The History of Ulley Reservoir and Country Park
The history of the Country Park at Ulley and the reservoir is bound up with the rapid expansion of the urban population of Rotherham in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the population grew the number of dwellings grew to accommodate them. The dwellings were rarely built with access to running water or the means of removing sewage. Rotherham at this time would have been a very unhealthy place in which to live.
In 1750 the main supplies of water came from the springs on Wellgate. These ran towards the River Rother, which they entered near Chantry Bridge. The stream itself was covered over from the bottom of High Street. Contemporary accounts suggest that water from the spring was carried down the west side of Wellgate by aqueduct with spouts for general use and some cattle troughs at the bottom of Vicarage Lane. In 1827 a water company was established using water from Wellgate Springs. The water quality was good, but it could only supply half of the town.
By 1851 there were reports of crowded houses with liquid refuse and sewage seeping downhill into the dwellings below. Those houses with privies had them built close to the dwellings which caused a dreadful stench. Many houses also had piggeries attached, the liquids from which ran downhill. The water company was supplying eight gallons of water per head per day (40 litres) by 1864 to 19000 of the town’s population.
A Rotherham Yard – 15 houses – 15 families sharing one privy
As the supply of water was insufficient to supply the needs of a growing population a clean and plentiful supply was needed. In 1863 Parliament granted permission for water to be extracted to supply the town from the Ulley and Morthen Brooks. This supply was originally filtered on the site before a dam was constructed. (It was planned that it would supply 102,840 gallons per day.) Construction of the filters was commenced in 1864 and they became operational in 1865. The decision to construct a reservoir with a dam was taken in 1869. Work commenced on the dam site in 1871 and by 1876 the reservoir was complete.
Why the site of the dam was suitable
The major issue was a consistent supply of clean safe water to Rotherham. The water in Ulley and Morthen Brooks was clean. Rainfall in the area was considered to be sufficient to supply the town as the catchment of the dam was 2200 acres. (890 hectares). The valley at this point was narrow enabling the construction of a short dam. The underlying strata were both impermeable and thought to be stable enough to support the dam and the weight of a large body of water. Importantly the water would feed into Rotherham by gravity. There were few sources of pollution in the area although there were a number of farms keeping animals though no farm houses would be flooded. The main Rotherham Road from Ulley to the town would be flooded so the viaduct was built to cross the reservoir at a point above the confluence of the two brooks. (The old road was visible when the dam was drained to enable the rehabilitation work to be completed in 2009/10.)
As the population of Rotherham continued to grow (There was a 21% increase in population between 1891 and 1901 and a 25% increase between 1901 and 1911.) the water being supplied from the reservoir at Ulley was insufficient to meet the growing demand.
More reservoirs were needed
In 1896 permission was granted for the building of new reservoirs at Langsett, Sheffield. Rotherham was allowed to take 1,600,000 gallons of water per day. (7,273,600 litres) Further powers were granted to Rotherham to take one sixth of the water supplied to Sheffield from the Derwent Valley Water Board. This amounted to 2,100,000 gallons per day. Water from Langsett was first used in 1905 and from Derwent in 1915. Ulley Reservoir was providing 500,000 gallons per day at this time. As the new supplies came ‘on stream’ Ulley Reservoir became a reserve source.
The reservoir returned to service in 1940 to supply water for the armaments industry. It returned to reserve status after the war.
In 1985 it was sold by Yorkshire Water to Rotherham for the nominal amount of £1. The catch lay in the ‘small print.’ The debt of £55,000 which would also be taken over by the Borough.
Ulley Country Park
In 1986 the site became Ulley Country Park. A visitor centre opened in 1989 in the building shared with Ulley Sailing Club, staffed by Rangers and Volunteer Rangers. The site was laid out with footpaths round the reservoir so that the Park could support a variety of events.
Sailors, anglers, walkers and the observers and recorders of flora and fauna enjoyed the peace and tranquillity offered by the Park. The diversity of habitats encouraged a wide range of insect, bird and animal species to the park as well as the ‘locals’ looking to spend some time in a beautiful part of Rotherham less than 4 miles (7 km) from the centre of Rotherham.
That peace and tranquillity was to be shattered in June 2007 when an unprecedented rainfall event caused the Park to be shut, surrounding villages to be evacuated and the emergency services from all over the country arrive at Ulley Country Park to avert the potential disaster of the dam bursting.