Glasgow water supply

Year:1859

Duration:4 years

Cost:£2m (£2.3bn today)

Country: Glasgow, UK

What did this project achieve?

In the 19th century transport fresh water from a loch miles away to Glasgow

By the 1840s Glasgow was a rapidly growing city. It had certainly outgrown its water supply – most of it still came from an 1807 scheme using the river Clyde as a source. But the quality of water from the Clyde was declining and outbreaks of cholera were common.

Glasgow council turned to water engineer John Frederick Bateman for a solution. Bateman was already famous for designing Manchester's water supply system. He suggested raising the level of Loch Katrine, an 8 mile long freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands, to provide an abundant supply of water to the city.

Although there was some opposition – there were fears that damming Loch Katrine could reduce water levels in the nearby river Forth – Bateman's plan was backed by renowned engineers Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Glasgow council approved the scheme and construction began in 1855. The ambitious project included reservoirs, nearly 26 miles of aqueduct, 13 miles of hard rock tunnels and almost 4 miles of iron pipes.

Today, Bateman's scheme including extensions and modernisations still provides Glasgow with water.

Difference the water supply has made

In the early 19th century cholera was common in Glasgow where there was no piped water supply. A cholera epidemic from 1848-9 killed 4,000 people.

Bateman's Loch Katrine scheme brought an unlimited supply of fresh water to the city. Cases of cholera dropped significantly.

The project also played a large part in the urbanisation of Glasgow and helped develop an infrastructure for what would become one of the UK's leading cities.

How the work was done

Bateman's plan was to raise the level of Loch Katrine 1.2m by building a dam. Gravity and an aqueduct would then transport water from the loch to Glasgow. The aqueduct was built in two parts.

The first 41.5km stretch ran from Loch Katrine to Mugdock reservoir with engineers adapting the route to its surroundings.

A challenging landscape saw an initial 14.5km of aqueduct followed by 21km of tunnel dug through hard rock near Ben Lomond. The final 6km of this first stretch carried the water across bridges built over river valleys.

The second stretch of the aqueduct saw Bateman and his team laying 13km of twin cast iron pipes from Mugdock reservoir to Glasgow.

Bateman built 25 iron and masonry aqueduct bridges up to 24m high along the route. He used cast iron siphon pipes to carry the water, with a fall of 947mm per km (1 in 1,056).

The scheme was one of the biggest ever at the time with over 3,000 people working on it.

"​‌

I leave you a work as indestructible as the hills through which it has been carried.

John Bateman

at the opening of the Loch Katrine scheme, 1859

Fascinating facts

Queen Victoria officially inaugurated the Loch Katrine scheme on 14 October 1859. The monarch opened a sluice to allow water from the loch to flow into the aqueduct.

Bateman's network still delivers up to 230m litres of water a day to Glasgow.

Loch Katrine is the setting for Sir Walter Scott's famous narrative poem 'The Lady of the Lake'. The poem opens with a stag hunt in a forest near the loch.

People who made it happen

  • Commissioners: Glasgow city council
  • Chief engineer: John Frederick Bateman, ICE member

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