The Water of Life

Water Board Workmen
Local Workmen with the Water Board
Left to right : Tom McCulloch, Jimmy Baxter, Tommy Miller, David Getty , John Harkins

The Glasgow Water Supply

The Blane Valley is the final stage of what can justifiably be called one of the greatest Civil Engineering achievements of the l9th Century. In an effort to eradicate cholera from the City of Glasgow, the Lord Provost appointed a Committee of Enquiry to find an adequate and reliable source of clean water to serve the growing needs of an ever-burgeoning population. Various schemes were mooted including the use of Craigallian Loch as a possible source. However, with considerable foresight, the scheme to use Loch Katrine and surrounding lochs was decided on. The Bill to enable this met with little or no opposition and received the Royal Assent on the 2nd July 1855.

Work commenced on the 20th May 1856 and was carried on with so much vigour that it was completed in 3½ years. On the 14th October 1859, Her Majesty the Queen, Queen Victoria accompanied by the Prince Consort and members of her family and many dignitaries, opened the sluice, which admitted the water of Loch Katrine to the Aqueduct. On the 28th December 1859, the first water from Loch Katrine was introduced to the city and by March 1860, the supply was city wide thus allowing the pumping engines which for the past 50 years had drawn water from the Clyde for the City to be stopped.

The Construction

The construction of the Loch Katrine Water Supply was a major undertaking. The number of people employed in the construction of the works, exclusive of iron-founders and mechanics, was estimated to be about 3,000 and for the greater part of these, huts and roads, and all other accommodation had to be provided given the inhospitable nature of the country. Use was made of the railways and the roads in the area to transport pipes and for the last two miles a temporary railway had to be constructed and even then the pipes had to be dragged up the steep slopes of Duchray valley on the north side by block and tackle.

Three valleys had to be crossed - Duchray, Endrick and the Blane.

To cross the Blane, three feet pipe was laid down. At the northern or upper ends of the piping across each of the valleys there is a sluice house with sluices on each end of the pipes so that should one of the pipes burst, only the line to which it belongs is shut off and emptied for repairs, while the supply to the reservoir at Mugdock is maintained by other lines. The Aqueduct follows the east side of the Blane Valley. A bridge was constructed up near Cantywheerie with eight small arches. Further down is the one known as Ballewan bridge with two arches, each of a 50 foot span, which carries the Aqueduct at a height of 80 feet above the bed of the stream. All these bridges were covered with light cast iron beams and arches of cement to afford a secure passage for the watchmen and to exclude snow and leaves. Along these 5 miles of Aqueduct there are a few tunnels, the principal one being opposite Duntreath Castle. Near the twenty-third mile, the Aqueduct passes the south side of the Blane Valley by cast iron pipes. The length of these pipes is nearly three-quarters of a mile. The remaining portion of the Aqueduct is a tunnel of one and a half miles long, which discharges into Mugdock Reservoir.

The First Aqueduct supplied Mugdock Reservoir. As Glasgow and the surrounding area grew so did the demand for water. In 1885 there was a further Act of Parliament, which resulted in the Second Aqueduct being built to supply Craigmaddie Reservoir. This second Aqueduct was completed in 1896. One of the reasons that the Second Tunnel took so long was the construction of the cut-off trench for Craigmaddie Reservoir. The First Aqueduct is 25¾ miles long and the Second Aqueduct 23½ miles.

Benefits from the Construction Works

The construction of the second aqueduct 1885-96 brought prosperity to the parish. By the time building commenced the Printworks were beginning to lay off people as the industry began to decline The arrival of people into the village who would no doubt patronise village shops etc. must have been a much needed boost for the parish's economy. On the strength of this David McGregor build his shop and houses opposite the Netherton Inn (or Blane Valley as it is now) and opened it in l895. While business boomed initially it dropped off after the completion of the tunnel and for some time Mr McGregor had great difficulty in continuing.

The Navvies

For others, the presence of the navvies was seen as a source of willing labour. As far as can be gathered the navvies were instrumental in building St. Kessog's Roman Catholic Church in 1893. Many of the navvies had come from Ireland and were likely to be Irish Catholics. After the completion of the Church, Father Foley the priest announced that Mistress Muir a widow woman wanted help with the building of a house at Crosshill. It was made clear that there would be no payment but barrels of beer would be freely available! The house was completed in 1894 and is now owned by the Water board. However, the presence of so many men living in temporary accommodation brought its own problems. Concern was expressed about the insanitary conditions of the bothies or "The Huts" as there were also known by the Public Officer for Health. These Huts were located in the area where the Football field is now and were registered as a Lodging House for the use of the navvies working on the water tunnel. The Forth Annual Report by the Medical Officer of Health recorded that in 1891 there were 485 such workers and in 1894 235. The Parish Council also had to deal with applications for poor relief from the workers living there.

Drunken incidents were common. On a Saturday night the locals would walk down to what is now the football field for an evenings entertainment watching the Navvies fighting after drinking their pay. The local policeman was kept busy trying to ensure that the drunken brawls in the Netherton and Kirkhouse Inns did not get out of hand but usually with little success.

Water Supply for the Pringworks & Milndavie Mill

According to Guthrie Smith nearly 150 acres of the parish are covered with water. They are Ardinning, Carbeth, Craigallian, Mugdock,Deil's Craig and Dumbroch or Ebie's Lochs. Ebie's and Deil's Craig were enlarged to act as reservoirs to provide water for the Printworks. The Punchbowl and Wattie's Dam are both mill dams Guthrie Smith records that James Smith of Craigend, who was noted for his zeal for improvements, bought Milndavie Mill at the beginning of the l9th century. As well as improving the mill, he set about adding to the storage capacity of the milldams by raising embankments at Dumbroch Loch, Deil's Craig and Loch Ardinning thus ensuring a steady supply of water controlled by sluices. The late Arthur Muir recalled stories of the sluice man going up to the various dams to open up the sluices.

The water from these dams flows down various streams into lades. Opposite the south shafts of the Glasgow Water Supply is a lade known as the "Dookie". The burn that flows through the Dookie is known as the Tealeaf Burn because of the colour of the water. It in turn flows into the Raggie Burn then into the Blane Water. In the grounds of Netherblane, which are private, is a small loch which links into a mill lade. The sluice operating this can still be seen leading into Netherblane from the Blane Water.

Strathblane Smithy
The Smithy - was this peaceful scene the headquarters of whisky smuggling in the 17th and 18th century?

Water of Life!

Illicit stills were at one time very common in the Parish. It used to be common to see in the early morning from the hill behind Netherton Village the smoke of some thirteen stills going at once. One of these stills was located up Jenny's Glen, which runs down the Thorn of Cuilt between the School and the Smithy. The story is told that illicit whisky used to be brewed in home made stills up the Glen and the Smithy was the headquarters where plans were made to ensure that it was secretly conveyed to Glasgow.

In the early part of the 19th century, the excise officers in Strathblane according to Guthrie Smith were actually in league with the smugglers. They received a percentage of the profits of each still and in return agreed not to disturb their operations unless driven to do so. In such a case they took good care to give advance warning of a raid. Mugdock Wood was also a favourite place for small stills and was a rendezvous for the sellers and buyers of the whisky. In 1818 it was the scene of a terrible fight between the smugglers and the Revenue officers and a party of soldiers. The smugglers were victorious and after seizing and destroying the soldiers' weapons, pursued them from the field of battle! In 1885 when the new road was being made along the edge of Mugdock Wood a skeleton with a smashed skull was found and it was thought that this was the remains of the participants in this battle.

Legal Distilleries

Cockmylane up the Gowk Stane Track down from the radio mast was the site of the first licensed distillery in the parish. Glengoyne Distillery was established in 1833 and is on the parish boundary with Killearn. It was originally known as Burnfoot Distillery - the name was changed in the early 1880's. It is now part of the Edrington Group.

©Alison Dryden, Strathblane Heritage Society 2001