Thomas Hawksley – Water Engineer Extraordinaire

Until the 1840s, the people of Nottingham suffered from the effects of polluted water. Most inhabitants were forced to use water from the rivers or from surface ponds, which led to frequent outbreaks of disease. After 1845, the chief engineer of the Nottingham Waterworks Company was Thomas Hawksley (1807-1893), born at Arnold (Arnot Hill House), where his father owned the worsted mill. In 1844 he gave evidence to a government enquiry into public health, where he argued that there was a link between living conditions, water supply and water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

He designed a network of pumping stations with steam engines, to bring the water to the surface from deep wells in the porous Sherwood sandstone. The water was stored in reservoirs on the higher ground, before being supplied to homes and businesses through a network of pipes. He also helped to design the valves which regulated flow and went on to design water supply systems in many other cities including Leicester, Liverpool and Leeds.

Hawksley’s scheme for supplying clean water used a network of linked sites in the landscape northwards from Nottingham. Two of the pumping stations were in the borough of Gedling. Bestwood pumping station, visible alongside the A60, opened in 1874 and was taken out of use in 1964. The ornate Gothic building and lodge are Grade II-listed. All the original machinery has been removed, and the wooded grounds have been used recently as a health club and restaurant. Papplewick pumping station, designed by the Nottingham Borough Engineer, Marriott Ogle Tarbotton, was completed in 1884. The ornate engine house and buildings, in Gothic style, are scheduled ancient monuments while the wooded grounds are listed parkland. The interior of the engine house is richly decorated, following a theme of fresh water. Conserved in working order by a charitable trust, the steam engines, as well as the buildings and grounds, are frequently opened to the public.