A Brief History of Blackburn’s Ancient Water Supply Leading up to the Construction of
The Tank

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Compiled by Barbara Riding 1998
With help and Information from
    Rosemary Matheson
Additional photos; Robin Whalley

The Tale of a Tank – 100 years old! But what now?

Some notes on the history of the water supply in the Revidge area of Blackburn from

1. J. G. Shaw “Bits of old Blackburn” 1889.
2. J. G. Shaw “Blackburn Waterworks” 1891.
3. Margaret Riley “By a Babbling Brook” 1977.​

From the Blackburn Weekly Standard, May 14th 1898
the Tank Map008.jpgIn continuing our references to the old map of Blackburn dated 1820, we give this week a sketch of the original Pemberton Clough, which is now the present Corporation Park. It continued in a line to Snig Brook and Blakey Street, at that time a very important thoroughfare. The water sprang out of the rock, and formed a moderate sized mountain stream, running through a well-wooded copse or plantation.

The gathering ground of Blackburn’s ancient water supply was the hillside where the Corporation Park now stands, known as Pemberton Clough.
John Pemberton, who worked a farm there, gave the area its name.
Snig Brook emerged out of a rock on the hillside below Revidge and flowed through the Clough.
The small lake in the Clough earned its name Little Can because the inhabitants went to collect water from there with cans.
The large lake, Big Can was made by building up an embankment on the site of an old quarry.

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The Big and Little Can

The first waterworks for supplying Blackburn with water dates back to 1772.
Two small reservoirs lower down the Clough were constructed, one for filtering and one for storing water.
Pipes were made by boring holes through the centres of tree trunks and laying them end to end, and standpipes were set up at street corners.
In 1844 a small number of men banded together under the name of the Blackburn Waterworks Company. In 1845 a reservoir was constructed at Guide bringing water to it from Pickup Bank.
The highest point on Revidge is 718 feet above sea level, so the increasing population in that district could not get water from the town’s supply.

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Reservoir Coverd Over  By Blackburn Water Works

Blackburn Standard, Wednesday, July 7th 1875​​​
To the Editor
Sir – Now that the Waterworks are the property of the Corporation, and, now that we are having a foretaste of gloriously hot weather, it is time again and again to remind our local legislators of the immediate necessity there is for having the supply laid on the higher parts of the Borough, where there are hundreds of dwellings without water This most urgent work will not be a great expense, but no question of cost should prevent its being immediately done. No doubt the Corporation will see to it. We have not heard of any public procession of Turncocks and Watermen in honour of the event, but surely the Corporation will cause some suitable and joyful demonstration to be made in respect of having obtained this splendid property!  Some are even sanguine enough to say that the Water Tower and Observatory, suggested in your columns long ago, will be erected on Revidge, and that those who cannot afford to go to the sea side will be allowed the use of telescopes wherewith they can observe their friends as they emerge from their bathing machines at Blackpool, or eat shrimps on the more quiet foreshore at Lytham. This and the sea breeze, always distinctly to be felt on Revidge, when the wind in westerly will form another attraction in our rising town and increase the number of those who already by thousands visit our Park, as  a grand relief from the smoke of Accrington, Church and Harwood, or the pellucid streams of odoriferous Darwen.
Yours &c,

In 1877 it was decided to construct a High Level Service Reservoir at the top of the Corporation Park, which would be 722 feet above sea level.
The estimate given in round figures was £10,000.

Messrs Brierly and Holt, Civil Engineers were given the task of designing and carrying out the construction of the Reservoir. It would hold 500,000 gallons of water, pumped up by steam power from a well at Mile End, the well being supplemented by a supply of water coming through a pipe from Guide.
The work was completed in January 1879.​

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PRESENT – Mr. Councillor Taylor in the chair; Councillor Beads,


Messrs. Brierley & Holt submitted their account for professional services rendered by them in connection with the High Level Works; also a final report on the work, and an inventory of working plant at the pumping station, and it was
Resolved: That Messrs. Brierley & Holts account be paid, and that their report be adopted and entered on the minutes.

(copy report)

To The Water Committee,
We beg to present our Report upon these Works which are now completed and in operation, and which we propose to hand over to your care.

We have from time to time reported progress of the Works, and supplied particulars, and at your last meeting we were enabled to present the final Accounts, which were approved. Though much inconveniences and delay occurred in the completion of the Works, we have fortunately been able to avoid any difficulty as to the final settlement of the Contract and other Accounts.

The Works, including the Pumping Engine and Machinery, are in efficient order. Messrs. Yates’ term of maintenance of the Boiler, Engine and Pumping Machinery will expire on March 1st 1879, when, if all be found in efficient order, they will be entitled to payment of the Balance due to them, as per final Account already presented and approved by the Committee.

We present, herewith, a complete Inventory of the Working Plant, Tools, Loose Articles, &c., at the Pumping Station, for future reference.

The Reflux Valve for the Pumping Main, a drawing and particulars of price which we submitted at your last meeting, ought to be fixed at once, so as to prevent necessity of drawing off the water from the main in case of accident, and also to enable the Air Vessel to be properly charged from time to time.

We beg respectfully to present our own account for services in connection with this work from the commencement, and trust it will be approved. We shall be glad to supply any information you may desire respecting it.

We are, Gentlemen,
Yours Very Obediently,
Blackburn, Jany. 22nd, 1879.
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Blackburn Times April 6th 1879
The Reservoir above the battery in the Park is a rectangular chamber cut in the solid gritstone rock and then made watertight by a puddled floor and walls of substantial brickwork.
Now that the works are finished there is only one drawback, which is that the supply of water which flows from natural sources into the well at the pumping station is proving insufficient to keep the service reservoir at the top of the Park constantly filled, so as to supply all the houses upon the high level which will be dependant upon this service.

“Blackburn Waterworks” J.G. Shaw 1891
The level of the Reservoir is 722 feet, but as the highest point of Revidge is 718 feet, the taps in the Corporation Park Hotel and in the little toffy shops at the top of the Park  have to be placed near the floor of the kitchen or in the cellars and the flow of water is very slow indeed.
A legend I grew up which was that when work-men were digging on Revidge in order to build the tank, they found the Bronze Age cremation urn which is now in the Museum. However the 2 events are 18 years apart.
The only connection between them is that the man who found the urn in 1879, James Varley, 14 Revidge Road, is the same man who sold his land to the Corporation on which they built the tank.

Blackburn Times, Saturday 20th Sept. 1879
Mr Varley, snr of the firm Messrs Jas. Varley and Sons, marble mason, St. Peter’s St., has kindly presented to the Blackburn Museum the ancient British urn found by him on the summit of Revidge a few weeks ago.
The gift is most acceptable from its local historic interest, and will no doubt be fully appreciated by Mr Varley’s fellow townsmen.

Library and Museum Committee 17th Sept. 1879
The Committee thanks Messrs James Varley and Sons for their offer to present to the Museum the ancient British cinerary urn lately found by them on the summit of Revidge.

From the Council Minutes
Waterworks Committee 22nd March 1897
Resolved; That it be referred to the Sub-Committee to consider and report upon the scheme now submitted by the Water Engineer for supplying water to premises on Revidge Road.

26th April 1897
The Waterworks Sub-Committee beg to report in answer to reference No. 42, as follows:-
That they have considered the question of the water supply to premises on the higher portions of Revidge.

They are informed by the Water Engineer that there are at present 55 houses which can only be supplied with water to the ground floor, and there are 15 houses in the course of erection to which water can only be supplied to the cellars. The level of the service reservoir in the Corporation Park is 722 feet above ordnance datum, but a level of 756 feet above ordnance datum can be obtained on land belonging to Messrs. Jas. Varley and Sons, near the observatory at the north side of Revidge Road.

In accordance with the suggestions of the Water Engineer, the Sub-Committee make the following recommendations: - (1) that the Corporation approach Messrs. Jas. Varley and Son as to the terms upon which they will sell to the Corporation about 250 square yards of land at this elevation, and that subject to suitable terms being arranged, an iron tank capable of holding
“50,000 gallons, to be constructed on the land when purchased. 
(2) that a 6 inch main be laid from Brown Hill Toll Bar to Lower Wilworth. This will couple up the Bowland main with the Service Reservoir in the Corporation Park, and by this means water can be turned into the Service Reservoir by gravitation, and will be of great service in the case of a breakdown at the Mile End Pumping Station. 
(3) That a four inch main to be laid from Roe Lee Farm to Pleckgate in order to supply this district direct from the Guide Reservoir instead of from the Service Reservoir in the Corporation Park. 
(4) That it be an instruction to the Water Engineer to have the electric bell connecting the Service Reservoir in the Corporation Park with the Mile End Pumping Station, repaired.

The total estimate of the Water Engineer of the cost of these works in £725.
Dated the 23rd April, 1897. Robt. Thos. Eastwood, Chairman.

Waterworks Committee 24th May 1897
Land for Tank Reservoir at Revidge.
The Water Engineer reported that Messrs Varley were willing to sell a piece of land at Revidge containing about 250 sq.yds for the construction of an iron tank, capable of holding 50,000 gallons of water for the sum of £50.
Resolved: The price be agreed to and the Town Clerk complete the purchase.

26th July 1897
Resolved: That the tender of Ashton Frost and Company Ltd, for supplying and erecting iron tank reservoir on land on Revidge be accepted.

23rd August 1897
Resolved: That it be an instruction to the Water Engineer to have the supports of the proposed iron tank at Revidge strengthened, with a view of the public being admitted to the roof of the tank and to submit design of railings round the same. 

26th September 1897
Resolved: That Mr James Stead’s tender for erecting an iron staircase and railings on the water tank at Revidge be accepted.

Blackburn’s Waterworks Committee was very slow in providing an adequate water supply to Revidge. Immediately after the Corporation Park Reservoir was completed in January 1879, complaints were received about the slow flow of water and the inconvenience of having taps near the floor or in the cellars. Yet it wasn’t until 18 years later that they decided to do something about it.

I cannot find any information about what happened to the “Tank” after the staircase and railings were erected. It did become a viewing platform, of course and many a Sunday afternoon was spent sight-seeing with the aid of the plan engraved on the metal table there.

It’s strange to think that  Amphibly-us letter in the Blackburn Standard in 1875 came true. We couldn’t see people emerging from their bathing machines at Blackpool, but we could see the tower.

In 1940 the children in Standard IV at St. Silas’s School, were taken by their teacher, Mr Brown, to the top of the Park to visit the Tank. What a disappointment. Instead of an armoured vehicle with guns, into which we might have been allowed climb, it was just an enormous metal platform!


From the Report to the Chairman and members of the Water Committee 
From W.B. Bryan Esq. C.E. and the Borough Engineer re Water Supply Sept.1900.

Suggested Improvements in Distribution
High Level Su​pplies

1st… Revidge and District – The present pumping station was erected 22 years ago, over a borehole in the millstone grit. The yield of water from the borehole, which was 215 feet deep and 21in. diameter, was so small that the borehole was disused, and the main from Guide Reservoir was connected to an iron tank constructed in the well, and the water was then pumped into the covered reservoir in the Corporation Park. The capacity of this reservoir is 560,000 gallons, and the top water level 722 feet above ordnance datum.

This level being insufficient to supply some of the higher houses, a tank having a capacity of 50,000 gallons and a top water level of 757 feet above ordnance datum was subsequently constructed.
The Mile End Pumping Station has only one engine and one pump, and in case of a break-down the high level district supplied from there would be in a most serious condition as regards the water supply, and it might take many days before any adequate supply could be given.

In fact, we consider this matter of such vital importance that we recommend that immediate steps be taken to put the water supply of this high level district on a proper basis.
The Mile End Pumping Station is in a most inconvenient position for receiving a large supply of water from the Guide Reservoir, and difficulties have frequently arisen in connection therewith.
We have carefully considered the position of the Pumping Station, the means of supplying water from the large storage reservoirs to the pumps, and the delivery of the water thence to the high level reservoir in the Park and the higher tank adjoining, and we have come to the conclusion that the best and most economical scheme is to place the Pumping Station at the New Destructor Works in Throstle Street and to utilize, as far as practicable, the waste heat there for generating steam for the pumping machinery.

The water to be pumped could be taken from the Fishmoor Reservoir, and as the Destructor Works are at such a low level, there would never be risk, as at present, of the pumps being short of water. As the water from Fishmoor would be under considerable pressure, this would be utilized in reduction of the total lift, or in other ways.

We should recommend that a complete pumping plant in duplicate be put down, each engine being capable of raising half a million gallons in 12 hours to the high levels.
This work is more urgent than any other, and, if you sanction it, we would at once prepare all the necessary details as to engines, boilers, and mains, for your consideration.
We are, Gentlemen,
Your obedient Servants
5th September 1900

The Tank ceased to be used as a reservoir about 1978, so it is now empty and useless as far as its original purpose is concerned. I visited it recently and it is covered with graffiti and the iron staircase has fallen down.

I spoke on the phone to Sue Bell, secretary to Paul Holt, Water Supply Manager for East Lancs. When I mentioned the staircase she said that a structural survey had recently been made of the Tank and probably the staircase had been taken down to prevent anyone climbing on to it in its present condition.

Dorothy Whipple, writing in her autobiography “The Other Day” in 1936, talks about, “…family excursions in the evening to the top of the Tank, an unlovely reservoir, to catch a glimpse of the sea.”

It still is “an unlovely reservoir” and as Doug Chadwick, vice-chairman of the Civic Society said in the Citizen recently, “We could never get the Tank listed for its architectural qualities, but it is of great significance in the history of the town.”

Sept 9th 1990
Tank’s full of memories
Regarding the possible demolition of the “Revidge Tank” in Blackburn (LET , September 5) as a local history buff, I must say that I am most disappointed that the  council cannot see its way to take this over as it has always featured in the town’s history over the last 100 years.
Personally, for another reason, I am so disappointed because my grandfather and uncle both worked for its constructors, Ashton Frost, from 1890 to 1920. In the 1920’s, whenever we went up to the tank (below) we would be reminded who had constructed it. It was quite a family affair as my cousin and also my brother were also employed as trainee draughtsman, but unfortunately their jobs ceased in 1926 when Ashton Frost went bankrupt.
WILLIAM SELLERS, Grindleton Road, Blackburn

Think Tank
Action plan to save monument from scrapheap
By Steve Tinniswood
Blackburn Civic Society has drawn up a three-point plan of action to save one of the town’s historical monuments from the scrapheap.
The society has vowed to write to the local authority and English Heritage in an appeal to bring the century old Revidge Storage Reservoir back to its former glory.
At its recent meeting attended by Councillor John Williams, who is leading the campaign, members agreed to call on Blackburn with Darwen Council to have the tank included in the Corporation Park Conservation Area to serve its immediate future.

With concerns mounting due to the tanks level of deterioration, the society are also in the process of appealing to English Heritage to have it listed as a historical monument.
Members also want a meeting between all parties concerned – which include owners North West Water – to thrash out a way of finding funding to pay for repairs. The three metre high tank dates back to 1887 and at the height of its popularity, would be visited regularly by people who would climb to the top and use a giant bronze disc to pinpoint landmarks across the North West.
Doug Chadwick, vice chairman of Blackburn Civic Society, said: “We could never get the tank listed for its architectural qualities but it plays a very big significance in the history of the town and that is why we want to see some immediate action taken before it deteriorates even further.

Lancashire Evening Telegraph – Sept 5th 1990
Landmark: Last-ditch plea to save Victorian reservoir
Tank battle at tomb with view
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Plaque Removal: Doug Chadwick with the Society Blue Plaque
For Revidge Tank
Blackburn Civic Society today made a last-ditch plea to councillors to step in and save a historical landmark in the town.
Chairman Dough Chadwick spoke out after hearing the society had failed in its long-standing campaign to save the water tank in Revidge, which has a commanding view of the countryside.
The tank, built by Victorian engineers in 1897 to improve water supplies, is owned by North West Water.

Ironically, a historical site was destroyed when the reservoir was built – on the site of a Bronze Age burial mound dating from 1500 BC.
The tank was used as a vantage point until it fell into disrepair about four years ago.

Since then, the society and NWW have been in negotiation with Blackburn with Darwen Council to restore the tank and transfer ownership to the borough.
The society wanted it to form part of the Corporation Park area of Blackburn, where it would be used to give people a panoramic view covering North Wales, the Lancashire coastline, Lake District and even the Yorkshire Dales.

Mr Chadwick said the society wanted the council to step in as demolition of the tank was imminent.
He went on: “The society are absolutely shattered by this news. We are devastated. Something the people of Blackburn want restored is about to be wiped from the face of the earth.
“We would like the council to review this situation as a matter of urgency and step in to save the tank.”
Mr. Chadwick said the future of the tank had been an ongoing saga between the authority and NWW.
He said an agreement appeared to have been reached earlier this year when NWW said it would carry out more than £20,000 worth of repairs to it before handing it over, including ownership of the land upon which the industrial tank stands.

The restoration work NWW agreed to meant that the council would have no maintenance costs for 10 years but at the last minute officers said they required a further £30,000 from NWW to cover the cost of removing graffiti and such like.

It is disappointing because councillors at the very highest level seemed keen to keep the tank for the people of the borough to use.”
The society had also marked the importance of the site by having a prestigious Blue Plaque made for it.
A spokesman for NWW said the water tank was scheduled to be demolished but no work would be carried out in the next two weeks. He went on: ”We have tried hard to meet the requirements of the civic society and the council, and it is a shame it is not possible to find a solution in the end.

A spokesman for Blackburn with Darwen Council said the water tank remained the responsibility of NWW. 
He went on: “We have asked them to maintain it but they say they are unable to do so. They also felt unable to provide the finance in order for the council to look after it.
The authority would like to see the water tank preserved but does not believe it should become a burden on the tax payer.
Shelley Wright Telegraph Reporter
The Tank was demolished at the end of the year 2000, 103 years after its construction.
Barbara Riding

Article transcribed for Cotton Town by Community History Volunteer, June Riding.

m14638ed3f copyright Boyd Harris for use on Tank article 16.02.2022 640.jpg
​With grateful thanks to Boyd Harris of Chorley Historical & Archaeological Society​
for supplying the image above which shows Blackburn Revidge No. 1 Tank. 
Photograph taken November 1987