Opposition to the Thirsk District Water Company scheme and Act of Parliament 1879


(Bernie Eccleston is researching a book about the Thirsk District Water Company and would be very please to hear from anyone who remembers the company or has any information about it.)

He presented a well received talk on the subject to Thirsk Museum Society on 22 October 2002.

What is clear is that the scheme was immediately hit by a debilitating double whammy:-

The parties on opposing sides were close associates - socially and commercially - in many cases fellow members of the same small Falcon Masonic Lodge. Nevertheless, they each chose to pursue an expensive, time consuming and very public argument locally, in the newspapers; bill posting; enormous petitions; at the House of Commons and ultimately the House of Lords.

A large proportion of residents were involved on one side or the other and the newspapers carried articles for or against day after day and week after week.

Henry Smith was very close to his brother Reginald Bell (Chairman of the Thirsk District Water Co.) and acted as his agent, but that didn't stop him continuing to oppose the scheme, even ten years after the reservoir went into use.

This was a private company scheme after the heyday of such schemes. The majority of water schemes at the time were undertaken by local authorities. It was also unusual in being opposed. It was part of a group of gas and water orders through parliament, all the others of which had their objections withdrawn before the parliamentary stage. The Lords Select Committee debate transcripts still exist at the House of Lords. The peers can only have looked on in amazement at the bizarre spectacle.

The leading opponent was Adam Carlisle Bamlett who had also been the founder of the scheme. He turned his back on this, his own scheme to gather surface water at Boltby and pipe it to Thirsk. Instead he proposed, now in opposition, to collect spring water, without a reservoir, at Kepwick, and pipe that to Thirsk.

Other opponents variously:-

In some cases objection might have been down to personal animosity; religious bigotry; individuals anxious to follow and impress their employers/ customers and, innevitably for Thirsk, a substantial number bribed with drink.

Ultimately, however, there was no real, fully developed, alternative scheme, and the Local Authority - a sprawling Rural Sanitary Authority whose majority of members did not want to incur substantial expense for a water supply that only a very few concentrated in Thirsk would be able to use - was not prepared to promote its own. There was an imperative to provide an alternative to the insanitary Cod Beck and wells. An amended scheme passed into law and work commenced.

Very few consumers agreed to take the water untill the Thirsk wells had been condemned and closed into the the twentieth century. The company was unable to pay a realistic dividend - usually no dividend at all - to the ordinary shareholders. It ultimately had to adopt a variant of Bamlett's Kepwick scheme and was ever dogged by leakage, failure and fault of the Boltby Dam.

Although the Water Company was proud of its wartime record; massively increasing capacity with limited resources to supply the many airfields established in the area by the Air Ministry; it was a complete basket case by the time what was left of its operation was nationalised into the Ryedale Joint Water Board in 1964. The Boltby dam and treatment works had been condemned. After a major public scare when the water in the pipes was declared unfit, Thirsk District Water Company had to buy wholesale from neighbouring water undertakings for all its customers.

A company born into controversy passed away in equal fury. The private undertaking, nationalised in 1964 has since reverted into a larger private operation. All that is obviously left of the Thirsk District Water Company Limited, and the monumental squabbles, are a few cast iron TDWC line markers - and a splendid fishing lake at Boltby.

Fortunately, I was born in 1964, after the plant was condemned. I never had to drink that "filthy Boltby water".

1879 documents:-

Address to the rural sanitary authority
Poster opposing the Thirsk Water Scheme
Notification of request to convene sanitary authority
Analysis of the Kepwick water and comparison
Statement for the scheme in the House of Lords
Petition to House of Commons opposing scheme
Extract from York Daily Herald
Case by opposition to the House of Commons
Poster opposing the Thirsk Water Scheme
Petition of inhabitants opposing scheme in House of Lords
Thirsk District Water Company Limited prospectus
Confirmation of Vestry minutes
Letter from A C Bamlett to Henry Smith
Letter from A C Bamlett to Henry Smith
Letter from Dysons to Henry Smith
Letter from Swarbreck asking for all the objections
Vestry minutes opposing Thirsk Water Scheme
Thomas Coltman affidavit
Reverend Camidge affidavit
Request to convene Board of Guardians
Petition to the Board of Guardians
Subscription list opposing the water scheme