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Headington Hill & Road: Headington Reservoir

ReservoirHeadington Reservoir at the top of Headington Hill is in fact in St Clement’s parish.
The original one above dates from 1877, and a second one behind dates from c.1930

Headington Reservoir, 2017Headington Reservoir New (the one further from the road) was drained for inspection in March 2017.
This photograph of it was taken by Rob Cox of Thames Water and is reproduced with their permission

History of Headington Reservoir

St Clement’s suffered seriously from in the Oxford cholera outbreak of 1832, and G. V. Cox in his Recollections of Oxford records that in June 1833:

a small subscription was begun, for bringing down a pure supply of water from a spring on Headington-hill (then running to waste), to supply St. Clement’s with the pure element; the want of which had (it was reasonably supposed) contributed to the recent spread of cholera in that neighbourhood. N.B. Each of the public pumps in the streets of St. Clement’s has ever since been supplied from that spring.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 28 November 1874 reported on the Oxford Waterworks Bill of that year (which became an Act in 1875). One of the powers given to the Corporation was:

To construct a Reservoir in an arable field in the parish of Saint Clement, in the City and County of Oxford, belonging to the Trustees of the late Tyrrell Knapp, and occupied by Thomas Knowles, and which field is situated at the Junction of the Oxford and Headington Turnpike Road with the Road called The Freebord.

A detailed discussion of the plans can be found in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 6 February 1875. On 20 March 1875 that newspaper reported:

The Bill for obtaining powers for the construction of a reservoir on Headington Hill, in connection with the Oxford Water Works, came before the Committee of the House of Commons on Monday last. The opposition of the Thames Conservators was defeated, and the effect of the decision will be that the Corporation will be at liberty to take any quantity of water they choose from the Thames for the requirements of the reservoir….

On 16 October 1875 it was reported:

The Water Works Committee is actively engaged in making the necessary arrangements for the construction of the reservoir on Headington Hill, on a site belonging to the late T.Knapp, Esq., and in the occupation of Mr. Thos. Knowles, and when completed the City will possess a continuous supply of water both night and day…. During the past year mains have been laid in some of the new streets in Cowley and St.Clement's, as well as in Winchester, Leckford, and Canterbury Roads, St. Giles's.

On 27 May 1876 the Corporation advertised that they were prepared to receive Tenders for the construction of a covered service reservoir, cottage, and other works at Headington Hill, and the work was carried out by Charles Dickenson, to the plans of Mr.Hawkesley, C.E. The new reservoir was formally opened on Wednesday 26 September 1877 in the presence of the Mayor (Alderman Easgleston) and Corporation, and Jackson's Oxford Journal on 29 September reported that:

The reservoir is situated on the summit of Headington Hill, 150 feet above the source of supply, and will be capable of throwing a stream of water over the highest tower of Oxford. The cost of the work is about 9000l., exclusive of the land, and provision has been made by the purchase of land for a duplicate reservoir when required.

Not everyone thought that the money was well spent: Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 16 September 1882 reports that at a public meeting at Gloucester Green former mayor John Towle, who was then aged 65, sitting on his white pony,

declared, amidst great laughter, that the ratepayers of Oxford were plundered more than any other people in the kingdom, and it was their duty to alter such a state of things. Speaking of the reservoir, erected by the Corporation on Headington Hill, he termed it a “fountain,” which had caused a large amount of money to no purpose, and said he would not sleep in St. Clement’s for fear it should burst, for all that the property in the neighbourhood was worth.

Headington itself had to wait even longer for piped water: it was not until the early twentieth century that water was brought down from Shotover to Headington. Hence the 1899 map of Headington shows many houses with a well (marked W) or pump (marked P).

Reservoir area in 1876

~Reservoir in 1899

Reservoir in 1921

Reservoir in 1939

At the time of the 1911 census Reservoir Cottage was occupied by Samuel Blagrove, an Oxford Corporation Waterworks Inspector, and his family.

See the Oxford Journal Illustrated for 12 February 1913, p.6, for a photograph of the Headington reservoir and related subjects.

Two other Headington reservoirs

A schedule of city council property for 1906 lists the following:

At Headington, Covered Storage Reservoir, holding 1,250,000 Gallons, Dwelling House, Garden and Land, and small Pumping House containing pair of Gas Engines for pumping water to Headington and Shotover Hill, total area, 3a. 1r. 3p.

The “covered reservoir” is probably the underground Brasenose reservoir, just to the south of The Ridings:

Brasenose Reservoir
Brasenose Reservoir in 2011

The 1911 census shows Richard Kimber (65) living with his family just to the east of the Crown & Thistle in Old Road described as “ Caretaker of reservoir (City Waterworks Oxford)”.

The 1906 city council schedule also lists a third reservoir in Headington:

Shotover Hill, High level covered Reservoir for the Headington supply, with gauge hut, mains, and valves, and land surrounding same planted with trees, the whole occupying an area of 1a. 2r. 13p., together with a right of way to the above through the rick yard of Mr. G. Taylor, and the meadow adjoining same, and an easement for pipe lines through lands belonging to Mr. G. Taylor and Mr. Joseph Haynes.

This is probably Horspath Reservoir, at the very top of Shotover Hill beside the track of the old London Road:

Horspath reservoir
Horspath reservoir in 2011

© Stephanie Jenkins

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