The Last Word

(Information source: Early Victorian Water Engineers: (1981) G. M. Binnie)

Robert Rawlinson (Government Engineer)When one studies the details of the inquest that was conducted after the flood, and the various reports presented by a number of engineers; despite there being much confusion as to the basic cause of the disaster, and who, if anyone, was responsible; it is easy to form the impression that the government appointed engineer - Robert Rawlinson - presented the strongest case in his condemnation of various aspects of design, and workmanship in the construction of the dam: however, it is interesting, with the advantage of hindsight, to note that Rawlinson, despite being regarded as one of the country's leading civil engineers, and often being employed as an inspector by the government, built only two dams in his lifetime; the first at Abbeystead in Lancaster and which was completed in 1852: it gave persistent trouble and was demolished in 1881 after only 29 years service. His second one was the giant Lliw dam (later known as the Lower Lliw) at Swansea. Building commenced in 1862, and in 1863 Rawlinson boasted that 'the Lliw reservoir should last as long as the pyramids of Egypt'. It was completed in 1867, and gave good service for a mere 6 years before it suddenly sprang a leak, and the embankment began to break up. It was only the fact that the break-up occurred at a much slower pace than that at the Dale Dyke, giving the engineers chance to lower the water to a safe level, that prevented a catastrophe similar to that which occurred in Sheffield. Over a period of about a year the embankment continued to disintegrate. Later inspection showed that the puddle wall had cracked. Once more Rawlinson was engaged by the Swansea Water Company, this time to repair the dam, which he did at enormous expense. It lasted only 2 more years before the embankment once again began to break up. On this occasion it was inspected by Thomas Hawksley, who indicated that, once again, very expensive repairs were required. They were never undertaken: the dam subsequently being used with only one third of the water it was originally designed to hold.

John Gunson
Chief engineer with the Sheffield Waterworks Company
In contrast to all this, nine of the thirteen dams currently surrounding Sheffield were built by the old Sheffield Waterworks Company - six of them designed by John Towlerton Leather,44 and these have proven to be some of the finest and most successful dams built in Victorian England. John Towlerton Leather
Designer and consulting engineer engaged by the Sheffield Waterworks Company.

Copyright © 2001 Michael Armitage

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