Building Cropston Reservoir
(Originally called Bradgate Reservoir)
After the 1831 and 1848 Cholera Epidemics, it became apparent that disease was directly associated with filth, due to the lack of adequate clean water supplies, inadequate sewerage disposal and poor living conditions, resulting in the passing of the Public Health Act of 1850. This led to many water schemes being undertaken by the Victorian Engineers on behalf of local authorities.
In 1865 the Leicester Water Works appointed a London based consulting engineer, Mr Thomas Hawksley (who had previously successfully overseen the building of the Thornton Reservoir), to survey the area.
Mr. Hawksley commended Bradgate over Bardon, Grooby and Bagworth as prospective sites for the reservoir.
The finest stream, the best water, the cleanest drainage and under all consideration except that of pumping, the most advantageous scheme is the Bradgate. The pumping including all expenses incident thereto would scarcely cost more than £500 a year for each million gallons per day....Bradgate has only two mills... consequently we should not only have small mill compensation to pay but be spared some considerable amount of contention. To develop Bradgate and bring the water to Leicester would cost from £50,000 to £60,000 but would in the end be the cheaper scheme.
Mr. Hawksley's fee for "undertaking the engineering of the new works" was 3.5% of the expenditure "plus ordinary Parliamentary charges".
A Bill had to be presented to Parliament – presumably to sanction compulsory purchase – and the Leicester Waterworks Act was passed in 1866.
Shares in the Waterworks Company were offered on the stock exchange and £39,000 was raised immediately.
In September 1867, 180 acres of land was purchased adjacent to Lord Stamford's deer park at Bradgate for a cost of £24,000, but he insisted that a stonewall be built around the boundary to separate the deer park from the reservoir, instead of the proposed iron railings. This wall, 1,500 yards long was eventually built by George Rudkin at a cost of 8s 10d per yard.
The area had a natural valley, which would be dammed at the eastern end (the present Reservoir Road runs along the top of the dam), and fed by the Bradgate brook. The existing road from Cropston village to Charnwood Forest was diverted in a westerly direction so that it ran along the top of the dam embankment. The dam is 760 yards long and rises to a height of 51 feet at its highest point, which gives a depth of water of 38 feet. The dam was constructed with a centre core of puddled clay, obtained from 5 acres of land to the north side of the reservoir, which is still known today as "Puddledyke". The cost of the dam was £41,356 and the reservoir £8,500 with the contract being awarded to Benton & Woodiwiss of Derby.
While the shallow valley was being prepared for the reservoir, trees in the path of the water were felled, and the sale of the timber raised £593-15-0. Meanwhile, the grassy areas – formerly maintained by Lord Stamford's agent – had to be cut. A tender from James Astill and Samuel Burchnall to do this job for 10/6 per acre was accepted by the Waterworks Company.
When the area was flooded it covered the old rabbit warrens together with site of the old park keeper’s house. (Mr. Joseph Reeves was the last gamekeeper to occupy the house).
Initially 200 men were employed by this company and to ensure that they were kept in order the Chief Constable of Leicester wrote a letter relating to the appointment of an additional constable for duty at Bradgate, whose wage would be 20 shillings per week plus clothing, which the company were forced to pay.
Because of rising costs and the programme falling behind schedule the entire operation was taken over by Leicester Corporation. In Mr Hawksley's opinion another 100 men could be usefully employed and so a large wooden hut was built on site to accommodate these men. It was constructed using the timber originally used to line the puddle trench. It was also recommended that an additional 24 Dolbin carts and 12 horses be purchased.
The reservoir was completed and in operation in May 1871.
To increase the capacity of the reservoir the weir/byewash was increased in height by 2 feet in 1887 by adding another sill (i.e. from 5 steps to 4).
The original beam pumps were decommissioned in 1956 and replaced by electrically driven engines.
Adapted from article by P Stubbs October 2001