THE VILLAGES of Helensburgh and district have had a variety of water sources in the past 200 years.
Originally they had a mixture of wells, springs and streams, and included some ingenious arrangements.
At Garelochhead some villagers were able to take advantage of a large pond built to provide water for the steamers that once called at the pier, with a small charge.
The first of the local villages to initiate a modern water supply was Row, now Rhu, in 1870, while others like Rosneath and Clynder did not have such a facility until the late 1930s.
Any village wishing to set up a comprehensive public water supply faced significant challenges, because of the absence of the organisation and resources usually available to towns.
In 1867, however, a window of opportunity presented itself with the passage into law of the Public Health (Scotland) Act. This provided a mechanism for the introduction of utilities like water supply, drainage, and scavenging.
The process could be started by ten ratepayers in a community signing a requisition and presenting it for consideration by the local authority. Before 1889 that authority was the parochial board.
Parochial boards were established in 1845 to administer the Poor Law, but over time they accrued additional powers, and the 1967 Public Health Act made them the agency responsible for implementing measures like public water supply.
After 1889 the newly-formed county councils took over these functions. The boards continued to carry out their original role until 1895, when they were replaced by the more democratic parish councils.
So it was to Row Parochial Board that the village turned in 1870, armed with the necessary requisition.
Details are scant on the circumstances at Row, but certainly the Board would have had to consider the merits of the proposals, through what was known then as a Board of Supervision. If it was deemed feasible, the matter would next have been put before a public meeting.
If there was a promising response, a survey and costings would be commissioned. The plans would be tested by a plebiscite of ratepayers. If the necessary backing was forthcoming, work could then begin, with costs met by a charge on the rates.
Row successfully negotiated these various steps, and it became the Row Special Water Supply District.
In December 1870 the Dumbarton Herald newspaper reported that the waterworks scheme was already well in hand, with a reservoir under construction at the headwaters of Aldownick Glen — better known to romantics as Smugglers Glen.
The reservoir was small as the site was very restricted, being bounded on either side by steep ravines, and soon severe problems were being experienced.
In July 1884 the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times referred to residents having to run to neighbouring streams for fresh water: “Intense heat has necessitated the supply being cut off for a few hours each day. If a week’s dry weather acts on the supply in this manner, what will a month’s dry weather do?”
At some stage, a second reservoir must have been added, because in 1891 the county medical officer of health said: “Row has a gravitational supply of water, impounded from springs and moorland, and stored in reservoirs. These lie at an altitude of 700 feet, and water is piped to all the houses.
“The population in the water district is above 862. The training ship ‘Empress’, by arrangement, is provided with the same supply.”
In 1889, with the responsibility for water supply having passed to Dumbarton County Council, it was not long before the new authority was receiving numerous complaints, initially about the excessive water pressure of up to 150lbs being encountered in lower parts of the village, with consequent damage to pipes and fittings.
It was agreed to install pressure reducing valves. However, the insufficient quantity of water also continued to surface, because by 1894, measures were being taken to build yet another reservoir.
It emerged that plans for such a move had been drawn up in 1887, but had subsequently been set aside. The consulting engineer for the earlier initiative was Mr McCall, of Forman and McCall, the engineers for the West Highland Railway, and he was asked again for his advice.
However, even for such a distinguished engineer, the nature of the site dictated compromise. The end result was yet another small reservoir, so there was now a chain of three, strung out rather like a pearl necklace. Any alternative would have been excessively expensive.
That a new reservoir was most certainly overdue was highlighted by another water famine in 1895, the additional facility not being completed until the year after.
In operational terms, a water system like the one at Row was under the control of a superintendent, generally an experienced and self-employed local plumber.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Robert Shedden was superintendent, and was succeeded by his son, James, in 1904. He in turn was replaced by John Black. The annual salary was £25, and there was an annual inspection by the Water Committee of the County Council.
Despite the best of attention, nothing could overcome the limitations of the site, and in 1913, during yet another drought, water had to be piped in from Helensburgh reservoirs to Row, via a 2 ½ inch hosepipe. The charge for this was 6 pence per 1,000 gallons. Water also had similarly to be supplied to Shandon Hydro and other places.
In 1933, the county medical officer of health reported that during the dry spell in 1931, a number of places, including parts of Garelochside, had suffered a lack of water. His opinion was that only a comprehensive system of water supply for the whole western part of the County would address the chronic problem.
This was far from being the first time that pleas had been made for a joined-up system. It took many years before such aspirations were translated into reality.
During the Second World War, the lower of the Rhu reservoirs narrowly missed being hit by a bomb, and a large crater survives to bear witness to the incident.
It is tempting to think that the nearby Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment might have been the target, but a more likely scenario is that the crater resulted from a relatively small Luftwaffe night-time raid over the West of Scotland on October 24 1940.
Twelve bombs and mines were dropped on the Luss and Arden area, 10 between Renton and Cardross, 14 between Rhu, Shandon and Glen Fruin, and 13 in and around the Rosneath Peninsula. Two unexploded bombs were subsequently found at Garelochhead and Shandon.
The war, however, did result in some improvement of water supply as a new reservoir was built by Royal Engineers at Auchengaich, just off Glen Fruin. Work started in 1942, and the project was an acknowledgement of the enormous strain the military presence was placing on existing water supplies.
As well as supplying military needs, Auchengaich reservoir later eased the pressure on civilian requirements. The dam was more substantial than those normally found at local reservoirs — it had to be, as Auchengaich burn could run quite high at times.
There was found to be sufficient water for much of Garelochside, but it is not known if Rhu benefitted immediately.
A spirit of joined-up water supplies was now afoot, and in the following decades further sources of water supply were utilised. Water from Loch Sloy came to Garelochside in 1967, while by 1979, a water main had connected Garelochhead with Garshake at Dumbarton.
Such developments led to the eventual redundancy of the Rhu reservoirs. However, they, along with the old filter house, survive as picturesque reminders of our heritage in water supply.
The next village to introduce a public water supply was Garelochhead, although it was a long process.
As far back as 1880, toes were tentatively being dipped in the water. In July of that year, the Lennox Herald newspaper reported that Garelochhead had submitted to the local authority plans for a combined water supply and drainage scheme.
That implies that the preliminary requisition had been submitted. Further, the newspaper noted that the Board of Supervision had indicated its support.
However, the proposals must have been for a fairly modest scheme, because estimated costs were £500-£600, which even by monetary values of the time, seems incredibly low. Nothing more seems to have come of the scheme — perhaps it was a compromise that satisfied no-one.
Had the scheme been successful, it might have saved a great deal of ensuing anger and bitterness, because the ensuing decade saw major drainage problems.
Poor sewage disposal posed a major health concern for medical authorities and some residents. The introduction of a gravitationally fed water supply would have greatly facilitated implementation of a drainage system.
The catch was that such a combination would add to the overall cost, something that might well be fiercely opposed by some ratepayers.
This too was an era when the summer letting of seaside properties could represent a significant source of income for communities. In 1890, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times commented that failure to introduce a water supply and drainage scheme at Garelochhead was harming the popularity of the village.
Whether or not prompted by such criticism, a public meeting was held in September 1891 in the schoolroom at Garelochhead. In the chair was Francis C.Buchanan, of Clarinish, Row, a county councillor for many years.
He explained that the purpose was to consider the advisability of introducing a public water supply under the Public Health Act of 1867, and he referred to the way this had been achieved at Row some years earlier.
The meeting seems to have been fruitful, because later that month Councillor Buchanan was able to present to Dumbarton County Council a requisition for a public water supply, and a committee was appointed to investigate and report.
In December, another public meeting was convened, when Mr Buchanan advised that a survey had been carried out by Glasgow-based William Copland, an experienced chartered engineer. The site chosen for a reservoir lay north east of Whistlefield, close to the MacAulay Burn.
It was envisaged that the supply would provide a water supply extending from the village as far as Dalandhui on the Rosneath Peninsula, and Rowmore, at the entrance to Faslane Bay. Whistlefield and Portincaple would also be supplied.
The land needed was ten acres, with the feu duty payable to agents of the late Sir James Colquhoun being 10/- per acre. There was opposition from some quarters, but a majority agreed to press ahead.
The new water supply was opened in 1893, with Garelochhead now a Special Water Supply District. The reservoir is pictured above.
At the time of his survey, Mr Copland had been well aware of the potential offered by creating a dam across the MacAulay burn, which ran close to the reservoir, and which would probably have met all demands.
However, he had acknowledged that with a sizeable stream like this, the resulting costs would have been very much higher. There must be the suspicion that costs were kept to the minimum in order to keep ratepayers on board.
In a sense, the critics had a point. The county medical officer of health, in his annual report for 1897, pointed out that with Garelochhead having a water rate of 1/- 6d in the £, which was relatively high, this left only a balance of 11 ½ d in the £ available for all other public health matters, including drainage schemes.
The Garelochhead holding tank and filter house (pictured on right above train) were located close to what is now Whistlefield roundabout.
James Spiers was appointed superintendent, and he was described as being “highly esteemed” in the village. There was no mention of a drainage scheme — possibly it was realised this would have been a step too far for some people.
Although not reported at the time, it was claimed many years later that Rosneath and Clynder had been approached with a view to including them in this scheme, but they declined to take part.
The revelation was at a meeting in 1934, when a proposed combined water scheme for Garelochhead, Clynder and Rosneath was under consideration by the County Council.
The people of Garelochhead were reported to be against the idea, and it was a Garelochhead-based county councillor who made the allegation about the earlier rebuff.
It is true that if the original scheme had been designed to accommodate the water needs of all three villages, it would have meant a substantially larger reservoir than what was actually built, though of course costs would have been more widely shared.
Known as Whistlefield Reservoir, the new facility was relatively small, had a very limited catchment area, and was not supplied by a stream of any substance.
At the time of his survey, Mr Copland had been well aware of the potential offered by creating a dam across the MacAulay burn, which ran close to the reservoir, and which would probably have met all demands.
However, he acknowledged that with such a sizeable stream, the resulting costs would have been very much higher. There must be the suspicion that costs were kept to the minimum in order to keep ratepayers on board.
In a sense, the critics had a point. The county medical officer of health, in his 1897 annual report, pointed out that with Garelochhead having a water rate of 1/- 6d in the £, which was relatively high, this left only a balance of 11 ½d in the £ available for all other public health matters, including drainage schemes.
But had Clynder and Rosneath been part of the scheme, the shared costs would quite possibly have resulted in a better outcome.
Whistlefield Reservoir soon showed its limitations. As early as the summer of 1896, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times reported: “Garelochhead reservoir has dried up. The people have had to fall back on old sources of water supply. This state of affairs has existed for the past ten days. The village of Row is also suffering from a water famine.”
In 1914 the newspaper reported on a meeting of the County Council, when it was stated that neither Garelochhead nor Row could be described as having a good water supply. Whistlefield reservoir was said to have a capacity of only two million gallons, which was quite inadequate for long periods of drought.
To rub salt in the wounds, the newspaper published a letter in 1926, written by someone calling himself “Moss Hag”, claiming that the water at Garelochhead was “so thick it could be burned as peat”.
At the 1934 meeting the cost of a reservoir serving Garelochhead, Clynder and Rosneath was quoted as £33,000. The matter would appear to have been taken forward, because a document of 1937 refers for the first time to Clynder Special Water Supply District, with a corresponding designation for Rosneath.
The Third Statistical Account of Scotland certainly mentions the laying of a water pipeline from Whistlefield to Clynder in 1937.
But there is something of a puzzle here. Comparison of maps show the surface area of Whistlefield reservoir had not changed over the years.
Had the reservoir been deepened at some stage, there would have been evidence of alterations to the embankment, but scrutiny of the site affords scant evidence — the embankment is quite low, and there are no obvious signs of an intake from the adjacent McAulay burn.
A pipeline to Clynder and Rosneath might indeed have been laid, but given the previous history of Garelochhead reservoir, it is hard to see how an unchanged system could have coped with a big increase in demand.
Evidence suggests that when the American Navy came to Rosneath in 1942, there was no public water supply.
One resident noted the Americans disdain for the local water supply arrangements, and he continued: “The local people had always depended on hillside streams and wells for their water.”
Another remarked: “We had never thought there was anything wrong with our water. It was peat-stained during wet weather, but we never thought of it as a health hazard. On the contrary, we liked it.”
The Americans went their own way, refurbishing the old dam at Millbrae, and installing a custom-built water treatment plant. The old corrugated iron building housing this facility still stands beside the main road.
As far back as 1912, Clynder harboured ambitions of becoming a Special Water Supply District. Plans were drawn up for a reservoir with that designation, but nothing further appears to have happened.
Maps show a reservoir at the head of Clachan Glen, Rosneath, and another small dam on the Hatton Burn, above Barremman, but whatever their function, they did not form part of a public water supply.
The wartime construction of Auchengaich reservoir, near the head of Glen Fruin, came to the rescue, offering as it did a greatly improved water supply for much of Garelochside and the Rosneath Peninsula.
In 1967, the provision of further water supplies from Loch Sloy probably signalled the end of the local water shortage.
Today, Whistlefield reservoir survives as a very photogenic part of the landscape, located as it is close to the wartime Yankee Road. A sign beside the reservoir proclaims ‘West of Scotland Water’.
As this body was in operation between 1995 and 2002, it offers a clue as to the last phase of the facility as a working reservoir. Also obsolete are an array of rusting War Department signs ringing the reservoir, instructing military personnel to stay outside the old iron perimeter fence.
The water storage tank beside Whistlefield roundabout advertises not only West of Scotland Water, but also its predecessor, Strathclyde Water (1975-1995). The nearby Filter House, a trim little building of stone and a slate roof, was demolished in 2004, and replaced by a modern dwelling house.
At Cardross, the familiar story emerges of inadequate water supplies, set against the background of a growing population.
The old public reservoir was near Asker Farm, high on the moors above the village. It was quite small, having a capacity of under a million gallons. It may well have served its day and generation, but as the village expanded, so did demand exceed supply.
In his annual report for 1933, the county medical officer of health, Dr Thomas Lauder Thomson, refers to the drought of 1931: “Cardross, certain parts of the Gareloch, Arrochar, and Kilmaronock, all suffered, more or less. Negotiations for additional supply at Cardross assumed quite a helpful aspect at the end of the year.”
He acknowledged that water samples taken from Asker were classified as “good”, and his reference to an extra supply for Cardross may refer to Carman reservoir, above Renton.
The reservoir was originally constructed as a private water supply by the Turnbull family, who owned several factories in the Vale of Leven. It was in place by 1860, maps show.
Thanks mainly to the booming textiles industry, the rapid growth of the village of Renton in the 19th century led to the pressing need for a better water supply.
So in 1886 Carman reservoir was adopted by Cardross Parochial Board for that purpose. It was enlarged and put to use under the name of Renton Special Water Supply District.
In 1906 the construction of a new reservoir at Glen Finlas brought an excellent water supply to the Vale of Leven. Over the years, water from this reservoir also supplied places as far apart as Croftamie, Dumbarton, and Loch Lomondside at least as far north as Luss. It continues to contribute to the water supply chain to the present time.
Renton too eventually became a beneficiary of this new supply, although thanks to Carman reservoir, it already had an abundant supply of good water. The capacity was over 78,500,000 gallons, which is more than was contained in the two largest Helensburgh reservoirs combined.
The village of Cardross was enabled to take a supply of water from Carman reservoir in the post-war period.
The entry for Cardross village in the Third Statistical Account for Scotland (1950; revised 1956) states: “Only a few years ago, during a dry summer, water had to be supplied to the houses from barrels set up at convenient points”. But the writer acknowledged that thanks to the supply from Carman, that problem no longer existed.
Even so, Asker reservoir was by no means rendered redundant, and into the 1960s it was still supplying water to the community. Today, neither Asker nor Carman functions as part of the water supply chain.
Carman reservoir does continue to be used, but only as a trout fishery.
Dr Thomson's 1933 report also made reference to an analysis of water taken from Shear's Well at Cardross (right), which he stated was once part of the public supply. This was one of five wells tested, and all were found to contain nitrates.
Shear's Well came in for particular criticism, as it was found to be heavily contaminated, containing the equivalent of one part average sewage to 54 parts water.
Also known as St Shear's Well and St Serf's Well, this is an interesting historical entity in its own right. It lies close to the Auld Kirk of Cardross, located in what is now Levengrove Park, Dumbarton.
St Serf is one of those Dark Age evangelists whose story remains fairly obscure. He is said to have been particularly associated with Culross in Fife, but the good saint seems to have travelled west at some stage. Loch Lomond has a St Serf's Inch.
St Serf's Well once formed part of the public water supply. It was the main source of water for the ancient burgh and county town of Dumbarton for well over a century.
A Town Council minute of 1713 states: “In consideration of the want of good water in the town, the council resolve to convey St Shear's Well across the Leven, Sir James Smollett to speak to the Laird of Kirkton thereanent, and to look for some skilled person to execute the work.”
A minute the following year records that a Mr Cairnaby, Glasgow, was to bring St Shear's Well water into the town for £54. The water was conveyed via a pipe laid on the bed of the River Leven, the second fastest flowing river in Scotland.
Incredibly, this arrangement lasted until 1860, when a modern water supply was obtained from reservoirs in the Kilpatrick Hills.
Dumbarton was repeatedly obliged to look for additional supplies of water over the years. In 1906, its ambition was to take water from Loch Sloy, but in this was thwarted by Dumbarton County Council, which had its own eyes on the loch.
By the early 1960s Dumbarton was receiving some of its water from Finlas Reservoir, and some from Carman Reservoir, along with water from its own reservoirs in the Kilpatrick Hills.
With the construction of a barrage across the River Leven at Balloch in 1971, and utilisation of Loch Lomond as a source of water, the vast potential it offered helped solve the water needs of thirsty places like Dumbarton.
A public water supply for Arrochar was instituted around 1937. A reservoir was built on the burn above Tyness, and it seems to have performed well. In 1949, the same supply was extended to include Tarbet.
The county medical officer of health commented in 1962 that the supply was “satisfactory”, noting that the reservoir had been emptied and silt removed.
In 1967, with the laying of a water main from Loch Sloy to Garelochside, Arrochar and Tarbet were also connected to the new facility. This was particularly apt, as some of the houses at Ballyhennan, Tarbet, were built for staff employed by the Hydro Board at Loch Sloy.
As far back as 1906, both Dumbarton Burgh and Dumbarton County Council had their eyes on Loch Sloy as a potential source of water. However, in that same year, the loch was also being sized up as the possible site of a hydro scheme.
The plan was to conduct water by canal down to Inveruglas, where the power plant would be sited. Another hydro scheme was proposed just before the First World War, and plans emerged yet again in the 1920s and 1930s. But nothing transpired.
It was realised early on that, despite the notoriously high annual rainfall to be found at the loch, the amount of water that would be available for a modern hydro-electric scheme would be insufficient.
It was acknowledged that in order to make the plans viable, streams beyond the catchment area would need to be tapped.
When the first sod of the hydro scheme was cut by Mrs Tom Johnston, wife of the Scottish Secretary of State, in May 1945 (left), it was on the clear understanding that this additional source of water would be integral to the success of the project.
Reaching out beyond the natural catchment area may well have been influenced, in part at least, by the recognition that there was competing demand from the water supply industry. Dumbarton County Council opposed the hydro scheme on the grounds that it needed the water for human consumption. At some stage, agreement seems to have been reached that up to three million gallons a day could be abstracted for that purpose, should the need arise.
That dimension came to a head in the early 1960s because of the anticipated arrival of the Polaris Defence System at Faslane, and the projected increase in population, both military and civilian.
With the collaboration of the County Council and the Admiralty, a filter house was built in the glen below the dam, and a 12-inch water main to Garelochside laid and brought into use in 1967.
Loch Sloy continues to serve as an integral part of the water supply network to this very day.
An historical footnote is that Loch Sloy featured in what is thought to have been the very last Luftwaffe raid on the West of Scotland, on April 25 1943.
A good deal of the preparatory work for the hydro scheme was carried out by Garelochside-based German prisoners of war, and after months of enemy inactivity, the attack came as a complete surprise.
It began with the dropping of bombs in the Annan district of Dumfriesshire. Bizarrely, the next bombs were dropped 20 minutes later at the north end of Loch Sloy.
The attack progressed to Glasgow, but there were few human casualties. Three enemy aircraft were shot down over Edinburgh by anti-aircraft fire, while another aircraft crashed after experiencing engine failure.