Under-threat reservoir in 1980s glory

Back Lane Reservoir
Back Lane Reservoir

With news that one of Lancashire’s oldest reservoirs is set to be sold at auction, campaigners are trying to save it to make it into a heritage project.

Back Lane reservoir, in Clayton-le-Woods, was built in 1884 to provide storage for clean water for Leyland.

Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society are now fighting plans by United Utilities to sell it, and Flashback has decided to dedicate a page to these old photos and provide a bit of background into the reservoir’s history.

The photos were taken by the Whittle Wanderer in July 1980.

He said that because the interior was completely dark, the lighting was created using open multiple flash exposures.

He has also digitised the original sheet film to make the basic black and white images.

Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society gave us some more information about the reservoir:

It used a steam pump to lift water from a large diameter well, approximately 25 meters deep, and pumped it into the reservoir where it then fed drinking water to Leyland through a cast iron waterpipe.

Subsequently a much deeper bore hole was sunk below the bottom of the well, and a submersible electric pump used to extract water.

The steam pump then became redundant. When the reservoir was built, a new pipeline was laid from Wheelton, where a connection was taken from the Thirlmere Aqueduct.

In 1883, a special ceremony was held to lay the foundation stone.

The bore hole was used occasionally as an emergency backup and to prevent the brickwork from drying out.

Rosemary Boyd, a member of the Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society, said: “As a piece of industrial archaeology, it is a unique piece of our heritage as it is the oldest and last surviving example of a brick vaulted underground reservoir construction in the area.

“Photos taken in the 1980s show it to be a truly beautiful structure.”

Another underground reservoir, at Papplewick in Nottinghamshire has been conserved by English Heritage.

English Heritage were approached to “list” Clayton reservoir, but this was unsuccessful.

Rosemary, with the full support of Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society and others, is trying to find an alternative use.

She added: “We want to see it converted into a garden feature by removing the roof and two walls.

“In Sydney, Australia, there was a similar project, although much larger, and instead of demolishing the reservoir it was converted into gardens and urban art in 2009.”

Now, Rosemary and Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society are keen to develop a community-led project to bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to buy the site, and are now appealing for help from local benefactors and sponsors who are able to put up sufficient money to keep the reservoir.