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Photographs by courtesy of, Eric Fowell, Samuel Powell, Donald Pack & Rangers of Sywell Country Park.

The Rushden and Higham Ferrers Water Board
Part 6: The Sywell Scheme

Picture of valve tower in 1906 Picture of valve tower taken in 2008.
Left, valve tower in 1906 and right, at present day.

In September 1913 members of the Higham Ferrers and Rushden Water Board were able to congratulate themselves on their foresight in persevering with the works at Sywell, since a prolonged drought caused anxiety to many other authorities responsible for water supply, but they themselves had no such problems.  When the rain eventually came it was estimated that there were still 227 million gallons of water in the reservoir.  Another drought in 1921 again presented no problems to the Joint Board whereas the majority of the county was very short of water and the Borough of Northampton was in particularly serious difficulties.

The report by the Board’s Surveyor, Mr W B Madin, in March 1922 recorded that the estimated water in storage at that time was 147,750,000 gallons.  Water supplied to Higham Ferrers and Rushden had been 8,666,000 gallons, and a further 1,123,000 gallons had been sold to the villages of Irchester, Wollaston, Wymington, Earls Barton and Mears Ashby.

Mr Madin died in 1927 in the 21st year of the operation of Sywell Reservoir.  His services to the town were recognised, but special tributes were paid to him as the man who had piloted the Water Board through its initial difficulties and had brought the scheme to a point of unqualified success.

A shortage of rain or snow at the beginning of 1934 caused some concern over the falling level of the reservoir.  The situation was still grave 12 months later, but after a period of heavy rainfall the reservoir was again overflowing by March 1935.

In 1944 an auxiliary supply was opened at Wollaston where the system was supplemented with water from a 16ft well sunk into the Nene gravel.  Mr Bill Cumberpatch operated this works which had a capacity of 15,000 gallons per hour.  However, by 1947 concern was raised by Rushden Urban District Council over the effect of the Pitsford Water Scheme upon the Higham Ferrers and Rushden Water Board.

The membership of the Board initially consisted of 3 members from the Borough of Higham Ferrers and 6 from the Urban District of Rushden.  In 1951 it was reorganised to include 4 members from the Rural District of Wellingborough.

Due to the increasing demand for water, in 1956 the dam at the reservoir was made higher, lifting the water level by 9 inches. A further 11 acres of land were bought at Sywell to increase the catchment area and the Primary Filter House was constructed.

In April 1962 the Water Board celebrated its 69th anniversary by opening a new scheme at Ditchford to abstract water from the alluvial gravel of the Nene valley.  Mr Max Harrison, of Thrapston, started his career with the Joint Board there in 1966 under Mr Jack Elliot. The Ditchford works pumped water to the Manton Spinney water tower at Knuston and utilised 32hp high-lift pumps.  Mr Harrison was promoted to Superintendent in 1977 with responsibility for Ditchford and Sywell.

In September 1963 the Joint Board objected to the proposal by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for a merger with the Mid-Northants Water Board, but when amalgamation finally came about it was taken into the Anglian Water Authority in 1974.

Severe drought conditions were again experienced in 1975/76, and by August traders in Rushden were reporting a boom in anything that held water, due to the hot summer.  The following month a Rushden man was one of the first two people in the county to be prosecuted for using water hoses during the water restrictions.

Photograph of Sywell Reservoir, 2008.
Sywell Reservoir
The reservoir at Sywell was de-commissioned in 1976, and in 1979 the site was bought by the Northamptonshire County Council for leisure pursuits.

Privatisation of water took place in 1988 and the water locally was then supplied by Anglian Water plc.  At the time of privatisation the area served for the supply of water was 22,139 (a population of 3,840,000) and sewage service for 27,459 (with a population of 5,540,000).  Staff of Anglia Water amounted to 5,281 people of which 1,047 were transferred to The National Rivers Authority.  There were 140,000 shareholders.

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