Swithland Reservoir and Water Works

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Swithland Reservoir and Water Works is one of Leicestershire’s hidden Victorian Gems.

The Grade II listed building and water garden is hidden on private property and is nestled between the reservoir and Swithland Quarry.

It is a prime example of Victorian engineering thats has spared no cost.

The pump house looks to be a stately house. The filter beds and holding tank are designed to look like a formal garden. Even the tank itself is a beautifully engineered piece of architecture.

Swithland Water Works. (Photo by Darbians – Link: Darbians Photography)

Why the need for another reservoir?

Leicester’s rapidly growing population in the latter half of the 19th century required the construction of a series of reservoirs.

In 1854 Thornton Reservoir was opened, serving a population of 61,000.

By 1861 the population had increased, with the Waterworks Company now directly supplying 24,000 people, and five years later the company was supplying between 60 and 70,000 people and work began on Bradgate Reservoir (now known as Cropston Reservoir).

By 1878 the “water population” had increased to 110,000 and by 1893 to 203,000, requiring further reservoirs to be constructed.

Thornton reservoir (Photo by John Hull – Link)

Construction Begins

In 1890 Leicester City Council sought Parliamentary authority to acquire the land required to construct Swithland reservoir, which would be supplied from Lingdale Brook, Swithland Brook, Hallgates Brook, and Bradgate Brook, and construction commenced in 1894, with completion in 1896.

The reservoir opened on 10 September in that year. The reservoir was constructed by Messrs. John Aird & Sons of London, who submitted a successful £133,511 tender and had a temporary railway extension built from Mountsorrel to assist with transportation of construction materials.

The holding tank 1896 (Photo link)
Gazebo 1896 (Photo link)

This was extended to Hallgates in Cropston, where an additional storage reservoir was constructed, making the length nine miles in total. The road from Swithland was diverted due to the reservoir’s construction and a bridge constructed at the South end.

Construction of the reservoir necessitated the removal of 5,800 trees and nine miles of hedgerow. The dam is at the north end and is crossed by Kinchley Lane.

An island known as Brazil Island (the part of Brazil Wood left above water level after flooding) is located south of the centre of the reservoir, with a weir on either side. Brazil Island was the site of a game reserve until it was destroyed by fire in 1938. The Great Central Railway now crosses this island.

The capacity was initially stated at 600 million gallons (100 million gallons more than was originally envisaged), and was thought sufficient to serve a population of 300,000.

Early operation of the reservoir was not without difficulties; While it had been envisaged that it would be sufficient to serve Leicester for 20 years, by 1898 further supply capacity from Derbyshire was needed, and the reservoir was considered by some to have been a failure.

Pump House 1896 (Photo link)

Site Layout

The most interesting place on the site is the hexagonal Victorian underground reservoir underneath an elaborate octagonal stone gazebo. This sits on a large stone plinth and has 8 Doric Roman columns supporting arches, entablature and a lead dome with a carved stone lantern on top, surrounded by six further hexagonal Filter Beds which cleaned the water from the open reservoir before supplying the City of Leicester.

An aerial view of the water garden. You can see the stone plinth in the middle surrounded by six hexagonal Filter Beds. The holding tank is undernath the plinth.

The hexagonal shaped underground reservoir is split into two sections which could be controlled independently by way of complex piping and Penstocks, both sides are a mirror image of each other and share the central air vent.

The amazing blue brick holding tank (Photo by Darbians – Darbians Photography)
The amazing blue brick holding tank (Photo by Darbians – Darbians Photography)
The amazing blue brick holding tank (Photo by Darbians – Darbians Photography)
The amazing blue brick holding tank (Photo by sYnc – Link: sYnc_below)

The underground reservoir could be discharged out into the small river behind the waterworks by way of buried cast iron pipes leading to an ornate octagonal Excess Fountain built from blue brick and two small, stepped, overflow channels reached via a dressed stone bridge with carved Renaissance obelisks running over a granite lined stream.

Also amongst the woods is a large pond with sluice gates.

The Bridge leading to the overflow. (Photo: The Leicester Chronicle)

There is also some incredible brickwork arches forming part of the overflow and huge granite lined Spillway.

Reservoir overflow (Photo: The Leicester Chronicle)

There is an ornate Draw Off Tower sitting on on the edge of the open reservoir. Below this is a brick lined tunnel with ornate iron gates and large cast iron penstocks that travel throughout the woods.

Cast iron penstock (Photo: The Leicester Chronicle)
The ornate gates on the tunnel leading to the Draw Off Tower (Photo: The Leicester Chronicle)
The cast iron penstocks leading to the Draw Off Tower (Photo: The Leicester Chronicle)

The Exquisite pumping house is still used today, mostly to teach courses to Severn Trent personale and holds some modern electric equipment.

Pump house (Photo by sYnc – Link: sYnc_below)

The Leicester Chronicle are hoping to have an official visit of the site soon.

Drone footage of Swithland Reservoir (Including Brazil Island)

Video by Oliver Kershaw

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Book Recommendations.

If you are interested in Leicester’s history then we recommend the following book (Click on the images or links below)

Leicestershire Past & Present

From the multicultural bustle of Leicester to the smaller market towns of Market Harborough and Lutterworth and evens smaller picturesque villages, Leicestershire is a unique and varied county with a rich cultural heritage. Leicestershire Past & Present contrasts a selection of 300 old and new photographs, juxtaposed to demonstrate the changes that have occurred in the scene over the intervening years. Fascinating images of town centres, housing, shops, and people at work and play bring Leicestershire’s history to life. It is a captivating insight into the changes and developments that have taken place over the years, and an enjoyable read from cover to cover.


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Thomas Kirkup is an engineer in the Royal Navy. Born and raised in Leicester he is fascinated by the city's long and varied history. He also hates to discus himself in the third person, but can be persuaded to do so from time to time.
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