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Waterworks and commemoration: purity, rurality, and civic identity in Britain, 1880–1921

  • OWEN G. ROBERTS (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

This article studies the commemoration and ceremonial culture surrounding the inauguration of new waterworks in British municipalities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It analyses how new waterworks could be seen as a symbol of a progressive civic government, and how the commemoration of their opening could be used to enhance a city's image. The article also studies the ways in which ideas concerning the purity of new water supplies were constructed. An examination is made of how ceremonial culture and publications reflected the particular politics of waterworks in individual localities, and how such commemoration could serve as a vehicle for the promotion of civic unity.

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ENDNOTES

P. Joyce, Democratic subjects: the self and the social in nineteenth-century England (Cambridge, 1994).

See R. Millward, ‘The political economy of urban utilities’, in M. J. Daunton ed., The Cambridge urban history of Britain, vol. 3 (Cambridge, 2000).

See for instance chapters in R. Coopey, E. Jakobsson, T. Oestigaard and T. Tvedt eds., A history of water, 3 vols. (London, 2006), produced under the auspices of the International Water History Association.

J.-P. Goubert, The conquest of water: the advent of health in the industrial age (trans. Andrew Wilson, Princeton, 1989), 69–71, 81–2, 207–8; I. Maver, ‘Loch Katrine water and Glasgow's civic identity from the 1840s to the 1990s’, unpublished paper presented to a symposium on ‘The political economy of water in Britain’, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 14 March 1998.

S. Gunn, The public culture of the Victorian middle class: ritual and authority in the English industrial city, 1840–1914 (Manchester, 2000), 163. See also Gunn's ‘Ritual and civic culture in the English industrial city, c. 1835–1914’, in R. J. Morris and R. H. Trainor, Urban governance: Britain and beyond since 1750 (Aldershot, 2000).

See A. G. Jones, Powers of the press: newspapers, power and the public in nineteenth-century England (Aldershot, 1996).

See, for instance, City of Birmingham Water Department, Elan supply: inauguration by His Majesty the King, July 21st 1904. Brief description of works, and itinerary (Birmingham, 1904); J. J. Harwood, History and description of the Thirlmere water scheme (Manchester, 1895); Liverpool Corporation, Souvenir of the opening of the Vyrnwy works (Liverpool, 1892); County-Borough of Birkenhead, Inauguration of the Alwen water supply to Birkenhead (first published 1921, reproduction by Clwyd Centre for Educational Technology, 1978).

Gunn, The public culture of the Victorian middle class, 165–9.

On notions of civic identity and competition see A. Briggs, Victorian cities (London, 1990; first published 1963); D. Fraser, Power and authority in the Victorian city (Oxford, 1979); Smith J., ‘Urban elites, c. 1830–1930, and urban history’, Urban History 27, 2 (2000), 255–75; J. Garrard, Leadership and power in Victorian industrial towns, 1830–1914 (Manchester, 1983); A. J. Croll, Civilizing the urban: popular culture and public space in Merthyr, c. 1870–1914 (Cardiff, 2000).

10  Daily Post, 15 July 1892, 3.

11  Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1894, 8.

12  Manchester Guardian, 13 October 1894, 7.

13  Letter from Lord Knollys to Manchester Corporation, 15 September 1894, and minutes for 20 August 1894, 27 September 1894, and 18 October 1894, in Waterworks Committee Minutes, vol. 43, Manchester Central Library.

14  Birmingham Mail, 22 July 1904, 4–8; South Wales Daily News, 22 July 1904, 5–6.

15  Liverpool Corporation, Souvenir of the opening of the Vyrnwy water works (Liverpool, 1892).

16  For instance, Daily Post, 13 July 1879, 3; Deacon G. F., ‘The Vyrnwy works for the water supply of Liverpool’, Minutes of the Proceedings of civil Engineers 126 (1896), 24130;

17  Birmingham Water Department, Elan supply: inauguration, 3–8.

18  Daily Post, 15 August 1921, 5.

19  Harwood, History and description of the Thirlmere water scheme, 175. The comparison is echoed in an editorial in the Manchester Guardian, 6 October 94, 7. Sir J. A. Picton, ‘The Vyrnwy Valley: its geological and glacial history’, Proceedings of the Liverpool Geological Society, sessions 30–3, vol. 6 (1892), 85–6.

20  Quoted in A. Anderson, ‘“A magnificent sequel”: Birmingham, the Elan Valley and the politics of a Welsh water suply in the 1890s’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wales, 2003), 32.

21  Coopey, ‘Politics, imperialism and engineering: the construction of the Birmingham Welsh water system, 1861–1952’, in J. A. A. Jones et al. eds., Water in the Celtic world: proceedings of the second Inter-Celtic Colloquium (British Hydrological Society, Wallingford, Oxon., 2000), 376.

22  The Times, 21 July 1906; South Wales Daily News, 19 July 1906; Western Mail, 13 July 1006; Y Genedl Gymreig, 22 January 07.

23  Anderson, ‘“A magnificent sequel”’, 157–8; Gunn, The public culture of the Victorian middle class, 179.

24  Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1894, 8.

25  Daily Post, 15 July 1881, 5.

26  Birmingham Water Department, Elan supply: inauguration, 9; Liverpool Corporation, Souvenir of the opening of the Vyrnwy water works.

27  I. Maver, Glasgow (Edinburgh, 2000), 91–2.

28  Harwood, History and description of the Thirlmere water scheme, 39, 171.

29  Daily Post, 8 July 1879, 4–5.

30  Daily Post, 15 July 1881, 5, and 15 July 1892, 7.

31  Minutes for 4 October 1894, Waterworks Committee Minutes, vol. 43, Manchester Central Library.

32  Liverpool Corporation, Souvenir of the opening of the Vyrnwy water works, 2.

33  Daily Post, 15 July 1881, 4–5.

34  Ibid., 5.

35  Editorial comment, Daily Post, 16 July 1881, 5.

36  Cambrian, 17 September 1875, 8.

37  Goubert, The conquest of water, 202, 207–8.

38  Daily Post, 15 July 1892, 7.

39  Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1894, 8.

40  Ibid., 6.

41  Daily Post, 30 July 1892, 5.

42  Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1894, 6.

43  P. Lord, Imaging the nation (Cardiff, 2000), 130–66.

44  James Croston, F.S.A., ‘Wales (descriptive and historical)’, in Deacon's North and South Wales court guide and county blue book (London, 1887), 49. A. G. Jones, ‘Culture, conflict and natural resources: Wales, 1870–1970 – geographic identity, power and the language of science’, unpublished paper presented at the ‘Culture and Power’ conference, Zaragoza, 18 September 1998. For the views of water scientists see C. Hamlin, A science of impurity: water analysis in nineteenth-century Britain (Bristol, 1990).

45  H. R. Jones, ‘Lake Vyrnwy: the history of a valley’, Transactions of the Liverpool Welsh National Society, 5th session (1889–90), 81–94. See Daily Post, 15 July 1881, 7, and the report of G. F. Deacon (23 June, 1876), published as Appendix 1 of ‘New water supply: report of the special sub-committee of the Water Committee’ (1877), 11, bound in Liverpool water supply pamphlets, Liverpool Record Office, rare books sequence, 3 vols., vol. 2.

46  Daily Post, 15 July 1881, 4–5.

47  Jones, ‘Lake Vyrnwy’, 87–9, 94.

48  Anderson, ‘“A magnificent sequel”’, 141; Birmingham Mail, 21 July 1904, 7; South Wales Daily News, 22 July 1904, 5

49  Letter from E. Anthony Lees to Stephen Williams, papers in Powys County Archives, Llandrindod Wells, quoted in Anderson, ‘“A magnificent sequel”’, 146–7. At least one newspaper was unimpressed at the final result, commenting that ‘the Waterworks Trophy, with its two figures and indifferent water display, was hardly worthy of a great Corporation Department; but the charming little Welsh figure (an actress from the Theatre Royal) was the prettiest thing in the procession’; Town Crier, 26 June 1897.

50  Harwood, History and description of the Thirlmere water scheme, 61.

51  Gunn, The public culture of the Victorian middle class, 169.

52  Waterworks Committee Minutes, 18 October 1894, vol. 43, Manchester Central Library; Daily Post, 12 July 1892, 7; Croll, Civilizing the urban, 104–36.

53  Daily Post, 15 July 1892, 7; South Wales Daily News, 22 July 1904, 5; Anderson, ‘“A magnificent sequel”’, 158.

54  For further details of the debate in Liverpool, see Roberts O. G., ‘The politics of health and the origins of Liverpool's Lake Vyrnwy water scheme, 1871–1892’, Welsh History Review 20, 2 (2000), 308–35.

55  Liverpool Citizen, 28 March 1888, 3; Davidson I., ‘George Deacon and the Vyrnwy works’, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 59 (1987–1988), 8195.

56  For further details of the history of the Alwen scheme see Roberts O. G., ‘Politics, engineering and civic pride: a history of the Alwen water scheme, 1906–21’, Denbighshire Historical Society Transactions 49 (2000), 95127. See also City of Liverpool, Proceedings of the Council, 1905–6, pp. 1637–79, Liverpool Records Office MS H352 COU; and Birkenhead News and Birkenhead Advertiser, July–September 1906, passim.

57  This controversy is the subject of a major research project by Professor Harriet Ritvo, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A book-length study has yet to be published; however, some key themes are outlined in Ritvo H., ‘Fighting for Thirlmere – the roots of environmentalism’, Science 300, 5625 (June, 2003). See also E. Porter, Water management in England and Wales (Cambridge, 1973).

58  The engineering aspects of Swansea's water problems are discussed in G. M. Binnie, ‘Sir Robert Rawlinson (1810–98) and the Swansea Corporation Waterworks’, in Binnie ed., Early Victorian water engineers (London, 1981), and for a fuller discussion of the issue, see O. G. Roberts, ‘Sanitary reform, civic politics and ideas of health in Wales, 1870–1900’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wales, 2003), 48–145.

59  Roberts, ‘Sanitary reform’, 65–9.

60  A. Cox, ‘History of the new Liverpool water supply’, The Graphic, 16 July 1892. This view of the purity of Vyrnwy water was perpetuated in several subsequent municipal publications, for instance J. A. Picton, Memorials of Liverpool, vol. 2 (Liverpool, 1903), 551; J. Touzeau, The rise and progress of Liverpool, from 1551 to 1835 (Liverpool, 1910) 701–2; Liverpool Corporation, A century of progress: Liverpool water supply, 1847–1947 (Liverpool, 1947), 3.

61  Daily Post, 16 July 1892, 5.

62  Daily Post, 16 August 1921, 7.

63  Harwood, History and description of the Thirlmere water scheme, 171. Harwood's account of the speeches is drawn largely from contemporary press reports together with his own notes.

64  Ibid., 172–5.

65  Manchester Guardian, 15 October 1894, 8.

66  Letter from R. Somervell, Manchester Guardian, 9 October 1894, 12, in response to editorial column, 6 October 1894, 7.

67  Gunn, The public culture of the Victorian middle class, 182.

68  Daily Post, 16 August 1921, 7.

69  Daily Post, 20 July 1892, 3, and 23 July 1892, 4.

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