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Headington Hill & Road: Headington Reservoir

ReservoirHeadington Reservoir at the top of Headington Hill
This 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

Although it is sited at the top of Headington Hill, this reservoir was actually in St Clement's parish, and was built to supply piped water to that area of Oxford rather than Headington. It is opposite the top lodge of Headington Hill Hall, on the west side of the private road formerly known as the Freeboard and now named as Headington Hill. It was built on land belonging to Tyrrell Knapp of The Rise in Cheney Lane.

St Clement’s had suffered seriously from in the Oxford cholera outbreak of 1832, and the following year spring water was brought down from Headington to supply its pumps instead of the filthy water from the River Cherwell. 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.

It was not until 1874, however, that a decision was made to construct a reservoir to supply piped water to the houses of St Clement's. 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.

This 1876 map of Headington shows the site at the top of Headington Hill where the reservoir was about to be built, blocking the view of Oxford that had been enjoyed by the house called River View to the south of Hill Top house.

Reservoir area in 1876

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 Eagleston) and Corporation. Jackson's Oxford Journal on 29 September 1877 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.

The detail from the 1899 map below shows the new reservoir that had been built in 1877. Headington itself still had no piped water, and many houses to the east of the reservoir were still shown with a pump (marked P) or a well (marked W). Ironically Reservoir Cottage immediately to the south of the reservoir is also shown as still having a pump.

Reservoir in 1899

In June 1902 an engine house was built at Headington Reservoir to pump water to a new reservoir in Headington Quarry, enabling Headington to have a water supply for the first time. The map below dating from 1921 shows the position of the 1902 pumping station to the west of the reservoir:

Reservoir in 1921

The first building in Headington to get mains water was the Warneford Asylum: Jackson’s Oxford Journal reported on 25 October 1902 that a special water main had been laid to it from the Headington Hill reservoir.

Water mains were laid on Headington Hill in 1904 and in Pullens Lane in 1909, possibly directly from this reservoir.

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

By the time the 1939 map shown below was published, a second reservoir had been built at the top of Headington Hill to the south of the original one:

Reservoir in 1939

The three later reservoirs built to serve Headington itself
(1) Shotover Reservoir, Shotover Kilns, Headington Quarry

1921 map

In 1902 George Taylor of Headington Quarry sold land to Oxford Corporation for the building of the first reservoir to serve Headington (site shown right in 1921, with Old Road to the south).

The Oxford Chronicle of 23 October 1903 (p. 7) reports on this new reservoir. An engine house with a pair of gas engines and pumps had been recently built at the reservoir at the top of Headington Hill by John Wooldridge of Tackley Place. These pumps sent water 2¼ miles to the east and 120 feet higher (via eight miles of mains from 8” to 3” in diameter, 35 valves, and 60 hydrants) to this new covered storage reservoir at the foot of Shotover.

It adds that supply from these works began in June 1902, and by October 1903 52 service pipes had been connected to those mains.

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.

New roads in Headington were now supplied with water as they were built: on 20 October 1911 the Oxford Chronicle reported that new water mains had been laid in Stapleton Road and Latimer Road in Headington.

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

Today the area this reservoir serves includes Risinghurst and Marston, and in 2005/6 a burst water main flooded Harold White Close and Richards Way in Risinghurst.

(2) Brasenose Reservoir, south side of The Ridings

In 1949 South Oxfordshire District Council granted planning permission (P12/S1147/FUL) for Oxford Corporation Waterworks to build this three-million-gallon reservoir on an 8.9 acre site on the west side of The Ridings, with the following particulars:

Bullingdon Rural Water Scheme. Erection of reinforced concrete service reservoir, capacity 3,000,000-gallons approx. size 234' 3" × 144' 0" banked & covered with soil & sown, finished level 12' above natural ground at centre & with small recorder house thereon, approx. size 8' x 8' x 8' together with erection of small Pumping Station of brickwork with stone coping & string courses & entrance, flat reinforced concrete roof, approx. size 30' × 15' 6" × 14' 6" high, situate in the parcel of land in parish of Forest Hill with Shotover within enclosure numbered 13 on the 1/2500 scale ordnance map for Oxfordshire, Sheet 34-13 (1921 edition).

Brasenose ReservoirBrasenose Reservoir in 2011

Brasenose Reservoir is today supplied with water from Farmoor Reservoir (completed in two stages in 1967 and 1976).

(3) Horspath reservoir, on the route over Shotover Hill

Horspath reservoirHorspath reservoir in 2011

This reservoir is on land owned by Oxford City Council and today supplies parts of Headington and Cowley, as well as Milton Common, Horspath, Wheatley and surrounding areas. The water comes from the pumping stations at Farmoor Reservoir and Brasenose Reservoir.

On 4 June 2012 Thames Water submitted a planning application for an additional reservoir “cell” on adjacent land (P12/S1147/FUL) for additional storage, with half the capacity of the existing reservoir. This would then serve Barton Park in addition to the existing area and to meet future requirements for the next 40 years. The plan was opposed by the villagers of Horspath and Wheatley and was withdrawn on 21 December 2012 prior to determination:

© Stephanie Jenkins

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