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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > The man who turned on the taps

Thomas Hawksley

The man who turned on the taps

A Nottingham engineer played a major part in stopping the spread of cholera.

In the early 1800s epidemics of cholera and typhoid killed thousands of people. The causes were still being investigated and part of the problem was put down to the condition of water supplies.

Between 1720 and 1830 Nottingham saw its population jump from 10,000 to 50,000. They were crammed into the medieval town. The water supply from the River Leen wasn't sufficient. It became contaminated with sewage and industrial waste.

As a result infection spread among the populous.

The water pioneer

It's at this point that Thomas Hawksley, an engineer with the Trent Waterworks Company, takes centre stage.

Hawksley was born in Arnold in 1807. Today he's regarded as one of the greatest 19th century water engineers.

He was working for the Trent Waterworks Company in 1831 when he designed the country's first water system that provided a supply at constant high pressure, so preventing any contamination from entering the mains.

Clean water became available at the turn of a tap.

Hawksley was just 25 years old when he made the breakthrough.

Prior to this all water used in Nottingham was taken from shallow wells or direct from rivers and had to be distributed manually.

Water taps

Thomas Hawksley made turning on a tap a reality

Saving lives

Proof that Hawksley's methods worked came just over a decade later. Between 1848-49 thousands of people in towns throughout Britain died as another cholera epidemic spread through the country.

Nottingham was one of the few towns not to be badly affected, despite the fact it had notoriously bad housing conditions.

Hawksley honoured

The success in Nottingham led to Hawksley being asked to supervise water projects around Britain. Upgrades in Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Leeds, Derby, Darlington, Oxford, Cambridge, Sunderland, Wakefield and Northampton were all overseen by Thomas Hawksley.

His fame spread. He was honoured in Sweden, Denmark and Brazil for solving their water distribution and storage problems.

Back home he was elected president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Institution of Gas Engineers.

In 1878 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Thomas Hawksley died in 1893.

last updated: 22/07/2009 at 11:56
created: 07/07/2009

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > The man who turned on the taps

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