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The 19th Century Water Supply

St Nicolas Street Reservoir
Having lost the Denburn supply by removing the connecting pipe, the only thing the Commissioners could do was to make the best use of the supplies they had. To economise on the low course, which ran to waste during the night, a Reservoir was erected in 1821 at the Police Tax Office, then in St Nicholas Street, north of Flourmill Brae.


The Drought of 1826
The summer of 1826 was very hot and dry. Harvest was completed in general before the middle of August ; but many farmers, finding their crops too short to be reaped, put their cattle on the corn fields to eat them bare. For a fortnight there was not a drop of water at the public wells of the upper course, day or night. It must have been at this time that the deep well was sunk at Carlton Place. The Water Commissioners, being unable to do anything else, attempted to lay down a lead pipe of the same diameter and in the same track as the Denburn pipe removed in 1807. They were interdicted by the Brewery Company and the Town Council, both of which were interested in maintaining the full supply for the Mill. These objectors based their right to object on the ground that after January 1, 1820, the Commissioners had no power to carry out any works. The Commissioners took advice and were informed that they could lawfully take as much water from the Burn as had been taken before 1807; but they thought this not worth fighting for.

New Supply Required
The Commissioners sought for more water in several places. The Loch of Skene was examined, but the Burn of Echt which fed it was found to be as brown as porter. The Burn of Culter, which issues from the Loch, was not much better, though joined by another burn after leaving the Loch. The Canal was thought of, but it was found that the supply would need to be taken off at Stoneywood, 4.5 miles from the town. The only feasible source was found to be the River Dee, and it was selected. But there was considerable objection on the part of the proprietors of new houses, who said they had been at the expense of digging pump wells for themselves, and they therefore objected to being taxed for water which they did not need.

Bridge of Dee Scheme
In 1829 a new Police Act was obtained for sewerage and for bringing water from a haugh beside the Dee, on the west side of the Bridge on the South Turnpike Road. A well was sunk in the Haugh on the north side of the river, 660 yards above the Bridge. It was 12 feet in diameter, and it was surmounted by a house of the same height. From it a tunnel was extended westward for 200 yards, but not communicating directly with the river, so that only filtered water might be got for the town. The Well, the Tunnel, and the House still remain intact; and the house is now the only visible thing remaining of all that was done under the Act of 1829 in connection with water for the town. In case the tunnel should not collect sufficient water power was given to make another tunnel extending Southward to the Dee, which would without doubt have secured abundance of water, though it would not have been filtered. From the Well an iron pipe 2 feet in diameter conveyed the water across the turnpike to an engine house on the east side of the road. There 2 steam engines, supplied by  Boulton & Watt Co, drew water from the Well and forced it through a 15-inch pipe along Holburn Street to a handsome granite Waterhouse at the head of Union Place. (inset below)

This Waterhouse now forms No.s 478-484 Union Street. As an experiment an engine was put to work as soon as the main pipe was laid to the Waterhouse, and 1000 gallons per minute issued from the Town end of the pipe, and ran down Union Street to the Denburn.  There was a Reservoir in the upper part of the Waterhouse, from which the water was distributed through the town by gravitation. For the higher parts of the town the surplus at the reservoir was used to drive a wheel which raised a portion 25 feet higher. By the 2 pumpings this portion was raised 160 feet above the Ordnance Survey level of the sea. The new supply was 10 times the former and the pumping engines did not require to work more than 6 hours per day. Till this supply was obtained there was no possibility of supplying water to private houses. Baths and waterclosets were unknown things. In the streets there was, however, no lack of cast-iron pillar wells, with a lion's face on the front, and a short brass pipe projecting out of his mouth. On pulling down a lever weighed at the inner end a stream of water issued from the pipe. So much was the abundant supply of pure water appreciated that it was a common thing to see a man with a hand on the lever and his mouth at the pipe. On New Year's Day morning at the last stroke of 12 there was a mouth at every well to drink the "cream" of the water, which was believed to bring luck for the rest of the year.


The Mannie in The Green
In 1852 the Cistern Well from the Castlegate (the Well surmounted by the figure of a " Mannie,") was shifted to the Green.

Till then its Well had been supplied from Gilcomston Well, near the Brewery; but, while this connection was maintained, another pipe was put in connecting it also with the Bridge of Dee water. By turning a handle to the right or to the left the discharge pipe could be made to yield either Spring Water or River Water, whichever might be preferred for a drink.

The Pillar Wells were economical as they prevented waste of water. This was an important matter, because, though the tunnel took in a large quantity, it had all to be pumped up 135 feet at least, and latterly the engine expense amounted to £1200 a year, mainly for coals.

To save expense for coals the former supplies were maintained, and on Sunday, when the consumption of water was small, the Broad Street reservoir overflowed, and a considerable current of water issued from the Waterhouse, and ran eastward along the Union Street gutter.

When new houses were built water was taken in by lead pipes from the mains in the streets.

Old houses also began to be provided with water, and the consumption increased year by year independently of the increase of the population. This required more work from the engines, and in 1851 they had to work 22 hours a day to furnish a million gallons of water; and before the next supply was got the engines were going day and night, with only an hour of a rest, and sending to the Waterhouse about a million and a quarter gallons daily.


1866-1910 Water Supply

Cairnton
The water supply from the haugh above the Bridge of Dee,' provided for by the Act of 1829, was introduced in 1831. Though deemed ample at 1st it was found to be too scanty before it had been 20 years in operation. The pumping engines had been provided with larger cylinders; steam of higher pressure had been applied to the engines, and they were kept working nearly the whole day. The 2nd tunnel provided for by the Act had been constructed southward from the 1st into a bank of gravel in the edge of the Dee. By these arrangements more water had been delivered at the Waterhouse; but the population had increased, and when private supplies were granted to houses more water per head was used, and waste could not be altogether prevented.

New Schemes Proposed
In 1855 the population, which had been 73,000 in 1851, was believed to have risen to 75,000, and the consumption of water was 16 gallons per head. It was found also that by internal incrustation of iron oxide the diameter of the iron pipe conveying water to the Waterhouse had been reduced from 15 inches to 13. Mr James Simpson, Civil Engineer, London, was called to Aberdeen to advise the Commissioners of Police. He propounded several schemes for obtaining more water. 
The town of Aberdeen likewise owes to James Simpson the design and execution of the very comprehensive and complete works for supplying the Town with water, taken from the River Dee, about 20 miles above the City. Of several of his works Mr. Simpson contributed accounts to the Institution, and some of them are published in the Transactions and the Minutes of Proceedings.

1st
- an aqueduct 20 miles long, beginning at Paradise on the river Don, 280 feet above the sea, and ending at a reservoir at Hilton, above 200 feet up. There were 2 tunnels on this route, both over a mile long, and the water was not quite satisfactory ; therefore he did not recommend it.
2nd
- an aqueduct, 21 miles long, beginning at Potarch Bridge on the River Dee, 261 feet up, and ending in a reservoir at Springbank, 200 feet up. This scheme dispensed with all pumping, because it was expected to deliver water at a height sufficient to reach the greatest elevation to which the City was likely to extend. The cost was estimated at £112,530, and the supply at 5,000,000 gallons daily.
3rd -
an aqueduct 19 miles long, beginning at Cairnton on the Dee, 210 feet up, and terminating in a reservoir at Springbank, 155 feet up. By this scheme engine power was necessary to pump water to the higher parts of the City. The cost was estimated at £110,860, and the supply at 5,000,000 gallons daily.
4th - a supply taken direct from the Dee above the Bridge and pumped by high pressure condensing steam engines to elevated reservoirs and filters at Springbank, 200 feet up. The cost was estimated at £107,200, and the supply at 2,500,000 gallons daily.

Mr Simpson discussed several other schemes which showed that he had overlooked no feasible scheme of supplying the wants of the City from the neighbouring Rivers. He indicated his preference for the Potarch Bridge supply, both on account of the superior quality of the water and its freedom from the complication of pumping and filters. The cost of all the 3 schemes of supplying the City from the Dee was so great that the citizens were deterred from adopting any of them at once, especially as there was still unpaid a part of the money borrowed for the Bridge of Dee scheme.

Adoption of the Cairnton Scheme
In 1861 Mr Alexander Anderson, the Lord Provost of the City, called a meeting of the citizens to decide whether or not a supply of water should be brought to the town from Cairnton. The proposal was approved by a large majority. The Lord Provost and many others would have preferred the Potarch scheme, but it was not brought before the meeting, having been rejected by a Committee of the citizens who had been considering the water supply question for a long time. A bill for an additional supply of water, sewerage, and the manufacture of gas, and for vesting the Management in the Town Council was prepared and introduced into Parliament in 1862, and it was passed on the 7th of August that year. The new Act authorised 6,000,000 gallons to be taken daily. The estimate of the expense of the Waterworks authorised by it was £115,000, and there still remained at the passing of the new Act nearly £20,000 of debt on the former water account.

The works were begun in 1864 and completed in 1866, and they were opened by Queen Victoria at Invercannie on 16th October of the latter year. They consisted of an intake at Cairnton and an aqueduct about 19 miles in length, with a fall of 2 feet per mile, to a reservoir at Mannofield. The aqueduct is constructed of brick. It is oval in shape, 3 feet 9 inches high, and 3 feet 2 inches wide. In some places a cast iron pipe 3 feet 4 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick was substituted for the brick tunnel. The burns at Crathes and Culter are crossed by inverted siphon cast-iron pipes. At Cults hydraulic rams driven by water from the aqueduct, with a fall of 135 feet, raise water to a reservoir 400 feet above the sea, which supplies the higher parts of the city. Two gallons passing through the rams raise nearly one gallon to the reservoir. A mile below Cairnton is the Invercannie settling reservoir, where sediment is deposited and where the water was formerly filtered before entering the main aqueduct. It is 445 feet in diameter at the water level and 14 feet deep; and it can hold 12,000,000 gallons. The first Mannofield reservoir is 270 feet in diameter and the depth of water is 18 feet.

Extensions and Improvements
In 1861 the population of the City was 75,198, and the consumption of water was 1,250,000 gallons daily, about 16 gallons per head. In 1871 the population was 89,554 and the consumption was 3,131,514 gallons, or nearly 35 gallons per head. The great increase was due to the introduction of water-closets and baths. The population of the city continued to increase, but the consumption of water per head increased still more rapidly. In 1885, when the population was about 133,000, 6 million gallons, the whole amount of water authorised to be taken from the Dee, was passing down the aqueduct. Some of this quantity was used at Cults, and some was used for various purposes other than domestic use; but the alarming increase led to obtaining a new Act of Parliament in 1885.  By it power was got to take from the Dee 8 million gallons daily, and greater storage was provided. A new reservoir at Mannofield, twice the size of the first, was provided for the low service of the town, the two holding 18,000,000 gallons at 168 feet above the sea. A low service reservoir holding 2,500,000 gallons was provided at Cattofield, at 155 feet above the sea, and for places above that elevation but under 400 feet a mid service reservoir holding 6,000,000 gallons was provided at Slopefield, 308 feet up, to which water is forced by steam engines at Cults. This relieved the hydraulic rams at the River side of a great part of their duty, with a saving of much of the water used by these rams. The filters at Invercannie reservoir had been prepared at 1st for cleansing 1,500,000 gallons daily. Mr Simpson's scheme presumed that additional filters would be provided as required, but this part of his plan had not been carried out; and to have made provision for filtering the enormous increase would have been a very costly work It was resolved, therefore, to dispense altogether with filters and to send to the city the water of the Dee as it is taken in at Cairnton. It is, however, passed through a screen at the intake lo exclude leaves, etc., and through two successive screens at the settling reservoir at Invercannie, one with 20 meshes to the square inch and another with 440. To prevent minute living things from escaping their search and afterwards growing larger the water passes through other small mesh screens at the distributing Reservoirs near the City.

Precautions Against Waste
At the same time as these improvements were made it was seen that there must be a great waste of water in the City; and in 2 or 3 years the additional 2 millions got by the Act of 1885 were going out of the Reservoirs. To endeavour to detect where the waste was meters were put on branches going off from the mains. It was known how many people each branch had to supply, and these meters told how much water each branch needed every day of the week, and how many gallons passed through the meters every hour of the day and the night. If a branch pipe is passing more water than others it can be seen whether the consumption is the same on Sunday as on Monday, and the same at 12pm at night as at 12 noon. An iron rod put in at a hole in the street with one end on a water pipe and the other in the ear of the Waterman will tell in what house the waste or leakage is, and offenders can be detected before they know that they are suspected. By adopting these meters the consumption of water per head was reduced from 55 gallons in 1889 to 44 in 1891, and it has been reduced since to 42.

Water-closets are not mentioned in the Act of 1829, but that of 1862, gives the Town Council power to require the owner of every house where there is water within 10 yards to introduce water from the street pipes into the house, and to fit up a sink in some recess on each door of a house let to separate families, and also to provide a sufficient water-closet for every house, wherever practicable, with soil-pipes leading to the nearest drain; and this has to be done to the satisfaction of the Town Council. Some Architects of houses plan them so that everybody shall see that they have complied with the law, and bring large soil-pipes down the walls close by the dwelling-house doors. Some persons would not live in such houses even though they got them rent free, nor even in a house within sight of such suggestive pipes. The Town Council should have a care in passing plans of new houses to see that they will not be offensive to the neighbourhood.  The exercise of the powers has almost abolished dry closets, and though this is not to be regretted it has tended to augment the daily consumption of water. It has also removed the need for Pillar Wells in the street, and they are no longer to be seen in Aberdeen; but some of the Aberdeen pillar wells may yet be seen in the streets of Fraserburgh.


The Quality of Dee Water
Dee water is remarkably pure. A visible impurity occasionally present is caused by water trickling down hill sides and entering beds of peat-moss. After a few rainy days dark brown water flows from these mosses. It is offensive to the sight but not injurious to health. As the reservoirs have a capacity of 27 million gallons, and the daily consumption is under 7 millions, the river supply may be shut off for two or three days when the water is discoloured. When the discolouration lasts long the water must be taken, such as it may be. If this were a serious matter, it could be cured by draining the peat mosses and the places above them, so that the rain water would not sink into them. If the mosses were dried the peat could be burned off in summer. This was once much practised in Aberdeenshire in order to get the site of the mosses brought into cultivation.  The other impurities are chiefly bi-carbonate of lime, carbonate of soda, and chloride of soda (common salt). Bi-carbonate of lime, or calcium bi-carbonate, comes from the rocks and soil from which the water flows. It is small in quantity but quite easily made to show itself. If a person when washing in the morning put a spoon-full of water on his head and then rub it with a bit of common washing soda (sodium earlionate) the hair will become white with froth. The soda and the oil secreted by the head to lubricate the hair unite and form soap. If, now, water be put abundantly on the head, the froth disappears, and in the washing basin we see white flakes. These are not scales from the head but particles of lime soap. The lime in the water has decomposed the soap on the hair and taken up the oil in it, forming with it white flakes of insoluble lime soap - scum. There is lime in Dee water as in all water which has touched the ground, but the quantity is very small. The water of many of the large rivers of the Continent is very destructive of soap. This property is called hardness. It is caused also by carbonate of magnesia, of which there is little in Dee water; what there is comes from serpentine rocks, of which there are some in Glenmuick. The hardest water known is that supplied to Hartlepool, which is pumped from a deep bore sunk in magnesian limestone rock.

Chloride of Soda is the product of the union of chlorine gas, sparingly distributed in the atmosphere, descending in rain and uniting with the soda set free in the decay of rocks. Chemists 1st test water submitted to them to see if the amount of salt present is normal or above it. If normal it is a clear indication that the water is not polluted by sewage, for all the salt carried into a town leaves it again in the urine of the population. The water of the Tagus, at Lisbon, contains much salt, due to the populations of the towns whose drainage enters it. If the salt is above the normal and cannot be traced to brine springs, this a sign that the water has received the sewage of a town. Water from ground within 5 miles of the sea is Salter than from inland springs and streams.

Sewage Contamination
Of nitrogen, either in ammonia or in nitrates, there is very little, and that little has originally come down as nitric acid in rain, being the product of oxygen and nitrogen in the air, made to unite by the heat caused by the passage of lightning through the air. Nitrogen in water, present either as in ammonia or in nitrates, is usually regarded as disqualifying it for domestic use. But there is no harm in the nitrogen itself. It is, however, an indication that sewage, which is always nitrogenous, may also be present, and if there is, the water may contain organic bodies capable of causing serious disease. Of late, allegations have been made that the water of the Dee is contaminated with sewage. Since the Dee water was 1st taken to Aberdeen the population of the area above Cairnton has decreased in the rural parishes and increased in those where there are towns and villages. On the whole it has not varied much, and the gathering together of the population has been in favour of the purity of the River, for it has led to the formation of Special Drainage Districts, whose sewage has been excluded from the river till it has been filtered and purified.

The treatment plant at Invercannie, built to supply water to the City of Aberdeen, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1866 and hailed as the jewel in the crown of Engineering success.  The water was extracted from the Dee at Cairnton and passed through a tunnel 1.3 miles long to the treatment plant where it was stored and then passed though slow sand filters before flowing under gravity though an elliptical cross-section brick aqueduct 3 ft 2 in. wide by 3 ft 9 in. high and 19 miles long to reservoirs in Aberdeen.  The works, with an initial extraction rate limited to 6 mgd [million gallons per day], were designed and executed under the direction of John Simpson, Engineer, and Easton Gibb was the contractor. The tender sum was £103 999. In 1886 a new intake, which no longer exists – its building now housing a pump – was built at Cairnton under the direction of W. Boulton, Burgh Surveyor, with a capacity of about 8 mgd.  With the increased demand for water the facilities at Invercannie were enlarged from 1920–26 at a cost exceeding £1 million. The works included the present intake from the River and screening chamber at Cairnton; a storage reservoir of 24mg capacity; three slow sand filters, 1.4 acres in area; a 2nd aqueduct consisting mainly of steel and cast-iron pipes from 40-48 in. diameter with an ultimate capacity of 14 mgd; a pumping station and main; and a service reservoir of 7mg capacity. The engineer was George Mitchell and the main contractor William Tawse Ltd In 1932 the 1866 aqueduct was lined with concrete 3 in. thick to make it watertight.  A section of this aqueduct is preserved at Invercannie.  The water from the works, now managed by Scottish Water, is still the main source of supply to Aberdeen, supplying about 300 000 users. From 1992–95 chemical and ozone treatments were introduced to improve the quality of the sand filtered water and, in 2005, an £11 million membrane barrier to cryptosporidium became operational.

The Glen Avon Scheme

In 1909 the Town Council brought a Bill into Parliament for a supply of water from Glen Avon. The scheme provided for 20 million gallons per day, at a cost of £1,400,000; but till there should be a great increase of the population only 12,000,000 gallons were to be taken, which it was estimated would cost £1, 008,000. The Avon Scheme was opposed by the Railway Companies, Land and Property Associations, Manufacturers and Private Citizens. The Railway Companies wished a guarantee that not more than 1/- per thousand gallons should be exacted from them; some citizens said they would not agree to an increased supply unless it were shown by the census of 1911 that the population of Aberdeen had increased since 1901; and some thought that an increased supply could be got from the Dee at a moderate cost. Though a majority of the citizens favoured the Avon scheme the bill for it was refused by Parliament mainly on the ground that it had not been fully put before the ratepayers or adopted by them. A committee was appointed in 1910 to ascertain from eminent engineers the cost of a supply of 10 millions of gallons from the Dee. Messrs. Fox, Yourdi and Baleman were appointed, who reported that it would cost £777,000. Thereupon Sir Alexander Binnie, the engineer who had advised the adoption of the Avon scheme, intimated that it could be carried out for £850,000 if it were restricted to 10 million gallons.


1915 Works
Work No. 1. A new intake on the left bank of the River Dee at Cairnton, and communicating with the said River, to be situate immediately to the westward of and adjoining the existing intake of the waterworks of the Corporation.
Work No. 2 An aqueduct, No. 1, consisting of a conduit commencing at or in the new intake (Work No. 1), and terminating by a junction with the existing Cairnton Tunnel of the waterworks of the Corporation, at or near the manhole at the west end of the said tunnel.
Work No. 3 An alteration and lowering of the invert of the Cairnton Tunnel and a widening of that tunnel, commencing at the termination of the aqueduct No. 1 (Work No. 2), and terminating at or near the manhole at the east end of the said tunnel.
Work No. 4 An aqueduct, No. 2, consisting of a conduit commencing by a junction with the Cairnton Tunnel at the termination of Work No. 3, and terminating at or in the storage reservoir (Work No. 6) hereinafter described.
Work No. 5 A liming station, in the southwest corner of the enclosure numbered No. 2181, shown on the 1/2500 Ordnance Map (second edition. 1900), Kincardineshire (new series) Sheet VIII.-3.
Work No. 6 A storage reservoir, situate in the enclosures numbered No. 2061, No. 2062, No. 2063, and No. 2181, shewn partly on. The 1/2500 Ordnance Map (second edition 1900), Kincardineshire (new series) Sheet VIII.-3, and partly on the 1/2500 Ordnance Map (second edition, 1903), Kincardineshire (new series) Sheet VIII.-4, between the Cannie Burn and the private road numbered 2182 on the said sheet VIII.-3, and extending from the west side of the existing storage reservoir at Invercannie for a distance of 220 yards or thereabouts in a westerly direction.
Work No. 7 A washout pipe, commencing at or near the north-eastern corner of the filter beds immediately east of the existing storage reservoir at Invercannie, and terminating at or in the River Dee at a point on its left bank, 320 yards or thereabouts measured in a westerly direction from the point where the Cannie Burn joins the said River Dee.
Work No. 8 An aqueduct, No. 3, consisting of a line or lines of pipes, tunnels or other conduits, commencing in the Parish of Banchory-Tenian by a junction with the outlet pipe from the filter beds immediately east of the existing storage reservoir at Invercannie, and terminating in the Parish of Peterculter, at or in the existing Mannofield No. 2 Service Reservoir, numbered No. 2478 on the 1/2500 Ordnance Map (second edition, 1901), Aberdeenshire Sheet LXXV.-14.  The said aqueduct No. 3 will be situate in or pass through the Parish of Banchory-Ternan and Police Burgh of Banchory in the County of Kincardine, and the Parishes of Drumoak and Peterculter in the County of Aberdeen
Work No. 9  An aqueduct, No. 4, consisting of a line or lines of pipes, tunnels or other conduits, commencing by a junction with the aqueduct No. 3 (Work No. 8) at a point 103 yards or thereabouts measured in a north-westerly direction from the north end of the Suspension Footbridge at Cults, and terminating at or in the existing Cults Steam Pumping Station, which is marked "Waterworks (Aberdeen Corporation)" on the 1/2500 Ordnance Map (second edition, 1901), Aberdeenshire Sheet LXXXVI.-l.
Work No. 10  An aqueduct. No. 5, consisting of a line or lines of pipes or other conduits, commencing at or in the Cults Steam Pumping Station.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013