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Rivington reservoirs

Rivington, United Kingdom




5 years




United Kingdom
Project achievements

Economy boosted

The water supply was a boon to factories and industry generally.

Solved the problem

Create a network for storing, moving and supplying water to nearby towns and cities.

Used engineering skill

Dig out and build 3 enormous reservoirs using clay and other natural materials.

Build a system to provide fresh filtered water for Liverpool (even though it was brown to start with)

The Rivington reservoirs are a network of reservoirs built along 3 shallow valleys between Bolton and Preston in north west England. The scheme provides water to Liverpool and was among the first to filter its supply.

There are 3 reservoirs at the centre of the scheme: Anglezarke, Upper Rivington and Lower Rivington. The structures were designed by engineer Thomas Hawksley.

Although they appear to be a 6km-long chain of reservoirs in a single valley, the 3 reservoirs are actually built over 3 valleys. Their combined high water area is 188 hectares with a total volume of 12.7m litres.

The scheme was Hawksley’s first design for an impounding reservoir. Impounding reservoirs have outlets controlled by gates and release stored surface water when it’s needed – often when rainfall has been low. They’re also known as storage reservoirs.

Anglezarke reservoir has an average depth of only 5.8m. It’s mainly fed by the river Yarrow, which originally ran through the gap now filled by one of the embankments.

The Upper and Lower Rivington reservoirs are basically a single structure, despite the 267m long Horrobin embankment separating them.

Water from the scheme began to flow in August 1857. Even though it was filtered, it was brown-coloured when it arrived in Liverpool. This was caused by peat and vegetation at the bottom of the newly-filled structures.

Another 4 reservoirs extended the network between 1850 and 1875.

Rivington Reservoir

Upper Rivington was built in the 1850s and supplies water to customers in places like Bolton and Chorely. Dr. Andy Hughes talks us through the process of up keeping Rivington Reservoir.

Did you know …

  1. The scheme’s supporters were known as ‘Pikeists’ as the water came from the area near the hill summit of Rivington Pike.

  2. The large number of thirsty workers employed on the project overwhelmed the area’s pubs and inns. Enterprising locals set up as unlicensed ‘beer vendors’ to meet demand.

  3. Surprisingly, only 3 properties were submerged by the original scheme – a pub, a manor house and a farm.

Difference the reservoirs have made

The Rivington scheme was the biggest network of reservoirs ever built at the time it opened. It became a model for waterworks all over the world.

The original chain of reservoirs – along with the 4 built later – has supplied water to Liverpool for over 150 years.

The reservoirs have become tourist attractions, helping to boost the local economy. The area is popular for hiking and fishig.

How the work was done

Construction of the scheme’s Anglezarke reservoir saw workers building 3 embankments to hold back the waters – Heapey (85.3m long, 9.75m high), Charnock (777m long, 9.45m high) and Knowsley (219.5m long, 14m high).

Engineers constructed the embankments by first digging a trench across the valley down to the solid rock. The trench was then filled up to ground level with layers of puddled clay 9 inches (23cm) thick.

‘Puddled clay’ is clay mixed with water, sand or grit. Workers compacted each 9 inch layer with a large rectangular block of wood on a long handle. This made the clay solid and watertight.

Workers continued the clay wall above ground level. At the same time, they built the slopes of the embankment around the clay centre using earth and rocks. These were also compacted to be watertight.

Engineers lined the inner slopes of the embankment with grit laid on a bed of broken stone. The outer slopes of the embankment were finished by workers covering them with soil and then grassing them over.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Liverpool Corporation
  • Designer: Thomas Hawksley (ICE president)

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