But there was a time when water also meant wealth and those that “owned” it guarded it jealously. I am thinking of the cotton mill owners of Victorian England who used water to power their factories and worried when plans were lodged to create reservoirs to supply the towns and cities.
Waterworks is a small museum in Ashton-under-Lyne that commemorates the construction of the Longdendale reservoirs which transformed the lives of people living in the borough and beyond by providing clean, disease free drinking water.
The Manchester Corporation Waterworks Acts of 1847 and 1848 gave permission for the construction of a chain of reservoirs that would guarantee a supply 121 million gallons of water a week, but only after the objections of the mill owners had been overcome.
The living conditions of the working people in the surrounding towns was pretty squalid and disease was rife because of poor hygiene and a lack of running water. The reservoirs were to change that.
The sequence of six reservoirs on the River Etherow were designed by the civil engineer, John Frederick Bateman, and it was indeed a feat of engineering still functioning today. Above right is an original plan on display at the museum.
Bateman became known as “the greatest dam-builder of his generation” and he went on to work on water supply systems for Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, Newcastle upon Tyne and my home town of Stockport among many others.
He also carried out projects overseas, including designing and constructing a drainage and water supply system for Buenos Aires, and water supply schemes for Naples, Constantinople and Colombo.
Left is a photo of a display at Waterworks, the start of a film showing how the sluice gates would be opened to release the water into the system, making its way through miles of pipes before pouring from our taps and shower heads.
Water, something we take for granted while many parts of the world go without. It is time we learned again not to be so wasteful.