Water, water every where, nor any drop to drink!

The River Ribble

The River Ribble

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Preston historian KEITH JOHNSON puts the kettle on and looks back at the city’s long journey from wells and pumps to free-running fresh water (which hardly ever contains cryptosporidium)

The Lancashire Evening Post was quick to inform us our water was no longer safe to drink following the discovery of traces of cryptosporidium in the United Utilities water treatment plant at Catterall.

The Longridge Reservoir circa 1915

The Longridge Reservoir circa 1915

That glass of refreshing cold water from the tap is no longer safe to drink!

In truth, these days we take our water supply for granted and perhaps it makes us realise how lucky we are.

The history of Preston shows us that past generations were not so fortunate. Indeed many places within the old borough boundaries give us clues as to the old methods of gathering water so essential to life.

There is no doubt that the Strand Road area of Preston has seen significant changes in recent years and consequently the names of some of the nearby places seem foreign to their present surroundings.

The Docks in Preston

The Docks in Preston

Back in the mid-19th century the area was developed to accommodate the buildings necessary for railway carriage manufacture. By the turn of the century the Dick Kerr works had been developed and tramcars were being built for customers worldwide.

Spa Road is a reminder of the days when Spa Brow valley ran from Water Lane to Marsh Lane and there was an abundance of cool, clear, crystal springs. Alas, the springs were confined to distant memory as the industrial development continued apace.

Spa Brow became famous locally for its open-air cold-water bath, which was constructed in 1708 and had adjoining apartments for dressing and a house for occupation by the caretaker.

The popularity of the bath, which was square in shape with a flagged bottom, particularly in summer, saw it survive for over 150 years.

There was a provision in the lease that stated the public were at liberty to wash and cleanse their skins for free at the stream of waste water running from the baths.

Following the closure it was eventually covered over by heavy wooden sleepers, with several feet of earth on top. It is believed that when Cold Bath Street was built, to the east of Spa Brow amongst the fields, it got its name through being on the route to the bath. This area was also home to Fish’s cotton mill, known locally as Spa Mill because in the mill yard there was a long open spring in which watercress flourished.

Bath Street at the lower end of Fylde Road is reminder of the time when there were public slipper baths there that were eventually converted into dwelling houses. The only competition for the Spa Brow baths in the first half of the 19th century came from the warm and cold water baths situated next to Jackson’s Cottage to the east of Avenham, but these were swept away during the construction of Avenham Park.

Water Lane appears to be so named due to the fact that up until the 1830s there was a well from which water was drawn and carted into town, selling at a half penny per can full. Wellfield Road owes its name to the time when green fields abounded in that area and a stream known as Spittal Syke served the well field there.

In Fishergate, between Cannon Street and Guildhall Street, there used to be a popular draw well, made by the Corporation in 1664.

Three other wells to serve the town being situated in Molyneux Square, near the end of Main Sprit-weind and in Church Street near the junction with Manchester Road, which was in earlier times called Water Street.

Many people in the Avenham district used to fetch their water from a well below the Avenham Colonnade, on the eastern slopes of Avenham. While along the river Ribble by the side of the Ashton quays there was a spring claimed to have great medicinal virtues.

Of course, there was also the medieval holy well in the area now known as Ladywell Street, from which water was piped to the nearby friary at which place the monks quenched their thirst.

As long ago as 1729 an agreement was made between the Corporation and two locals Robert Abbat and Thomas Kellet to set works on foot to accommodate and supply the inhabitants of Preston with water.

They took advantage of the several springs and sources of water and laid pipes down streets and lanes and preserved the existing wells and pumps.

It included a cistern or reservoir down Glover Street and other resourceful gentleman joined the enterprise down the decades.

In 1832 the Preston Waterworks Company was formed and this eventually led to the mentioned wells and springs, and all the others being drained away or covered, the Spa Well being the last to close. The company, keen to make their mark made a reservoir at Grimsargh to greatly improve the water supply of the town, so essential for a place of manufacturing.

That most generous of men Joseph Livesey, of Temperance fame, provided drinking fountains in different parts of the town in 1858. Fishergate, Church Street, Lancaster Road, Lune Street, North Road and Bridge Lane all becoming places where you could quench your thirst.

By 1853 reservoirs were in existence at Dilworth, Alston, Grimsargh and Fulwood; their combined capacity reported as 166M gallons. In the next decade the Spade Mill reservoir near Longridge was constructed. All necessary when one considers that by the 1880s Preston required a daily supply of about 3M gallons.

Inevitably, there remain many local street names that have connections with the streams of old origin like Moorbrook with its path through Deepdale on its way to Garstang Road, serving as it did many mill lodges en route. Brookfield Street, Brook Street, Moorbrook Street, Greenbank Street and Brookhouse Street all reminders of the path of the brook which continued towards the canal aqueduct and on to the River Ribble via Watery Lane – that is until the river was diverted for the dock construction.

Then, of course, there was the Syke an important tributary that flowed through Avenham, down the hill now known as Syke Hill and on to Syke Street where it fed the Avenham Mill reservoir prior to its passage under the gardens of Winckley Square, past the railway station and on to its meeting with the river at Broadgate. Then there is the Savick Brook that gave its name to the Council Estate at Lea with its Savick Avenue and Swill Brook with its source near to Waverley Park and feeding many a mill lodge on its way to emptying itself in the River Ribble near to the old Tram Bridge. Swill Brook Lane leading down from Frenchwood Avenue reminding us of a brook that was used by local women to do their washing as it flowed quite rapidly down to the river.

The River Ribble has influenced quite a number of street names; in the Broadgate area alone we have Ribbleside, River Crescent and River Parade besides Ribble Street, River Street and the old Ribblebank Street over looking the river. Whilst the district of Ribbleton, not surprisingly, has a Ribbleton Lane, Ribbleton Avenue, Ribbleton Street, Ribbleton Place as well as a Ribbleton Hall Drive and Ribbleton Hall Crescent reminders of the days of Ribbleton Hall a bygone mansion.

The popularity of river names can be seen in the Ashton area with Calder Street, Clyde Street, Dart Street, Dee Street and Mersey Street all off Watery Lane along with Tweed Street, Wyre Street and Hull Street.

Besides these there are Tyne Street and Tay Street off Broadgate and Exe Street, Tees Street and Cam Street in the Deepdale area, Tiber Street and Arno Street in Frenchwood, Jordan Street off Fishergate, Tamar Street off Fishwick View, not forgetting Lune Street opened in 1802 and one of Preston’s historic thoroughfares.

Then there are the street names influenced by the Lancaster Canal that in bygone days terminated close to the Corn Exchange.

One of the canal wharfs tributaries was a stream with its source near Bow Lane in a field called Springfield, thus providing the name for Springfield Place and Spring Bank, along with Wharf Street, Fleet Street, Kendal Street and Aqueduct Street all which have links with the days of packet boats on that vital waterway.

So the days when the River Ribble was crystal clear and packed with salmon, when mill lodges were supplied by babbling brooks, springs quenched the traveller’s thirst, cold baths were the order of the day, women washed the clothes in the passing stream and buckets of fresh water were drawn from the wells may have gone, but they are etched deep into the street names of our thoroughfares.

Perhaps when the emergency is over we will appreciate even more the readily available running water that we often take for granted.

At the turn of a tap Preston’s water supply is one of the finest and softest in the country which is not bad for an area were in 17th century days folk relied upon springs, wells, and streams for their water.