Sharpe thinking led to new sewerage system at castle

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

Next door to my office on Fenton Street is a building known to some older Lancastrians as the Trades Hall.

Today only the facade remains of the grand house it once was, built as his own family home by Edmund Sharpe (1809-1877), a renowned church architect.

Another aspect of Mr Sharpe’s remarkable career which we should be all be grateful for is his interest in improving sanitation. A member of the town council from 1841 to 1853, he promoted a new sewerage system and the procurement of an abundant supply of pure water.

As regards a decent water supply, the first scheme Mr Sharpe investigated was to draw water from the River Lune above the aqueduct, through a deep filter bed to be formed on the bank of the river into a large basin capable of holding a week’s supply, to be thence conducted upon a pipe running along Caton Road and then up to Damside, from where it was to be pumped into an enormous cistern to be situated on the summit of the keep of the castle.

Plans were drawn up and it’s incredible now to think of the castle with a vast cistern plonked inside it.

It puts in context the current debate about how best to utilise what is arguably the greatest of Lancaster’s blockbuster heritage assets.

It is also interesting to reflect how the Victorians did not value the history of Lancaster in anything like the same way as we do.

That said, the proposal to turn Lancaster Castle into a piece of plumbing hardware did not transpire, but only because an alternative water supply was found at Wyresdale.

In May 1851 Mr Sharpe discovered that the hillside there is in effect not only a vast solid stone cistern (which sucks up the superficial water table and preserves it) but also a natural filter.

The Wyresdale Water Supply from the Abbeystead Reservoir was first used in 1855 and served the town for many years.

Sadly though, the ingenuity of our Victorian forebears has been over-shadowed by the disaster which struck when a build up of methane destroyed a waterworks’ valve house at Abbeystead in May 1984, with the loss of 16 lives.