Book lifts lid on historic water disputes

First published in News
Last updated

DOMESTIC fresh water supplies have become an accepted part of life in North Yorkshire, but less than 50 years ago residents faced contaminated supplies.

Dr Bernie Eccleston, who has published ten years of research into the the county’s drive towards clean running water, said Thirsk suffered its last contimnation scare in 1964 and it wasn’t until later that decade that filter beds were fitted to Boltby Reservoir.

While a typhoid outbreak killed a dozen Northallerton residents in 1893, in 1951 nearly 60 per cent of the town’s residents still did not have access to an inside tap.

The retired academic said he was inspired to write, Pumps, Pipes and Purity, which examines the social history of providing North Yorkshire residents with sufficient safe water from 1875, after finding historic papers which highlighted the intensity of debate over water provision.

The book details disputes at domestic, local and national levels over whether water should be piped to certain areas.

By the 1870s, it seemed obvious that if people used less water pumped from wells contaminated by sewage, the risk of spreading waterborne illness and disease would be dramatically reduced.

However, Dr Eccleston said he found while women and children, who faced daily trips to pumps to get fresh water, wanted piped water supplies, the men, as the ratepayers, were reluctant to pay for it.

He said: “In the 1870s they were rehearsing the same arguments we have today about whether we should have private water companies and in the late 1950s there were still 1,400 separate water providers across the country.

"It was a long battle for water. There were too many personalities involved over the years, and a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Everyone thought they knew the best solution, and as a result not much was done to solve the problem."

Pumps, Pipes and Purity is available from ypdbooks.com or amazon.co.uk

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