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Updated:  08 July 2011 

Devonport's water supply, by means of the Devonport Leat, owes its existence to the fact that by 1780 the population of Plymouth Dock (Devonport as it was to become in 1824) was greater than that of neighbouring Plymouth.  Many times things got so bad in the Town that they applied to Plymouth for water, which was usually refused.  Even when the Lord of the Manor, Sir John St Aubyn, offered to build feeder streams at his own expense and to pay Plymouth 200 a year for their supply, they still refused.

It is said that a large number of the poorer inhabitants earned a living simply be collecting rainwater in water butts and selling it to others who needed it for a living, like laundresses.  Probably water was also taken from the Plymouth Leat at some point safely out of sight of the townspeople.   Plymouth Corporation always claimed that the supply from their leat was only just enough for themselves.

Eventually, in 1790, a scheme was put forward by two businessmen by the names of Jones and Bryer.  Like Plymouth's, it would take water from three streams high up on Dartmoor and bring it by means of a leat to a reservoir for the sole use of Dockers.  Suddenly Plymouth Corporation changed their attitude and declared that their leat could supply both Towns.  Not surprisingly, Dockers were unimpressed.

In due course a Bill was lodged in Parliament for the construction of a leat not more than 10 feet wide from the Blackabrook, Cowsic and West Dart streams.  It would serve all the naval and military establishments of both Dock and East Stonehouse.  The Plymouth Dock Water Works Act received the Royal Assent on December 17th 1792, which established a company, the Plymouth Dock Water Works Company, with a capital of 25,000.   It was not strictly a local company, having only one local shareholder, Mr Thomas Amies, and its head office was in London until 1871.

One of the shareholders was a Mr Thomas Gray, of Exeter, and it was he who, on July 24th 1793, was awarded the contract for the construction of the leat.  He experienced difficulties and a Mr Mitchell was called in to assist in the completion of the works.  Although water seems to have been carried along the leat by 1797 the works were not completed until the end of 1801.

The Leat terminated at a reservoir adjacent to Granby Street, within the town itself.  The naval and military establishments received a constant supply but the residents had to collect as much as they could in the one-hour a day they were allowed access.  Despite this advance, they were still subjected to intermittent supplies.

Water was supplied to the Royal Marine Barracks in Stonehouse in 1810 by means of a pipe from the Granby Reservoir to a small reservoir near the Long Room.

Plymouth Dock became Devonport in 1824 and started to expand into the Stoke and Morice Town areas of Stoke Damerel parish.  The occupants of the smart new villas that were being built could afford to pay for their water supply so the Water Company were encourage to find new ways of supplying them.   As a result, in 1830 work was finished on a new reservoir at Rowdens, near the top of Ford Hill, from which pipes ran to Stoke, Morice Town and Devonport.  Three years later a small covered reservoir was built near Outlands at Milehouse, from where the Royal William Victualling Yard, the Royal Marine Barracks and the Royal Naval Hospital in Stonehouse were supplied.  This was followed in 1834 by the enlargement of the Granby Reservoir.

In 1866 a small water tank was constructed alongside Bladderley Lane (Beacon Park Road).  Ten years later the water company was reconstituted by the Plymouth Dock (Devonport) Waterworks Act, which received the Royal Assent on June 27th 1876.  This established a joint stock company, of which the nine board of directors were all local men.  They immediately set about making improvements.  A new filter bed and reservoir were constructed at Brooklands, Crownhill, in 1878, adjacent to the one that supplied Plymouth.  The water supply from here into the Town was entirely along pipes.

As the result of the Plymouth Dock Waterworks Act 1889 the Company eventually changed its name to the Devonport Water Company, 65 years after Dock became Devonport!  This Act also brought about the construction of a new reservoir at Belliver, near Roborough, which could hold two million gallons.  The supply from here to Crownhill Reservoirs was piped in 1894.  While Plymouth supplied the parish of St Budeaux with water, Devonport supplied the parish of Pennycross.

Dissatisfaction with the Water Company eventually prompted Devonport Corporation to invite the Company to sell-out.  The Corporation formed a Water Committee, which formulated the suggested terms of transfer that would have enabled them to take-over the business from September 30th 1899.   Unfortunately, the Company refused point blank to sell and a lengthy and bitter dispute followed, which was not resolved until March 29th 1906, when the Company finally agreed to sell.  The transfer was formally concluded on June 30th 1906, when the Corporation handed the Company's solicitor a cheque for 244,000 plus legal expenses of 4,980.  The total cost of the acquisition had been 251,160 17s 8d, which compared favourably the originally projected price of 320,000.

On November 25th 1907 work started on installing a pipeline from Roborough to Dousland, a distance of 5 miles  [1].  This was completed on June 6th 1908 and a service reservoir at Dousland was finished soon afterwards  [1].  The pipeline cost some 17,000 and it was expected to save Devonport Corporation some 600,000 gallons of water every day that was lost through wastage, not to mention preventing pollution of the supply and losing the supply entirely if the Leat was frozen over.

Construction of a new storage reservoir at Crownhill, to the north of the existing one, was started on October 19th 1908.  Capable of holding over 21 million gallons of water, it required the excavation of over a quarter of a million cubic yards of earth and rock; and about 10,000 tons of granite, 5,000 tons of sand, and 2,250 tons of Newhaven cement manufactured by the Sussex Portland Cement Company Ltd were used in its construction.  The site comprised 6 acres and at its busiest time it employed 190 men.  The reservoir was designed by the Water Engineer, Mr Frederick W Lillicrap and his staff and the construction work was undertaken by Messrs George Thomas, Davey and Gilbert.  The Crownhill Upper Reservoir - the old one becoming Crownhill Middle Reservoir and the Plymouth one, the Crownhill Lower - was officially opened by the Chairman of the Water Committee, Alderman Edward Blackall JP, on Wednesday October 21st 1911.  At the time of the opening it had seven filter beds and another still under construction and the cost of the project had reached 345,000.  [1] 

The Leat continued to provide water direct to the Dousland reservoir until 1951, when the flow was made to discharge down a spectacular waterfall into Burrator Reservoir.

Numbers 19 and 21 Langstone Terrace in Langstone Road are built on top of an old reservoir but as this was not linked to any leat it is presumed that it collected water for either Beauchamp House or the large residences alongside what is now Outland Road (formerly Tavistock Road).  It was evidently in use in 1894 but disused by 1907.  [2]

Principal Source:

Hawkings, David J, "Water From the Moor: An illustrated history of the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Leats", Devon Books, Exeter, Devon, 1987, ISBN 0 86114 788 X.

Other Sources:

[1]  "Devonport Water: New Twenty Million Gallon Reservoir Opened", Western Morning News, Plymouth, October 22nd 1911.

[2]  Ordnance Survey 1:2500 scale maps, 1894 and 1907 (marked 'disused').

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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