The great competition and the right to supply the city of Bristol with water…
New offices and works yards were established to replace the by now cramped work spaces on Small Street.
The First World War saw as with the rest of society male staff departing for the front and with that the first female presence in the office of the Bristol Water Works Company. War inevitably hit the company hard, but the staff and Board could not fully let it preoccupy against business as usual and the pressing need to secure more water resources.
Two years after the war, works began on sourcing water from the Cheddar Springs with associated pumping to take the water to Blagdon. The foresight of the Cheddar Scheme and subsequent construction of Cheddar Reservoir proved timely with the post-war expansion of houses on demand. The final part of the Cheddar works, connecting the reservoir to Barrow was completed ten years later.
This year saw renewed attempts to investigate public appetite for the incorporation of Bristol Water Works into the civic corporation with the establishment of a committee under the corporation’s authority. The resulting report issued in 1934, no doubt to the disappointment of the corporation, concluded “that the steps taken by the company to safeguard the water supply would meet with general appreciation by the citizens, and that the situation did not provide occasion for pursuing further the question of purchase”.
Once again, the staff of Bristol Water Works Company were all too soon fighting another war. The increasing mechanisation of the Second World War brought the war fronts closer to home. On the one night alone on 24 November 1940, amongst the destruction on the streets and to homes, some 95 water mains were damaged. When enemy invasion seemed a reality, hundreds of rafts made of tree trunks were placed on the company’s reservoirs at Cheddar, Barrow and Blagdon to prevent the alighting of enemy aircraft. Throughout the war, all staff dutifully played their part to company and country, working all hours to restore supply often with little regard to personal safety. Despite best efforts, many parts of the city were without water supply. A survey was conducted by Bristol Water Works Company to locate the old medieval wells and conduits as an emergency measure, research which subsequently proved of significant historical value after the war.
1945 – The Water Act of 1945
marked a major milestone in the development of the water sector. Prior to 1945, separate Acts of Parliament were required to permit the undertaking of any major works, but the Water Act changed the requirements governing water suppliers and extended and formalised duties to include conversation and appropriate management and use of sources.
10 July 1946 – 1946
was the centenary of the Bristol Water Works Company, and to mark the celebrations, the Lord Mayor of Bristol cut the first sod to commence the construction of Chew Valley Reservoir/ The reservoir had been granted under the 1939 Act, but due to the war and the reallocation of company resources, it necessitated, construction had been postponed and permission to begin the scheme properly was only given in 1950. Post-war housing developments and reconstruction kept all staff busy in an effort to return to “normal”.
The era of expansion…
The Public Utilities Street Works Act formalised working relations between local authorities and utilities. The company, again, sought new offices to reflect the war damage.
The initial filling of Chew Reservoir began on 6 November 1953 with the scheme reaching completion in 1954.
The Queen inaugurated Chew Valley Lake on 17 April, alongside the Duke of Edinburgh in front of an audience of 1000 guests, an event marking the first royal opening of one of the company’s works.
In response to petrol rationing as a result of the Suez Canal crisis, working hours of staff were changed to avoid unnecessary fuel wastage whilst queuing in heavy traffic – even back then congestion was an issue!
The 50s were characterised as an era of expansion as Bristol Water Works acquired in quick succession many of the neighbouring urban and rural district council water supply organisations and their respective supply areas. The largest acquisition was the combined takeover of West Gloucestershire Water Company on 1 July 1959, Shepton Mallet Waterworks Company on 1 January, Glastonbury Corporation on 1 April and Wells Rural District Company on 1 October, increasing both the supply area and population serviced by manifold.
It was remembered as the year of the rain, with both Blagdon and Cheddar at capacity and overflowing by the end of January. Whilst the summer was dry, the exceptionally heavy rain in October caused flooding in Somerset. The weather events of the year illustrated powerfully the lag effect of weather on reservoir levels and the seemingly ever-present need to develop new resources to meet growing demand. In response, Bristol Water in partnership with the British Transport Commission jointly promoted a Bill in 1959/60 to abstract water from the Sharpness Canal outside of Bristol Water’s supply area to the north. Royal ascent was received summer that year.
This year saw further alterations to the setup of works and depots with relocations and consolidations across the supply area, no doubt in response to the recent amalgamations of other undertakers. Most notable was chosen to this end with the big move occurring in 1963/64. Perhaps one of the most major challenges in the move was relocating the company’s calculator, weighing in at over one ton.
1961 - 1963
The winter of 1961/62 witnessed the prolonged cold spell over the Christmas of 1961 and January of 1962 when both Blagdon Reservoir and Chew Valley Lake froze over. The event, coined “Frostbite”, marked one of the biggest emergencies since the air raids of World War Two with burst and leak rates reaching record levels. 1962 held no rest bite with a frosty January and low rainfall throughout the year. 1963 concluded with a blizzard in December, known as the great freeze, in which the emergency responses of the company were again put to the test. 1963 also saw Royal Ascent of the Water Resource Act, which formally set out the requirement of water undertakers to protect, conserve and manage water resources.
This year saw the introduction of Littleton Treatment Works bringing more water into supply from the Sharpness Canal.
Saw the arrival of the new IBM 360 computer and the mammoth task of transferring records commenced. Sailing on Chew Valley Lake also commenced this year, although winter sailing was cut short due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
Activities in the early 1970s might now be termed the Long Walk and involved surveying the proposed route from Purton to Pucklechruch and resolving the many associated problems, contractual, technical and otherwise in order to bring more water into supply from Sharpness.
Following many months and years of preparation, the company adjusted to decimalisation and not only that metrication across the company’s equipment and records. Thoughts of reorganising the water industry with too many bodies thought to be responsible for water, rumbled although no changes at the time were proposed to statutory water companies.
Saw a more formal proposal on reorganisation of the industry with the passing of the new Water Act in 1973 with the consolidation of local water undertakers, sewerage authorities and river authorities into 10 Water Authorities. To note, however, Bristol Water as a statutory water company was to have no major change to its functioning.
When the water industry was restructured in 1973 into regional water authorities (the larger companies that were ultimately privatised in 1989), private water companies such as Bristol Water were allowed to continue to operate unchanged within this new national framework, because they performed well. When the Wessex Water Authority was founded its new Board and management included many people from Bristol Water, demonstrating the importance of a local connection that a privately financed company with a social focus already provided. Bristol Water also received a refund of its part in a new reservoir that helps support water supplies in the River Severn for many water customers, including in the area we serve, to this day.
Was remembered as a year of drought across the country, the driest for 150-200 years. Increased reliance was put on the Sharpness Canal as a supply of water at this time, as underground water supplies were significantly reduced and evaporation from surface water stores peaked. The national response was the Draught Act, passed in July that year, enabling Bristol Water to ban the use of hosepipes and sprinkles in order to curb demand. 1976 also witnessed and effective attempt to nationalise Bristol Water amongst the other 27 statutory water companies in an extension of the 1973 Act to integrate them with the 10 Water Authorities. The Board undertook all necessary measures to ensure this eventuality was not realised. Later that year, a White Paper was published, setting out that whilst not cancelled, the prospect of nationalisation did not have parliamentary support and was left to simmer.
witnessed the first national strike in the water industry, and whilst it was short, it evidenced the importance of all staff to maintaining what is an essential service. The year also marked a milestone in the formal offering of meters to domestic customers from 1 April with the new “water box”, with Bristol Water being the first undertaker to install the equipment at property boundaries.
Marked a major milestone in concluding the nationalisation debate with the Water Act of 1989 receiving Royal Ascent. In effect, the Act meant the ending of state-owned water authorities, and whilst Bristol Water was proudly never privatised, it removed for the foreseeable future the possibility of being brought into government control. Ten regional water and sewerage companies were privatised and Ofwat was created to monitor the sector.