Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 15, 2016
Webpage updated: January 26, 2020

To go to the Home Page          To go to the A-Z Contents Page



Mr Edward Hoxland, writing at the end of the 18th century, tells us that fresh water for Plymouth-Dock, the Dock-Yard, the Gun-Wharf, the Barracks, and East Stonehouse, is taken from the rivers West-Dart, Cowsick, and Black-Brook, on Dartmoor and is carried for about 60 miles to the Town in elm pipes.

In fact the Plymouth Dock Water Works Act had received the Royal Assent on December 17th 1792.  It established a company, the Plymouth-Dock Water Works Company, with a capital of 25,000, to construct a leat of not more than 10 feet in width from the above-mentioned streams to a reservoir adjacent to Granby Street, within the Lines.  It was not exactly a local business, however, as its head office was in London until 1871 and at the start it had only one local shareholder, one Mr Thomas Amies.  Another shareholder, Mr Thomas Gray, of Exeter, won the contract to construct the leat although a Mr Mitchell had to assist him in order to complete the work.  The source was at 1,300 feet above sea level and a granite set there was dated 1793 and the Leat was cut about 1795-1796, although the works were not finished until 1801.  The water was at first distributed in pipes made of the trunks of trees hollowed out but then the Water Company laid stone pipes, as suggested by one of the Rennies but they failed and were replaced with iron and lead pipes.

The naval and military establishments had free access but the private residents had to collect as much water as they could in one hour' s access every day.  Supply was still intermittent, though, and it is said that some residents earned their living by collecting rainwater in water butts or from the leat outside of the Town and selling it to those who needed water for their employment, like laundresses.

Water was supplied to the Royal Marine Barracks in East Stonehouse in 1810 by means of a pipe from the Granby Reservoir to a small reservoir near the Long Room.

Plymouth Dock became Devonport in 1824 and started to expand into the Stoke and Morice Town areas of Stoke Damerel parish.  The occupants of the smart new villas that were being built could afford to pay for their water supply so the Water Company were encourage to find new ways of supplying them.   In 1820 the Company tried to acquire Government land at the Blockhouse as a reservoir there, at 230 feet above sea level, would command the whole district but that was not successful.  Instead they bought a small field from the Manor authorities for 1,000 and in 1830 completed Rowden's Reservoir, near the top of Ford Hill, from which pipes ran to Stoke, Morice Town and Devonport.  Three years later a small covered reservoir was built near Outlands at Milehouse, from where the Royal William Victualling Yard, Royal Marine Barracks, Royal Naval Hospital in Stonehouse were supplied.  This was followed in 1834 by the enlargement of the Granby Reservoir.

In 1866 a small water tank was constructed alongside Bladderley Lane (Beacon Park Road).  Ten years later the water company was reconstituted by the Plymouth Dock (Devonport) Waterworks Act, which received the Royal Assent on June 27th 1876.  This established a joint stock company, of which the nine board of directors were all local men.  They immediately set about making improvements.  A new filter bed and reservoir were constructed at Brooklands, Crownhill, in 1878, adjacent to the one that supplied Plymouth.  The water supply from here into the Town was entirely along pipes.

As the result of the Plymouth Dock Waterworks Act 1889 the Company eventually changed its name to the Devonport Water Company, 65 years after Dock became Devonport!  This Act also brought about the construction of a new reservoir at Belliver, near Roborough, which could hold two million gallons.  The supply from here to Crownhill Reservoirs was piped in 1894.  While Plymouth supplied the parish of Saint Budeaux with water, Devonport supplied Keyham, Keyham Barton and the Royal Naval Barracks through the Beacon Reservoir, which was built in 1900.

Dissatisfaction with the Water Company eventually prompted Devonport Corporation to invite the Company to sell-out.  The Corporation formed a Water Committee, which formulated the suggested terms of transfer that would have enabled them to take-over the business from September 30th 1899.   Unfortunately, the Company refused point blank to sell and a lengthy and bitter dispute followed, which was not resolved until March 29th 1906, when the Company finally agreed to sell.  The transfer was formally concluded on June 30th 1906, when the Corporation handed the Company's solicitor a cheque for 244,000 plus legal expenses of 4,980.  The total cost of the acquisition had been 251,160 17s 8d, which compared favourably the originally projected price of 320,000.

On November 25th 1907 work started on installing a pipeline from Roborough to Dousland, a distance of 5 miles.  This was completed on June 6th 1908 and a service reservoir at Dousland was finished soon afterwards.  The pipeline cost some 17,000 and it was expected to save Devonport Corporation some 600,000 gallons of water every day that was lost through wastage, not to mention preventing pollution of the supply and losing the supply entirely if the Leat was frozen over.

Construction of a new storage reservoir at Crownhill, to the north of the existing one, was started on October 19th 1908.  Capable of holding over 21 million gallons of water, it required the excavation of over a quarter of a million cubic yards of earth and rock; and about 10,000 tons of granite, 5,000 tons of sand, and 2,250 tons of Newhaven cement manufactured by the Sussex Portland Cement Company Ltd were used in its construction.  The site comprised 6 acres and at its busiest time it employed 190 men.  The reservoir was designed by the Water Engineer, Mr Frederick W Lillicrap and his staff and the construction work was undertaken by Messrs George Thomas, Davey and Gilbert.  The Crownhill Upper Reservoir - the old one becoming Crownhill Middle Reservoir and the Plymouth one, the Crownhill Lower - was officially opened by the Chairman of the Water Committee, Alderman Edward Blackall JP, on Wednesday October 21st 1911.  At the time of the opening it had seven filter beds and another still under construction and the cost of the project had reached 345,000.

The Leat continued to provide water direct to the Dousland reservoir until 1951, when the flow was made to discharge down a spectacular waterfall into Burrator Reservoir.

Numbers 19 and 21 Langstone Terrace in Langstone Road are built on top of an old reservoir but as this was not linked to any leat it is presumed that it collected water for either Beauchamp House or the large residences alongside what is now Outland Road (formerly Tavistock Road).  It was evidently in use in 1894 but disused by 1907.