NS2874 : Aqueduct below Whinhill Reservoir

taken 8 months ago, near to Greenock, Inverclyde, Great Britain

Aqueduct below Whinhill Reservoir
Aqueduct below Whinhill Reservoir
The channel flowing parallel to and on the near side of the fence seems artificially straight, and it is: it is an aqueduct, shown on the first-edition map, which was surveyed in 1857. It flows from the north-eastern corner of Whinhill Reservoir: NS2774 : Whinhill Reservoir: outflow; see the first end-note for comments.

At the centre of this picture, water flows into it from a body of water that is on the other side of the fence, and which is unseen from here (a small part of it can be seen from a distance in NS2874 : A view to two reservoirs). The first-edition map labels that body of water "Reservoir (Shaws Waterworks)". Shaws Water Works, as a whole, are described in the second end-note, written by another contributor.

Between that old reservoir and Whinhill Reservoir, there used to be some filter beds, centred on NS27967459. They first appear on the second-edition map (revised in 1896), but they are long since grassed-over (see NS2774 : Whinhill Reservoir: view down the embankment).

The part of the aqueduct that is shown in this picture is just south of a NS2874 : Covered reservoir, which is much more recent (it dates from after the Second World War). Just below this point, the water in the aqueduct is joined by some other burns, and their combined water, the Carts Burn, flows through a natural and therefore more irregular channel. As the map shows, the area through which it flows is called Auchmountain Glen.

For the origins of the name Auchmountain itself, see NS2974 : Auchmountain Road.
Whinhill Reservoir :: NS2774
Whinhill Reservoir is alongside the course of Greenock Whinhill Golf Club, but it is accessible by means of footpaths.

In the 1790s, a dam was built here on the Carts Burn for the Cartsdyke Mill Company. Though referred to as the Whin Hill Dam or Whinhill Dam, it was known more colloquially as Beath's Dam (sometimes spelled Beith's Dam), after the miller who owned it.

Its banks gave way on the 15th of March 1815. The breach was not repaired until 1821. The dam was later purchased by Shaws Water Company (see LinkExternal link for more on Shaws Water Works).

The dam collapsed again on the 21st of November 1835, flooding the eastern extremity of Greenock, and a part of neighbouring Cartsdyke (which was then a separate village, not yet part of Greenock). The flood, sweeping trees along with it, destroyed a substantial bridge over the burn, near Cartsburn House. Nearly 40 people were killed by the inundation, the majority of them children (the flood occurred shortly after 11pm, when many people were in their beds).

The following account of the floods is from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1884): "in 1815 the dam of a reservoir built in 1796 to drive the machinery of the Cartsburn Cotton Spinning Company burst, but without serious results(*). It was restored in 1821, and in 1825(*) the reservoir was taken over by the Shaws Water Company. In November 1835, an unhappy accident occurred. There had been an unusually heavy rainfall, reaching 3 inches in 48 hours, unparalleled even in Greenock. About eleven at night the dam burst, rushing down the gorge of the Cartsburn to the town, and besides destroying much property, causing a loss of thirty-eight lives".

(*) The Spectator, in its issue of 28th November 1835, differs in some particulars: following its detailed account of the 1835 flood (which the article acknowledges as being based on an account given in the Greenock Advertiser), it states that "in the spring of 1815, the banks of this reservoir gave way, and considerable damage to property was done in very nearly the same track. The breach was not filled up until 1821; when the reservoir was judicially inspected, and found to be safe. In 1829 it was purchased by the Shaws Water Company, to increase the supply of water for the town of Greenock".

The embankment is said to have been of poor construction, and it is thought to have been further weakened by the tunnelling activities of vermin; this led to its being rapidly washed away at the start of the flood (G M Binnie, "Early Dam Builders in Britain"): see the discussion at LinkExternal link (Greenock Telegraph).

An aqueduct from the north-eastern corner of the reservoir leads ESE. At the lower end of the aqueduct, at NS28177456, water flows into it from a smaller reservoir that is centred on NS28117454; the first-edition map (surveyed in 1857) labels it "Reservoir (Shaws Waterworks)".

Below that point, the watercourse, following a natural channel through Auchmountain Glen, is called the Carts Burn; it is shown as the "Kar Burn" on Blaeu's 1654 map of Renfrewshire (see LinkExternal link at NLS); the earlier manuscript map Pont 33 (c.15831596; see LinkExternal link at NLS) shows "Kartsburn", probably referring not to the burn itself but to the area that is named after it.

On OS maps from 1896 to at least 1938, some filter beds are shown just to the east of Whinhill Reservoir. They were centred on NS27967459, but that area is now grassed over.

A water treatment works dating from after the Second World War stands just to the north-east of the smaller reservoir, at NS28207463.
Shaws Water Works :: NS2775
Shaws Water Works, or Shaws Water Scheme as it is sometimes known, is a water supply system which was constructed in and around Greenock in the early 19th Century. The scheme takes its name from Shaws Water, a stream which ran in the vicinity of what is now the north bank of Loch Thom.

The scheme was built at the request of local landowner Sir Michael Shaw Stewart by Robert Thom who had experience of providing water power to his nearby Rothesay cotton mills on the Isle of Bute. The aim of the scheme was to bring water to the rapidly expanding town for drinking as well as for industrial use.

Greenock's most famous son James Watt had already provided a water supply scheme during the late 18th Century, but this was inadequate and often dried up completely during periods of dry weather. Watt and his colleague in that scheme (John Rennie) had previously stated that a scheme such as that planned by Thom was impractical owing to the need to get water around the high line of hills to the south of the town.

The scheme was opened in 1827, with a second branch being added in 1846. At its peak, the system supplied many industries in the east end of the town, around the present day Lynedoch Street, Drumfrochar Road, Dellingburn Street and Baker Street, with a branch extending further east beyond Baker Street to Cartsburn.

The served industries included a paper mill at what is now Papermill Road, sugar refineries at Lynedoch Street/Drumfrochar Road, various Ropeworks at Lynedoch Street and later at Peat Road, a distillery at Baker Street, a worsted yarn mill at Peat Road, a charcoal works (related to the sugar industry) on Baker Street, several foundries around Dellingburn Street, a rice mill and several flax and sailcloth mills.

Most of these industries have now gone or are no longer using water from the scheme, but most of the scheme survives reasonably intact today in the form of the Greenock Cut LinkExternal link which is the main aqueduct bringing water from Loch Thom to the east end of the town.

Within the town itself, there can be seen many traces of the aqueducts and tunnels which still run with water and which are still maintained to avoid flooding of the town.

The scheme supplied Greenock with drinking water until as recently as 1971 at which time a tunnel was blasted through the hill from Loch Thom to Prospecthill.

It's ironic that such a system was installed and thrived in the home town of James Watt, the father of steam power, who was born a short walk from the aqueducts in the lower parts of the town.

Sources and further reading can be found at...

Sylvia Clark's excellent 1976 report on the Renfrewshire Local History Forum web site LinkExternal link

The Engineering Timelines web site LinkExternal link

Google Books free online book "A Brief Account of the Shaws Water Scheme and Present (1829) State of the Works" LinkExternal link
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NS2874, 62 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Monday, 24 July, 2017   (more nearby)
Thursday, 3 August, 2017
Geographical Context
Water resources 
Primary Subject of Photo
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 2816 7456 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:55.9979N 4:45.1452W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 2818 7457
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West-southwest (about 247 degrees)
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