Thursday, 15 December 2011

Aitken's water supply

Remember that short history of Aitken's I posted a few days back. There was the odd statement that originally all the water had to be carted to the brewery, but now they had two artesian wells. It seems that they didn't just swap from carting to having their own wells overnight. For a while they were also using the town water supply.

As this newspaper report makes clear:

The following letter was laid before the meeting: -

"Falkirk Brewery, Falkirk. 14th May. 1861.
"To the Commissioners of Police of the Burgh of Falkirk.

"Gentlemen, - We beg to bring under your notice a matter of serious moment.

"Mr Wilson of South Bantaskine, as we understand, in the arrangement which you entered into with him reserved power to execute any needful operation in the waste or workings from whence the public supply of water is drawn. This reservation, however, was, we further understand, clogged with the stipulation that nothing should be dove calculated to injure or endanger the Town's supply. In inserting this stipulation you did no more than repeat the obligation laid upon the lessees of the coal under the original lease granted by Mr Forbes of Callendar.

"We now find that Mr Wilson bas deemed it necessary, in the exercise of the reserved power referred to, to enter upon certain operations, the effect of which has been to render the town's water unserviceable for ordinary purposes, and altogether useless as regards our manufacture.

"From inquiries we have made, we learn that this injury will not be so temporary as has been supposed. On the contrary, we are led to believe that it may endure for several weeks. At this season of the year the consequences must be serious so far as we are concerned. We must either suspend our operations or cart from a distance all the water we require, and this at great inconvenience and heavy cost.

"Whilst we have every desire to act in an accommodating spirit, you will see that we cannot submit to the injury which Mr Wilson's operations, as at present conducted, are inflicting upon our trade, and we now write to you in the hope that you will see that gentleman, and will effect with him some arrangement whereby the present cause of public complaint may be obviated. - We are, Gentlemen, your obedient servants,

"Jas. Aitken & Co."

A somewhat lengthy conversation then arose regarding the water supply.

The Provost detailed the agreement between Mr Wilson, of Bantaskine, and the Council. That agreement was to the effect that Mr Wilson was to cease to work the coal from where the water was taken ; that he was not to foul the water or injure it in quantity or quality. Mr Wilson had not, up till lately, withdrawn a syphon and rails that belonged to him ; and the recent fouling, and the stoppage of the water, had been caused by Mr Wilson withdrawing the rails and the syphon. The Council would observe that, while Mr Wilson had undertaken not to injure the quantity or quality of the water, it was impossible to remove the rails and the syphon without, in some measure, causing injury." He (the Provost) had stated to Mr Wilson that they were not inclined to be captious, but were willing to give him every reasonable facility. At the same time, he had stated that they could not tolerate the whole of their supply to be taken away or injured in quality. The best security they had that the water would not again be disturbed was the removal of the syphon and rails. He understood that, up to the date of meeting, Mr Wilson had expended at least £40 in putting things right, and more than that would be required. After a few other remarks, the Provost concluded by saying, so far as he could understand, all that lay in Mr Wilson's power had been done to prevent the water being either stopped or fouled.

Mr Neilson - How long will they be ?

The Provost understood the workmen would be done at the level that day, and, in the meantime, Mr Wilson intended to turn in the Bantaskine supply to fill up the basin, also the water that run from the Britannia pit. This, in a very short time, would fill up the basin.

Mr Hodge thought, from the length of time, that these works would have been finished long ago.

The Provost here explained that the whole sum which Mr Wilson was to receive amounted to £120.

Mr Neilson thought that if such was the case, Mr Wilson would have been better to have left both rails and sypbon where they were.

Bailie Jones  - Are any of you aware that the men are working night and day ?

Mr Rattray - Yes.

Mr Neilson said that when things were right they would have a great deal more water than before.

The meeting then agreed to record regret that Messrs Aitken & Co. had been subjected to the inconvenience complained of in their letter.
Falkirk Herald - Thursday 6 June 1861, page 3.

It seems that one of the local pits had polluted the town water supply, which Aitken was using for brewing. And see what they had to do to get brewing water temporarily? Cart it in again.

I can understand why Aitken was pissed off. A brewery needs large quantities of clean water. Not just for brewing, but for all sorts of cleaning purposes. While not in the same league as the breweries in London, Aitken was a reasonably-sized brewery by 1860. You can tell that by the size of the buildings and the area of ground that they covered. Luckily we have a map from exactly the right period to demonstrate that:

James Aitken brewery in 1858

The original brewery had been just the section south of the street, labelled here as Tun House and Brew House

Let's say they were brewing a modest 24,000 barrels a year, or 2,000 barrels a week. Generally a brewery needs at least 4 or 5 times as much water as the quantity of beer they brew. Which means Aitken would need to cart in 8,000 to 10,000 barrels of water a week. That's a lot of transport by horse and cart.

I'm surprised that Aitken were using the town supply at all and hadn't already dug their own well. It sounds as if the amount of water in the town supply had in any case been limited. At least that's what I read into the statement: "hey would have a great deal more water than before".

Most breweries had their own wells, especially older ones. In the early 19th century public supply of water was often either restricted or not completely safe. Hence a brewery really needed its own independent supply. The majority of large London brewers all had their own wells.

So why hadn't Aitken dug a well? Hard to say, really. Probably a question of money. But, possibly prompted by this crisis, they did dig a well a few years later. Not a totally happy event, as we'll find out next time.

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