Nottingham Water Supply

1- Water for Life: The Development of Nottingham’s Water Provision
2- Fresh water for Nottingham: Going Underground
3- A need for greater supply - Papplewick Pumping Station
4- Life at Papplewick
5- The modern Pumping Station
6- The continuing search for water

Water for Life: The Development of Nottingham’s Water Provision

Nottingham owes its location to the Rivers Trent and Leen which provided the early settlement with means of transport, defence and water supply. Wells, springs and rainfall were other important sources of water, although many people had to buy their water from carriers known as ‘Higglers’.

As the population grew, the rivers and wells became increasingly contaminated by waste from homes and from the town's tanning and dying industries. A more organised method of water supply was needed and over the years a number of water companies were formed to serve the growing population:

1696: Nottingham Waterworks Company
Water was taken from the River Leen and pumped into a small open reservoir on Park Row, from where it flowed by gravity to most parts of the town.

Late 1790s: Zion Hill Water and Marble Works Company
Water was drawn from two wells near Canning Circus and Alfreton road using a steam beam engine that also sawed blocks of marble. The company ceased to exist independently after 1824.

1824: Northern Waterworks Company
Water was pumped from a well in Sherwood Street to supply the north east areas of the town. Higglers working for this company charged ¼ d for each bucket of water or ½ d if it was delivered up an alley or courtyard.

1826: The Nottingham Trent Waterworks Company
In 1831 the company established the Trent Works on the River Trent. The water works extracted water from the river, filtered it and pumped it by a steam driven beam engine to Park Row reservoir. Built by Thomas Hawksley, it was the first waterworks to supply water at continuous pressure.

As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace the expanding town faced more public health problems and by 1830 the Nottingham Waterworks Company had abandoned its original works and established a new waterworks at Scotholme in Basford, where the water from streams and River Leen was not polluted by the town’s sewers.

Fresh water for Nottingham: One Step Forward
Founded in 1826 to supply the southern areas of the town, the Nottingham Trent Waterworks Company introduced a new approach to water supply under the direction of its engineer Thomas Engineer, Thomas Hawksley.

In 1831 Hawksley built the Trent Works pumping station, the very first station in England to provide fresh water at a constant high pressure which prevented the water from becoming contaminated. Water was diverted from the River Trent and passed through brick filter tunnels laid in natural beds of sand and gravel, into a small uncovered reservoir near Trent Bridge and then the works pumped the water up to Park Row Reservoir.

Trent Works Pumping Station

However, the standards of health in the town continued to fall, despite the improvements to the water quality. Between 1720 and 1830 the population of Nottingham had increased from 10,000 to 50,000, mainly due to the introduction of framework knitting and the lace industry. But the town was prevented from expanding beyond its original medieval area by the Burgesses and Freemen, who wished to keep the surrounding common land for other purposes such as grazing and pasture.

The 1844 report to the Health & Towns Commission stated:

‘..nowhere else shall we find so large a mass of inhabitants crowded into courts, alleys and lanes as in Nottingham. 8,000 back to back houses built from cheapest materials and enclosed courts with little light or fresh air.’

Fortunately two Acts of Parliament - both passed in 1845 - laid the foundations for a better quality of life. Firstly the Nottingham Enclosure Act allowed the town to expand into the surrounding countryside, and then the Nottingham Water Act merged all of the small companies into a new Nottingham Water Works Company. Recognising the size of their task, the company appointed Thomas Hawksley as their engineer - further information on Thomas Hawksley:

Reports in pdf format by the British Geological Survey:

- Groundwater Levels at Papplewick
- Nottingham Water Supply
- Geology and Hydrogeology of Papplewick

Heritage Lottery fund supported
Papplewick Pumping Station is an Accredited museum
Quality assured visitor attraction