Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society


Historical notes on the Withnell Waterworks near Chorley, Lancs. (compiled June 2019)


Many modern amenities are now taken for granted. We flick a switch and the lights come on or we turn a tap in our kitchen and water comes out.
In terms of history this a very modern convenience and has only been widely available for less than a century.

The three cyclinder ram pump in the Railway Road Pumping Station. It was scrapped in 2011
Our most important utility is also the most taken for granted and that is our water supply. No gas or electricity would be very inconvenient, but not immediately life threatening. Without the wholesome water supply from our taps our days would be numbered.
Up to the mid-19th century rivers, springs and wells were our source of water but these limited domestic and industrial growth. Because of pollution there was always the danger of disease and outbreaks of cholera were common.
The 1848 Public Health Act was the first step in improving public health which included the provision of clean drinking water. Further acts followed and Withnell Urban District Council began the construction of an integrated water supply networks shortly after its first meeting in 1895.

Pike Lowe (lower) Reservoir in 1973. It was, and is, used for treated drinking water

Pike Lowe (upper) Reservoir was originally untreated water that was then filtered etc.
 A water supply of considerable volume was already available in the village as the ‘goit’ was carrying water from the Roddlesworth Reservoirs to Liverpool and flowed by Railway Road. To provide sufficient pressure head to allow water to flow by gravity through the pipe network the water had to be pumped to the highest point possible. Pike Lowe was chosen as the location for the reservoirs that would hold the pumped water and allow it to be cleaned and treated before flowing out to domestic houses and industry.
New pumps installed at
Wheelton Pumping Station in 1972

Pike Lowe (upper) Reservoir was modified in 1973 and a roof fitted.
A pumping station was needed to lift the water and this was built on Railway Road across from the goit. The whole scheme was completed and commissioned in the late 1890s. A three piston ram pump was used and in the early days was powered by a gas engine and later by an electric motor. A branch pipe from the goit ran under Railway Road and the water was pumped through an underground pipe up Bury Lane and across the fields to Pike Lowe (higher) Reservoir. The water was straight out of the Roddlesworth Reservoirs and still peat coloured and needed treatment. A filtration system cleaned the water and it was then held in a sealed underground reservoir before flowing out into supply by gravity. Distribution pipes radiated out to Withnell, Withnell Fold, Wheelton and Abbey Village.

Pike Lowe (upper) Reservoir is now securely fenced off (2018 photo).
There were some seasonal operation difficulties with the goit intake and during autumn many leaves would flow down and clog the pump intake. The blockages had to be cleaned out manually and this would take place whenever necessary, even through the night.
The ram pump needed servicing from time to time and during the 1960s this was carried out by engineers from the nearby Withnell Fold Paper Mill. In 1963 a borehole was drilled adjacent to the pumping stations down through the boulder clay and shale to a depth of 80m. A submersible electric pump was installed and this gave a second water source and additional security. However, as the water had to be pumped from deep underground there was a considerable extra cost. This system operated into the early 1970s when the Withnell water supply system was taken over by Preston and District Water Board.

The old Pumping Station on Railway Road in 2009

The old Pumping Station after conversion to offices.

A new and more reliable system was designed to take water from the Thirlmere Aqueduct at Wheelton and pump it from there up to Pike Lowe Reservoirs. With modern pumps the costs would be less and maintenance easier. The higher reservoir at Pike Lowe was originally for untreated water but it was enclosed by a roof in the new scheme and could be used for treated drinking water. The Pumping Station on Railway Road then became redundant and was later sold and converted to offices. A new Lancashire Conjunctive Use pipeline was laid and commissioned in 1980. This relieved the connections from the Thirlmere Aqueduct and Pike Lowe was one of many connections transferred to it.