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Water and Sewerage

Isle of Man Water Authority

The Construction of West Baldwin Reservoir

Over 250 men were employed on the Project

An Islander remembers - extracted from an article by Thomas C Cowell, author of "Baldwin My Valley" and reproduced with permission of the publishers, The Manx Experience.

Over 250 men were employed on the Project The story starts more than a century ago… In 1900 Douglas Corporation commenced the building of the great reservoir at Injebreck and, wonderful to say, my father, William Stanley Cowell, worked with the engineers all through its building, and had the honour to be the man to cut the first sod of that vast undertaking.

The magnitude of the reservoir scheme was formidable, namely, a 300 million gallon reservoir, over 70 feet maximum depth, three quarters of a mile long and 300 yards wide, with a top water area of 60 acres. GH Hill & Sons were engaged as engineering advisors to the Corporation. The reservoir is six miles north of Douglas, and it was clear from the outset that a railway was necessary before much could be achieved. So construction was commenced in October 1900 of railway line from Sir George's Bridge up to the site of the dam. Timber bridges had to be made, as the River Glass had to be crossed no less than nine times, and a three feet gauge track was laid ready for opening by late January 1901.

Tons of Earth to build West Baldwin Reservoir
Tons of Earth to build West Baldwin Reservoir

Half a million tons of earth had to be moved to build West Baldwin Reservoir The line was about three miles in length with a gradient of 1 in 58. The Corporation was fortunate in being able to purchase from the Isle of Man Tramway and Electric Power Company one locomotive for £350, 45 ballast wagons, two railway wagons and rails etc. The Company had just completed the Laxey to Ramsey line which was opened July 1899. The engine was named "Injebreck" and was the only power available on the reservoir line at its opening.

As no tenders for the work had been received the Douglas Corporation undertook the scheme by employing direct labour for their workforce under Mr Thorpe, the resident engineer. Local labour had to be augmented by Irish navvies who brought the total of men employed to 250. Huts to accommodate the workers were constructed on the site but nevertheless most workers wanted to live in Douglas. So a railway coach was directed to be built by Mr Thorpe; it was a crude carriage known as the "Charabanc" or "Paddy Car".

Construction of the Reservoir began in 1900

Construction of the Reservoir began in 1900

Local dignatories at the opening ceremony in 1905 As the trench took shape its sides were supported by huge planks and even tree trunks. The trench then began to be filled with clay to make the embankment waterproof. On October 18th 1901, a freak storm struck Baldwin valley, damaging the line so seriously that despite drafting all available labour for repairs, it was impassable for three weeks. Many of the wooden bridges were washed away. Tom Clague, son of the corn miller in West Baldwin was carried away two hundred yards down the river. Possibly as a result of this interrupted work programme, on 13th November 1901, a further locomotive, named "Ardwhallin" was received: it was used at first to take bricks up to the works.

Local dignatories at the opening ceremony in 1905
Local dignatories at the opening ceremony in 1905

Some 8,000 tons of stone were required altogether. The extension was opened in January 1904 and it was again necessary to use reverse loop construction to climb the hillside; the whole line now had a length of five miles. There were few accidents and these mainly involved cattle and sheep straying on the line, for which the farmers were duly compensated.

Another engine, named "Hannah", joined the others making Sir George's Bridge a busy place. Sidings were set out on the meadows to the east of the river and within a few yards of the bridge itself was a shed for the four locomotives.

One of the large pipes installed

I have a photo of my father sitting on a 24 inch pipe at Sir George's Bridge, and near him is the engine "Ardwhallin", the two drivers and the coach on rails which carried some of the workmen. It is a beautiful picture to look at: the smartly painted engine in dark green with red and white lignin the rough made coach, while the trees out in leaf add to its beauty. My father was a handyman and seldom wore a jacket as the picture I'm looking at shows.

One of the large pipes installed at West Baldwin Reservoir At Injebreck some half a million tons of earth had to be moved and, as work progressed, the engines "Ardwhallin" and "Injebreck" were set on rails to work within the reservoir and on the embankment. The steam cranes continued to strip earth from the base of the reservoir which was then moved by the engines to be positioned on the embankment. Their work also included the vital positioning of the stone cladding which forms the main bulk of the dam.

I used to watch the workmen working down in the huge puddle of clay, and, I might say, a dangerous job. A stone or a timber might at any time drop down a distance of 70 or 80 feet. One stone did drop on to my father who was down below one day and he received a severe cut on the forehead. I remember him having it bunged with cotton wool until he reached the hospital in Douglas.

They were exciting times and, as a boy, I took great interest in the building of the Baldwin Reservoir and moved freely among the men. I remember one day talking to Mr Jarvis, the resident foreman, saying to him that I wanted a job and he asked: "What kind?" I said: "A Spragger". Well, a spragger is needed when the engine is being released from the full trucks on a steep ascent as it was from Hillberry down to Sir George's Bridge. A man had to put into the spokes of the wheels a piece of wood like a truncheon to act as a brake and hold the wagon. You could earn 4 pence a day on that job. The foreman said to me: "You'll have to go to school first", so I just said eagerly: "I'll go tomorrow!"

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