Davyhulme wastewater treatment works


Duration:5 years


Country: Manchester, UK

What did this project achieve?

In Victorian times construct a waste and sewage works for the city of Manchester

Davyhulme wastewater treatment works is the main sewage and wastewater treatment plant for Manchester. Opened in 1894, it pioneered many sewage treatment processes.

As Manchester's population grew in the late 19th century the city's sewer network and waste treatment sites began to struggle to meet expanding demand. Sewers overflowed regularly and rivers around the city became more polluted with untreated waste.

Manchester council decided to build deep level sewers to intercept and relieve pressure on the existing sewer network. Engineer Thomas de Courcy Meade, who'd just been appointed city surveyor, was put in charge of the project.

Meade oversaw the construction of 2 brick interceptor sewers which converged in the Davyhulme area, 8km north of the city centre. Davyhulme became the site for a new wastewater treatment works.

The new plant was spread over 38 hectares and had 11 treatment tanks with a total capacity of 55m litres. Other equipment included sludge wells and filter presses.

A sludge well is a tank used to separate solids and liquids during wastewater treatment. A filter press is a machine that uses pressure to separate slurry – semi-liquid waste – into solids and liquids.

Later developments saw another deep level sewer constructed in 1928. The plant was later privatised and has been owned by United Utilities since 1995.

Difference the treatment plant has made

The Davyhulme wastewater treatment works along with new deep level interceptor sewers improved how Manchester processed its sewage.

Reducing the amount of untreated sewage pumped into Manchester's rivers improved public health – it cut the incidence of cholera and other water-borne diseases in the city.

How the work was done

Engineers working on the Davyhulme scheme built 11 treatment tanks to process the city's sewage.

Project workers built a narrow 3ft (914mm) wide railway to move materials around the site. Steam locomotives were used to pull the wagons.

Raw sewage arriving at the plant was screened and treated with lime and iron sulphate. Workers then passed the effluent through precipitation tanks which separated solids and liquids.

Filtered liquid from the tanks was spread over an area of 15 hectares to allow evaporation. The resulting treated sludge was loaded into ships and disposed of in the estuary of the river Mersey.

Engineers also built a laboratory for the treatment works. Lab workers trialled new types of filter as well as analysing samples of effluent arriving at the plant.


During the long tenure of this office [as city surveyor of Manchester] he was associated with many important municipal undertakings, especially the main drainage scheme, which he designed and put into execution

Thomas de Courcy Meade

From Thomas's obituary in the ICE minutes of proceedings, 1917.

Fascinating facts

Engineers working at the Davyhulme wastewater treatment works discovered the 'activated sludge process' of treating sewage in 1914. The method is now used all over the world.

The process uses micro-organisms to digest organic matter in sewage, producing a highly-treated effluent.

The development has been called the most significant advance in public health of the 20th century.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Manchester council
  • Chief engineer: Thomas de Courcy Meade, ICE member

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