Building Cheddar reservoir in the 1930s

Construction gets under way

Currently Bristol Water are building a pipeline from Cheddar to Barrow using part of the Strawberry Line as their conduit for the work. Before this work they wanted to construct a new reservoir next to the one in Cheddar but were eventually denied by Ofwat after the regulator ruled they could not put the huge cost on to the water bills on their customers. During that time they found photos of work in progress of the first reservoir built in the 1930s. This write up came to the Strawberry Line Times along with the photos.

Hi-tech: one of the steam cranes used in the building work

This one reveals what was at the time state-of-the-art construction equipment – a rather wobbly railway and a mobile crane. How things have changed in the building industry. The company gave this insight into those long lost days when 400 men were employed to excavate the reservoir:

Filling up: the workers finishing the sides of the Reservoir

Cheddar has been a key part of our supply ‘grid’ for nearly 100 years. In 1914, it was decided to take water from Cheddar to increase supplies to Bristol. In early 1922 the dams and intake in the Gorge next to the Cliff Hotel were built and a pipeline laid to a pumping station in Lower New Road. Eventually, though, a reservoir was needed to make better use of water from the springs.

Steam power: the construction site had its own railway siding from the Strawberry Line to deliver materials

Work began in April 1933, with an estimated total cost of £450,000. The Company had actually wanted to build a much larger reservoir, or a second one as well, but funds did not allow. Work was suspended from October 1935 to March 1936 owing to incessant rain and the reservoir was commissioned in 1938. There is no record of an official opening. Over 400 men were employed on the site, with wooden huts provided for accommodation near the tower on the Axbridge side. As many of the ‘navvies’ were Irish Catholics, they had their own Priest.

View over the reservoir in the making

Raw manpower, horses, steam shovels and cranes were used to build the reservoir, with scant regard for health and safety! A branch of the Axbridge – Cheddar railway was built across the fields behind the sailing club to bring in materials. Bits of the machinery used in construction are buried around the reservoir, including, allegedly, a complete railway engine near the playing fields.