The Corporation Waterworks undertaking

Pages 457-469

Cardiff Records: Volume 5. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1905.

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History of the Cardiff Corporation Waterworks Undertaking.


Town Clerk and Clerk of the Peace.

Like most towns in their infancy, Cardiff had to depend upon public and private wells for the supply of water. In the year 1841, when the town was divided into two parishes only, i.e., St. John the Baptist and St. Mary, the population was only 10,077, and the most important of the public wells was in the centre of the thoroughfare now known as High Street, opposite the premises which are now occupied by Lloyds Bank, Limited. The water that supplied the wells was derived from the gravel beds which extended under the greater part of the then town, particularly in a westerly and northerly direction. In addition, water was obtained from the Glamorganshire Canal and the River Taff.

The opening of the West Bute Dock in 1839 and the construction of the Taff Vale Railway to supply that dock, did much to increase the trade of the town and the population, so that the need of having a proper and adequate water supply became most urgent.

Upon reference to the Statute Book for 1850, we find that a Company secured Parliamentary sanction to construct works to supply water to "the whole of the town and port of Cardiff and the parishes or places within and adjoining to such town in the county of Glamorgan."

After spending £20,000, the Company found that sum insufficient for the purposes of the Act, so they again went to Parliament, and on the 14th June, 1853, Royal Assent was given to an Act repealing the Cardiff Waterworks Act 1850 and granting further powers for carrying out the objects contemplated in the first instance.

The charges for water supply are governed by this Act and are exceedingly reasonable, the supply for domestic purposes including water for baths and water closets.

The works first constructed consisted of a pumping station at Ely, three miles from the centre of the town, the water being taken from the river into a depositing pool and roughly filtered. Later a collecting culvert was constructed on the southern side of the river, which was fed by springs and the water-bearing strata adjoining. The water was then forced into a service reservoir at Penhill, Llandaff, and gravitation mains were laid from thence to and through the streets of the town and docks.

The construction of the Rhymney Railway in 1858, and the Bute East Dock in 1859, shewed that Cardiff continued to make progress, and in order more efficiently to meet the increased and increasing demand for water the Company obtained in 1860 Parliamentary authority for a gravitation scheme at Lisvane, four miles to the northeast of the town.

The scheme propounded by the Act of 1860, included a storeage reservoir and filter beds at Lisvane with a catchment area of 2,200 acres, including the waters of the Llanishen, Nant Mawr, Nant Draw, Nant Felin and Nant Dulas. Intakes were constructed on these streams and the water conveyed therefrom in lines of conduit to the storage reservoir.

The following additional works were constructed, viz:— A low level service reservoir at Cogan, and a high level service reservoir at Llandough, situate 170 feet above the level of Cogan Reservoir, with pumping engines at the latter place for forcing the water up to Llandough Reservoir, from whence it could flow by gravitation to and for the supply of Penarth.

By the Act of 1860, the limits within which the Company could supply water were extended, and included the following parishes and places, to wit:— "The parishes of Saint John the Baptist, Cardiff; Saint Mary, Cardiff; Roath, Lisvane, Llanishen, Lanedarn, otherwise Lanedern, Whitchurch, Llandaff, Leckwith, Llandough, Cogan and Penarth, and so much of the parishes of Michaelstone-le-pit and Saint Andrews as lies on the eastern side of the Dinas Powis Brook, all in the county of Glamorgan." The total area of supply being 26,787 acres.

In connection with the river Ely, the Company were prohibited from taking therefrom more than three million gallons in any one day of 24 hours.

The pumping well and collecting culvert at Ely and the reservoir at Lisvane remained the only sources of water supply up to the year 1878.

In 1875 the Cardiff Corporation obtained Statutory authority to purchase the Water Undertaking of the Company, but, being unable to come to terms, nothing definite was done in this direction until the year 1878, when the Waterworks Company again went to Parliament for powers to make further works at Ely and Llanishen; the new proposed works at Llanishen being designed partly to supply the outlying districts of Llandaff and Whitchurch as well as to provide additional reservoir storage for supplying Cardiff.

At this time the Cardiff Corporation made another effort to secure the Waterworks Undertaking, but again the negotiations were of no avail, with the result that the Corporation decided to oppose the Bill, and the grounds upon which the Corporation determined to do so were: "that the new works were not designed on a sufficiently comprehensive scale to meet future requirements."

On the eve of appearing before the House of Commons Committee an agreement was entered into whereby the Company agreed to transfer the Works to the Corporation for the sum of £300,000. This sum was arrived at on a basis of 25 years' purchase of the net annual revenue, which was shewn to be £12,000. The Corporation allowed the Company to proceed with their Bill, agreeing at the same time to pay the cost of the same and to take over the Company's Debenture Bonds, amounting to £20,450.

In the year 1879, the Corporation obtained Parliamentary authority to purchase the Undertaking and to borrow the sum of £470,000.

On the 29th September, 1879, the Company's Undertaking came into the possession of the Corporation, and on the 24th December, 1879, the Deed vesting the Undertaking in the Corporation was executed.

It may be interesting to place on record the fact that in order to complete the purchase on that day, the Town Clerk (Mr. J. L. Wheatley) made arrangements with the Solicitors for the Cardiff Waterworks Company to accept the purchase-money (£300,000) by means of two cheques, one for £165,000, to be drawn upon the National Provincial Bank of England, Limited, Cardiff Branch, and the other for £135,000 upon the Brecon Old Bank, of which the late Mr. Henry Jones Evans was then the Manager. (This Bank has been within recent years absorbed by Lloyds Bank, Limited, who have built a handsome structure upon the site formerly occupied by the Brecon Old Bank.)

Two days previous to the time appointed for paying the purchase money, the Solicitors for the Company objected to take the cheques, although the banks had respectively undertaken to endorse each cheque, that they had the moneys in hand, and were prepared to pay these two amounts to the Company. The Town Clerk then said that the purchase must be completed by the time named, and as the Company had not adhered to the arrangement, he would cause the whole of the money to be paid in gold. This was communicated to the Directors, who became somewhat timid at the thought of counting such a vast sum of money, and pressure was brought to bear upon the Town Clerk by some members of the Corporation, who advised that some other means should be taken to pay the purchase money, to which he reluctantly agreed, with the result that each of the aboved-mentioned banks requested the Bank of England to specially print two bank-notes for the sums of £165,000 and £135,000.

The hour appointed for paying the money was three o'clock, at the offices of the Old Waterworks Company, which were situate in Charles Street, Cardiff; and when the following gentlemen, who had been appointed by the Corporation to carry out the transaction on their behalf, namely, the then Mayor (Alderman John McConnochie), Alderman Daniel Jones, Alderman Henry Bowen, Councillor William Sanders (afterwards Alderman Sanders, who was Mayor of Cardiff for the year 1889-90), with the Town Clerk, attended at the National Provincial Bank about two p.m. on that day, they received the Bank of England note for £165,000, and subsequently proceeding to the Brecon Old Bank, they were informed by Mr. H. J. Evans that owing to the heavy delivery of letters all over the country the Bank of England note for £135,000 had not reached him.

The deputation then told Mr. Evans that they could not leave the Bank until they received it, and after waiting more than an hour the Bank was closed, but the deputation still remained, and after the lapse of another 30 minutes, the postman brought the letter containing the Bank of England note, upon which the Deputation at once proceeded to the offices of the Company and completed the purchase.

On the 12th January, 1880, the Corporation passed a special resolution thanking these gentlemen for the valuable services they had rendered to the Borough, in connection with the purchase of the Undertaking of the Cardiff Waterworks Company, and for the highly satisfactory manner in which they had negotiated the loans required for paying the purchase money.

Mr. John Taylor, C.E., who acted as the Engineer of the Waterworks Company, and whose experience as one of the original promoters and directors of the Cardiff Waterworks Company was of considerable value, was consulted as to an extension of the existing works at Ely, and in a report, dated 23rd September, 1880, recommended an extension of the collecting culverts.

The Corporation had the advice and assistance of Mr. J. A. B. Williams, M.Inst.C.E., &c. (who was appointed Borough Engineer of Cardiff on the 14th August, 1876, and who resigned on the 11th June, 1883, on his being appointed Waterworks Engineer of the Corporation, which latter appointment he held until his resignation on the 24th day of June, 1895).

The Corporation proceeded with the construction of a new underground collecting culvert at Ely on the north side of the river "as the easiest, quickest, and cheapest mode of increasing the water supply, and as the best means of tiding over the difficulty of shortness of supply until new works of a larger character could be constructed elsewhere." These extensions cost £10,614, and resulted in a considerable increase in the quantity of water available at that source.

The yield was increased to 1,000,000 gallons per day in ordinary seasons, and to about 900,000 gallons per day during the very dry summers of 1884 and 1887, and was of great importance to the town.

In March, 1881, the Engineer (Mr. J. A. B. Williams) was instructed to prepare a report on every source yielding an abundant supply of water available for Cardiff and within a reasonable distance thereof.

Very exhaustive reports were presented to the Corporation in May and August, 1881, by Mr. Williams, dealing with the different sources within a considerable radius of Cardiff, and clearly showing that the Taff Fawr or Brecon Beacons scheme on the Old Red Sandstone formation was the best source that could fulfil all the requirements as to quantity, quality, and other essential conditions for the supply of the town and district for about 40 years. The Engineer further recommended that the large storage reservoir at Llanishen, authorised by the Cardiff Waterworks Act of 1878, should be constructed as large as possible within the limits of deviation, thereby increasing its capacity from 140 to 300 million gallons, and that it should be proceeded with at once, in order to utilise the surplus water from the Lisvane Watershed during the construction of the Taff Fawr Works, and thereby to avert a probable water famine, and that on the completion of those works the reservoir should be used for storing water from the Taff Fawr Valley.

The Council were much exercised as to the best scheme to adopt, and in December, 1881, Mr. John F. Bateman, C.E., was asked to advise on the various proposals which had been made for obtaining further water, and in June, 1882, he presented a report recommending the Taff Fawr scheme as being that which, on the whole, would meet the present and future demands most effectually at the least cost.

Mr. Thomas Evans, now of Assam House, Taff's Well, was then a member of the Cardiff Corporation, and was one of the first to recognise and espouse the advantages of the Taff Fawr scheme. This was mentioned by him at a meeting of the Corporation held on the 14th October, 1882.

The Waterworks Committee, after considerable discussion, decided to construct the Llanishen Works first, and afterwards proceed with the Taff Fawr Works. The wisdom of this became apparent in 1887, when, in consequence of a severe drought, only 14 days' supply was at one time in store.

The plans and the Bill for the Taff Fawr scheme were duly deposited in November, 1883. Sixteen influential petitions were presented against the Bill, which occupied the attention of the House of Commons Committee from 1st to 20th May, 1884, and cost the Corporation £3,652, strenuous opposition being given by the riparian owners, during which the greatest water engineers of that time, Mr. John Frederick Bateman, C.E., Mr. Thomas Hawksley, C.E., Mr. James Mansergh, C.E., Mr. George H. Hill, C.E., and Mr. J. A. B. Williams, C.E., together with Mr. George James Symonds, F.R.S., an eminent meteorologist, rendered conspicuous and able aid, and ultimately the proposed works were sanctioned.

By the Cardiff Corporation Act of 1884 (Part 2) the Corporation were empowered to collect and impound a part of the waters of the River Taff Fawr and its tributaries, the catchment area being 10,400 acres. This watershed was divided into two portions, viz., the "upper area," containing 4,000 acres, and the "lower area," comprising 6,400 acres.

The idea of this partition was to enable the development of the "upper area" to be carried out first, thereby reducing the initial capital outlay, and also to allow of compensation water being given in respect of the "upper area" (see section 10 of the Act of 1884), which is equal to 331 cubic feet per minute, or practically three million gallons per 24 hours throughout the year, instead of giving the compensation water at once in respect of the entire watershed of 10,400 acres, which would have been 861 cubic feet per minute or 7¾ million gallons per 24 hours.

It was proposed to construct three storage reservoirs with a total capacity of 1,220 million gallons, two of these being designed on the "upper area" and the third at the foot of the "lower area." Also three balancing reservoirs at Cefn, Blackbrook, and Rhubina respectively, on the line of the conduit, and a "high level" service reservoir, with a set of filter beds, also at Rhubina, for the supply by gravitation of Penarth, Llandaff, Whitchurch, Maindy, and Penylan. In addition to the foregoing, there was a 24 to 29 inch aqueduct or conduit connecting the storage reservoirs and passing down the valley of the Taff through the towns and villages of Merthyr Tydfil, Troedyrhiw, Merthyr Vale, Quaker's Yard, Navigation, Pontypridd, Treforest, Taff's Well, and Tongwynlais to Rhubina, and from thence to the two storage reservoirs at Lisvane and Llanishen, a total distance of 32 miles.

On the 7th August, 1884, the Act received the Royal Assent, and no time was lost in commencing the first portion of the work, viz., No. 2 Storage (Cantreff) Reservoir, the three balancing reservoirs, the aqueduct or conduit, and the high level service reservoir and filter beds at Rhubina.

The construction of the aqueduct was entered upon in October, 1885, and completed in September, 1888. In December, 1887, the three balancing reservoirs, together with the high level service reservoir and filters were commenced, and in November, 1888, were satisfactorily completed.

The Corporation were not, however, so fortunate as to get the Cantreff (No. 2) Storage Reservoir expeditiously constructed, for although this work was commenced in the spring of 1886, it was not completed and opened for use until the 14th September, 1892, a period of six years and six months. The delay was occasioned by protracted and heavy litigation between the Corporation and the two Contractors to whom the works were successively let, but on the 13th June, 1891, the Corporation took possession of the works and completed the reservoir by their own men with gratifying results, under the direction of their Waterworks Engineer (Mr. J. A. B. Williams).

The embankment of Cantreff Reservoir was formed at a point in the valley immediately north of Nant Ddu, a shooting lodge belonging to Lord Tredegar, where the valley is very narrow, the hills on each side rising steeply.

The watershed above this reservoir has an area of 4,000 acres, and consists almost entirely of mountain pasture, rising from an elevation of 1,080 feet at the reservoir to 2,910 feet above ordnance datum at the Brecon Beacons.

The Cantreff Reservoir was formally opened by the then mayor, Alderman Thomas Rees, J.P., on the 14th September, 1892.

The height of the embankment from foundation to top is 120 feet, height from bed of river 90 feet, and the greatest depth of water 73 feet. The length of the lake is three-quarters of a mile, and its capacity 323 million gallons.

The maximum carrying capacity of the conduit or aqueduct between the Taff Fawr Reservoirs and Cardiff, the water being taken direct to Llanishen Reservoir, is 12 million gallons per day, but when the water is taken through Rhubina Reservoir the maximum carrying capacity does not exceed 10 million gallons per day.

In the month of April, 1893, the construction of No. 1 (Beacons) Reservoir was started by the Corporation, who prudently decided not to employ a Contractor.

When the design for this reservoir was being matured, the Waterworks Engineer (Mr. J. A. B. Williams) found that the capacity authorised by the 1884 Act could be more than doubled by placing the embankment a little higher up the valley and this was also found to be necessary to secure a solid watertight rock foundation.

Accordingly, by the Cardiff Corporation Act, 1894, the Corporation obtained the requisite power for that purpose, and on the 30th September, 1897, the Beacons Reservoir was opened by the present Chairman of the Waterworks Committee (Alderman David Jones, J.P.).

At the present time (February, 1905) the Corporation have not commenced the construction of No. 3 Reservoir (although the lands have been acquired), the lowest of the series of reservoirs authorised by the 1884 Act, but when it is constructed, Cardiff will have a further daily supply of three million gallons, making a total daily quantity of 10,500,000 gallons in ordinary dry seasons derived from the Taff Fawr Valley, sufficient for a population of 420,000 at 25 gallons per head per day.

When this reservoir is completed, the Corporation must give further compensation water to the river of 4¾ million gallons per diem.

If needs be, another storage reservoir could be constructed between the Cantreff Reservoir and proposed Reservoir No. 3, which would very considerably augment one of the finest supplies of water both as to quantity and quality in the Kingdom.

The land acquired by the Corporation for the construction of No. 3 Reservoir amounts to about 280 acres. During the year 1902 the Corporation were considering the desirability of making this reservoir larger than was originally intended, and of purchasing about 25 acres more land, so that it should have a capacity of 900,000,000 gallons instead of 670,000,000, as designed in the Parliamentary Plans authorised by the 1884 Act, in order to devote the waters of the Cantreff and Beacons Reservoirs entirely to town supply, and to make No. 3 Reservoir large enough so as to ensure the delivery of the full quantity of the compensation water due to the entire drainage area of 10,400 acres, which is nearly 7,750,000 gallons per day over the longest drought.

In the year 1895 the Corporation instructed Mr. J. A. B. Williams to prepare plans and references shewing the whole of the reservoirs, lands and other property belonging to the Corporation in use, for the purposes of their Undertaking. These plans were completed, and have since been kept up to date as further purchases of land have been made and works constructed. They have been placed among the Records of the Corporation.

The High Level Service Reservoir and Water Tower at Penylan for the supply of the outlying districts of Rumney and St. Mellons, in addition to Penylan district and other high parts of the town, three additional filter beds at the "Heath," and large extensions of mains in the district of supply, have been constructed under the supervision of Mr. C. H. Priestley, M.Inst.C.E., who was appointed Waterworks Engineer to the Corporation on the 24th June, 1895.

By the Local Government Board's Provisional Orders (No. 11) Act, 1902, the water limits were extended so as to include the Parish of St. Fagans, and the Corporation, with the sanction of the Local Government Board, were empowered to borrow such sums as might be necessary for purposes of their Waterworks Undertaking, in addition to the monies authorised to be borrowed for those purposes by their Acts of 1879, 1884 and 1894.

Money is now being borrowed for carrying out extensions to the Waterworks at Rhubina, Cogan, and the "Heath"; also a service reservoir at Leckwith, bye-pass main from Taff Fawr Conduit near Llanishen Viaduct to the "Heath" Filters, relaying of the town mains and extensions thereof, duplicate supply for sanitary purposes, and other small extensions, the total estimated cost of these works being £98,000. Several of the reservoirs and extensions are now complete and others are being carried out.

The following table shews the existing reservoirs and works of the Corporation in 1904:—

Reservoirs and Works in Operation.

Top Water Area. Capacity.
Acres. Roods. Perches. Gallons.
Beacons Storage Reservoir, Taff Fawr 51 2 34 345,000,000
Cantreff " " " 45 0 0 323,000,000
Llanishen " " " 59 1 23 317,000,000
Lisvane " " " 19 2 34 80,000,000
Penhill Service " 0 2 26½ 2,000,000
Cogan " " 0 1 32 2,000,000
Leckwith " " 0 2 2,000,000
Llandough " " 0 0 23½ 600,000
Penylan " " 0 3 30½ 3,000,000
Supply Conduit from Cantreff Reservoir to Llanishen
Reservoir (32 miles)
Cefn Balancing Reservoir "en route" 500,000
Blackbrook Balancing Reservoir "en route" 500,000
Rhubina " " " 700,000
Rhubina.—One open and two covered Service Reservoirs
and five Filter Beds for "High Level Supply"
Heath. Filter Beds.—Six Filter Beds capable of filter-ing six million gallons per day. One covered ServiceReservoir containing 1,300,000
Cogan Pumping Station.—Three Engines, two Boilers,for High Level for Penarth District.

Works in Reserve.

Ely Pumping Station.—Two Collecting Culverts and Wells, two Engines, two Boilers.

Average yield per day, 1,000,000 gallons.

The aggregate population supplied with water at present is 205,000, and the consumption of water for all purposes during the summer of 1904 has been at the rate of about 26 gallons per head per day.

The water now available from the two storage reservoirs in the Taff Fawr Valley (after giving 3,000,000 gallons per day for compensation to the river) and the two storage reservoirs at Llanishen and Lisvane, is nearly seven million gallons per day in very dry years of 120 days' drought.

The expenditure hitherto incurred (31st March, 1904) on these works amount to £1,264,374, but notwithstanding this fact, the cost to the town up to the end of 1890 was nothing.

Since then, however, certain grants of money have been made from the rates in aid of the expenditure, as follows:—

Year ending 31st March, 1891 £5,000
" 1892 £6,000
" 1893 £8,000
" 1894 £12,000
" 1895 £11,500
" 1896 £13,337
" 1897 £10,908
" 1898 £7,868
" 1899 £8,006
" 1900 £13,587
" 1901 £8,881
" 1902 £10,250
" 1903 £9,578
" 1904 £12,307

One penny in the £ upon the net rateable value for District Rate purposes of Cardiff produces about £4,076.

All the districts around Cardiff look to the Cardiff Corporation to supply them with water, and the local governing bodies are thereby relieved of the great responsibility resting upon public authorities in respect thereof, the whole burden, as well as the cost and risk, falling upon the Cardiff Council.

In consequence of the increase of the population of Cardiff and surrounding districts, the Corporation have been obliged, as has been shewn, to take great precautions to ensure an adequate supply for many years. To do this has been a considerable task, entailing the preparation of exhaustive reports and the making of numerous enquiries.

Grave consideration has also been given to such a question as the quality of water, with the result that with the construction of the reservoirs and works in the Taff Fawr Valley, the districts surrounding Cardiff, as well as the borough itself, are provided with water of the purest quality in abundance by the Cardiff Corporation.

Since the Corporation acquired the undertaking of the Waterworks Company, the following gentlemen have held the responsible position of Chairman of the Waterworks Committee:—

Date of Appointment.

23rd December, 1879.—Alderman Daniel Jones, J.P., who was Mayor of Cardiff during the years 1874 and 1875, and who died on the 26th day of October, 1887.

11th November, 1881.—Councillor (now Sir) Alfred Thomas, Mayor of Cardiff 1881-2, who is the Member of Parliament for East Glamorgan.

11th November, 1886.—Alderman David Jones, J.P., the present chairman, who was Mayor of Cardiff for the year ending 9th November, 1888-9.

Town Hall,


1st February, 1905.