Alnwick’s historic sewerage

Following the Cholera Outbreak in 1849, Alnwick installed one of the most advanced sewage sytems in the world. The pipes ran down Clayport, Fenkle Street, Narrowgate and Bow Alley; to join others along Green Batt, Bondgate and Green Well Lane. From Barneyside they ran parallel to the river – to a point opposite Waterside House, where raw sewage was piped straight into the Aln.

Take, for instance, the town of Alnwick in Northumberland. You have an entire population using water closets more completely even than they do in the metropolis. Even beggars’ lodging houses and public schools have water closets in Alnwick. Alnwick, of all the towns in England, is perhaps the most completely water-closetted”.

R. Rawlinson, evidence to House of Commons Select Committee on Sewage, 1864

But over time, expectations increased. The Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, of 1876 stated that “every person who causes to fall or flow, or knowingly permits to fall or flow or to be carried into any stream any solid or liquid sewage matter, shall be deemed to commit an offence”. By piping raw sewage into the river Alnwick was not complying with the law. But it was not alone. In practice the technology of the day didn’t offer a viable alternative, and in any case, the act was difficult to enforce.

The requirement not to dump raw sewage into a river was not widely observed. But the problem was recognised.

“The crude sewage of Alnwick in quantities of from 200,000 to 150,000 daily gallons in Summer, 300,000 to 250,000 daily gallons in winter, and very much larger volumes after storms or the melting of snow, is now discharged into the River Alne, in direct contravention of the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876.

Proceedings can be taken by any person aggrieved by the commission of this offence against those who cause it, whether a corporate body or otherwise.

The River Alne, from the outfall to the weir below it, is in a most offensive state, and constitutes a grave danger to the health of the vicinity”

Lettter, 1888

Two proposals were prepared in 1892. One involved a treatment plant below Peter’s Mill, and one above. By this time houses were being built along Alnmouth Road. The advantage of the first proposal was the assurance that it would keep any nuisance away from those new houses. The advantage of the second proposal was that it was cheaper. The options were debated for several more years. After Alnwick Urban District Council took over responsibility from the Board of Health a decision was taken to adopt the cheaper option. The new system was opened on 19th May 1897.

Alnwick U.D. C. Sewage Works, 1921

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