulleys and horses.

The temporary railway built at Cantywheery to bring in materials for the construction of the Second Aqueduct, which began in 1885. The man in the foreground is Peter Clark, who worked on the Ballewan estate. Behind are Angus Graham’s grandfather, circuit judge John Cameron Graham and his Aunt Peggy, aged six.

One of the reasons that the Second Tunnel took so long was the construction of the cut-off trench for Craigmaddie Reservoir. The First Aqueduct is 25¾ miles long and the Second Aqueduct 23½ miles.

When Scottish Water’s former West of Scotland offices in Balmore Road were being closed, a number of Victorian glass photograph slides of the construction of the Second Aqueduct in the 1880s were retrieved from a skip. Here are three of them:

Excavations for the Second Aqueduct
Steam engines and horse power were used to transport the materials
Tunnelling through rock for the Second Aqueduct

Benefits from the Construction Works

The construction of the Second Aqueduct between 1885 and 1896 brought prosperity to the parish. By the time building commenced the Printworks were beginning to lay off people as the industry began to decline The arrival of people into the village who would no doubt patronise village shops etc. must have been a much needed boost for the parish’s economy. On the strength of this David McGregor built his shop (now Coffee at the Wilsons) and opened it in 1895. While business boomed initially, it dropped off after the completion of the tunnel and for some time Mr McGregor had great difficulty staying in business.

The Navvies

For others, the presence of the navvies was seen as a source of willing labour. The navvies were instrumental in building St. Kessog’s Roman Catholic Church in 1893. Many of them were Irish Catholics. After the completion of the Church, Father Foley the first priest, announced that Mistress Muir, a local widow, wanted help with the building of a house at Crosshill. It was made clear that there would be no payment but barrels of beer would be freely available! The house was completed in 1894 and was later owned by the Water Board.

St Kessog’s Church and Chapel House
Crosshill Cottage, Glasgow Road, Blanefield. Widow Muir’s house and shop (27-29 Glasgow Road)

However, the presence of so many men living in temporary accommodation brought its own problems. Concern was expressed about the insanitary conditions of the bothies or “The Huts” as they were also known by the Public Officer for Health. These Huts were located in the area where the football field is now and were registered as a Lodging House for the use of the navvies working on the water tunnel. The 1891 Census also records a number of Irish navvies living in the Dumbrock Works, a printworks built in the same area but never used for printing. The Forth Annual Report by the Medical Officer of Health recorded that in 1891 there were 485 such workers and in 1894 235. The Parish Council also had to deal with applications for poor relief from the workers living there.

Drunken incidents were common. On a Saturday night the locals would walk down to what is now the football field for an evening’s entertainment watching the Navvies fighting after drinking their pay. The local policeman was kept busy trying to ensure that the drunken brawls in the Netherton and Kirkhouse Inns did not get out of hand but usually with little success.

Water Supply for the Printworks, Bleachfields & Milndavie Mill

According to John Guthrie Smith, nearly 150 acres of the parish are covered with water. They are Lochs Ardinning, Carbeth, Craigallian, Mugdock,Deil’s Craig and Dumbroch (or Ebbie’s as it is popularly known). Ebbie’s and Deil’s Craig were enlarged to act as reservoirs to provide water for the Printworks. The Punchbowl and Wattie’s Dam are both mill dams. Guthrie Smith records that James Smith of Craigend, who was noted for his zeal for improvements, bought Milndavie Mill at the beginning of the 19th century. As well as improving the mill, he set about adding to the storage capacity of the mill dams by raising embankments at Dumbroch Loch, Deil’s Craig and Loch Ardinning. This ensured a steady supply of water, controlled by sluices, for both the mill and the Dumbrock Bleachfields, which also depended on a plentiful water supply. The late Arthur Muir recalled stories of the sluice man going up to the various dams to open up the sluices.

The water from these dams flows down various streams into lades. Near the water shafts on the Gowkstane track is a lade known as the “Dookie”. The burn that flows through the Dookie is known as the Tealeaf Burn because of the colour of the water. It in turn flows into the Raggie Burn then into the Blane Water. In the grounds of Netherblane is a small loch which links into a mill lade. The sluice operating this can still be seen leading into Netherblane from the Blane Water.

Water, Water Everywhere but…

There is a great irony about the story of Strathblane and the aqueducts that pass through the parish. They brought clean water to the citizens of Victorian Glasgow but not to most of the denizens of the parish of Strathblane. In 1891, more than 30 years after the grand opening of the First Aqueduct, John McVail, Stirling County’s first Medical Officer of Health, noted that water in Strathblane came from the Blane Burn and was obtained from pillar wells on streets or backyards. Only four houses had the luxury of a piped supply. There were numerous complaints about rotting filth and its link to various infectious diseases. The community’s sewage works were not completed until the 1950s. Despite this, the parish became a popular destination for holiday-makers in the early 20th century!

Medical Officer of Health Report, 1891

From the Stirling Journal and Stirling Observer newspapers it appears that a supply of water first came to at least part of the Netherton area in 1881 with the opening of the Strathblane Water Works and the construction of the local reservoir in May of that year but none of the houses had piped water. And all the outlying properties relied on local supplies from lochs and mill dams on Dumbroch Muir or streams and springs in the Campsies. The exception was Duntreath Castle, which had a direct feed from the First Aqueduct installed in the 1860s, though it retained a private supply from the Campsies.

Glasgow Road, Blanefield, showing the hydrant at St Kessog’s Well and Davy McGregor’s shop (right)

The parish’s modern water supply is a complex jigsaw. The Burncrooks Reservoir in the Kilpatrick Hills was completed in 1915 though it was some time before the pipework reached the Blane Valley. In 2023 it is still the main water source for the community, though this is about to change. In 2019 Scottish Water announced that the community would be part of a £30m project to transfer the water supply from Burncrooks to Milngavie Water Treatment Works in order to meet modern water quality standards and improve water security. This work is due to finish by April 2024.

In the Edenkiln area of Strathblane and most of the properties along Campsie Road, water is supplied by the treatment works at Balmore, which opened in the year 2000. Balmore draws some of its supply from Loch Lomond.

Meanwhile, the Carron Valley Reservoir, which opened in 1939, now provides for most of the properties along the A81, north of Blanefield, including Duntreath Castle. “Around 1960 the pipes that had given us the Loch Katrine supply were getting corroded and we decided it would be easier to switch to the Carron supply,” explains Sir Archibald Edmonstone. The castle still uses water from one of the Campsie streams to fill ponds on the estate.

Older members of the community have vivid memories of growing up in households where clean water was never taken for granted. In 1953 Wylma  Dunbar and her parents moved into their new bungalow on Old Mugdock Road:

“There was a big water tank in the roof space. The supply came from Ebbie’s Loch. There were filters on the taps. They were quite fine but we still had to put in cotton wool to catch the wee beasties. Otherwise you got little worms and tiny fish coming out of the tap! Even though it was filtered, it was a weird colour. It made terrible tea! And we weren’t too chuffed about it when Charlie the elephant from Craigend Zoo used to get taken to Ebbie’s for a swim by his keeper! In summer when the supply went down low, I would bring water home from my office in Glasgow or there was a well at the entrance to Muirhouse Farm and I’d have to go across the field with buckets to fetch it.”

Annette Hughes lived at Cantywheery Cottage during the Second World War. She remembers:

“Our water supply then was a pipe to a trough straight off the hills behind . My great grandfather used to go up the hill regularly to check all was OK. The ironic thing was there was a valve from the main Glasgow water supply not 100 yards from the house! Happy days and it did me no harm as I’m still fairly healthy.”

Stan Kulwicki, whose cottage in Campsie Dene is right next door to the grandiose Victorian valve house built to service the Loch Katrine supply, got his own water from a spring until 2017!

“I’d lost the supply once before when there was a landslip in the Campsies but I managed to locate an underground spring and reconnect it. I miss it now. I hate the taste of treated water!”

And, as the Rev Philip McCardel pointed out in his portrait of Strathblane parish written in 1951 (The Third Statistical Account):

There is a touch of irony in the fact that, at Mugdock, which overlooks the Milngavie reservoir, some houses had until very recently no water laid on, so that their inhabitants had to carry it from a well in a nearby field. A plan is projected to supply the district from the Carron valley, but this supply has not yet reached the parish. For the new houses con­structed between Mugdock and Strathblane there is at the moment no supply of tapped water.”

In 2023 several properties on the Duntreath Estate, including Easter Arlehaven and Blairquhosh still get their water supplies from local springs. And on the Ballewan Estate, Cantywheery Cottage, featured above in our photographs of the construction of the Second Aqueduct in 1893, also continues to gets its water from a spring on the hill above.

Of course, the first recorded spring-fed water supply in the parish was St Kessog’s Well, now in the garden of Kessogbank (60 Glasgow Road). On balance, it seems rather unlikely that the 6th Century Irish missionary ever used it but it was an important water source for the local population for many centuries. It is first mentioned in a 1570 Court of Session decree defining the boundaries of the Ballewan estate, which mentions “ane well callit Sanct Makkessokis well”. Long-term local resident Willie Wallace reports that its waters were once piped down to the village pump in Netherton through a number of hollowed out tree trunks. Today only a dilapidated half-concealed stone plaque on Glasgow Road, which marks where its waters enter the drainage system, reminds us of a time when clean water did not flow from a tap into every home.

Stone plaque on Glasgow Road marking where the waters of St Kessog’s Well enter the drainage system

Thanks to Dr Doug Bertram, Faculty of Engineering, University of Strathclyde for advice and guidance

©Strathblane Heritage 2023



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