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Derby Waterworks, site of
St Michael's Lane, Derby, Derbyshire, UK
associated engineer
George Sorocold
date  1691 - 1693
UK era  Stuart  |  category  Water Supply/Pipes  |  reference  SK352366
George Sorocold's water supply system for the city of Derby is widely acknowledged as the first of its kind outside London. It consisted of a waterwheel-driven pump that lifted water from the River Derwent to a tank at the nearby St Michael's Church, from where it was distributed via a network of elm-wood pipes through the old Borough of Derby.
Historical maps of Derby show the site of the Old Waterworks at the east end of St Michael's Lane, which would have been on the northern fringe of the city in the 1690s. On 5th March 1691, George Sorocold and Derby's mayor Samuel Fletcher signed a deed that granted Sorocold ... "Gunpowder Mill, near St Michaels Mills, and two sluices adjoining, and the Little Byfleet whereon the mill stands with free liberty to erect a waterhouse, a water wheel and other engines, laying pipes for conveying water into the streets, lanes and passages within the Borough, to hold for 99 years at an annual rent of £3-00 with certain conditions as to opening the streets, digging tranches, and repairs etc. the said George Sorocold to begin work within three months next ensuing, and to lay pipes through 'The Kinges Streets, Iron Gate, Market Place, Rotten Row, and Corne Market in Derby, and so to Goal Bridge in the said Borough within the next three years following".
The waterworks' location on the Bye Flatt allowed water from the river to be drawn upstream of St Michael's Weir. The 'water engine' used by Sorocold was notable as its wheel could be raised or lowered, depending on the level of the river. The principle was patented by fellow engineer John Hadley in March 1693, most probably for his waterwheel at Worcester. It is almost certain that Sorocold and Hadley knew each other at this time and they would go on to work together at Westminster in 1696.
No detailed drawings of the Derby Waterworks engine have been identified. However, Sorocold is credited with similar later works in many other UK towns and cities, including Leeds (1694-5), London (1696) and Norwich (1700). Drawings of these, presumably similar engines, show complex machines that drove pumps using a series of beams and pulleys. In 1852, a record of offer for sale of Derby's Old Waterworks showed it had a waterwheel capable of generating 12 horsepower (about 9kW).
The Derby Waterworks’ water-powered pumping engine lifted water from the river into a storage tank located in or near St Michael's church (SK351366), which is about 7.6m above river level. The tank was probably constructed of timber with a lead lining.
It is unclear exactly where it was sited. One historical record indicates that it was in the church tower, others say it was in the grounds. A look at the topography of the site in relation to the layout of the streets it supplied suggests that to work, the tank would have had to have been raised above the ground.
The water distribution network served as many as 23 streets and consisted of some 6.4km of timber pipes, whose nominal bore ranged from 25mm to 114mm. The pipes were said to have been bored by a mill that was also powered by the waterworks' wheel.
Paying users appear to have drawn their supplies from public conduits, though there were also some services to individual properties and businesses. In 1928, excavations in Queen Street revealed part of Sorocold's original timber pipework.
On 24th October 1705, Sorocold apparently sold the waterworks for £200 to Thomas Coke (1674-1727), Derbyshire MP and resident of Melbourne Hall (SK389250). The waterworks were managed by a Board of Trustees throughout the 18th century, and until their closure in 1848 when Derby Corporation Waterworks were built at Little Eaton (SK366406). Sorocold was listed as a trustee of his Derby Waterworks until 1738.
Other locations for Sorocold-designed waterworks include Bridgnorth, Bristol, Deal, Kings Lynn, Newcastle, Norwich, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Great Yarmouth. In London, he worked on improvements to the London Bridge Waterworks and on the New River system. Other notable Sorocold projects include river improvement works on the Derwent and the first wet docks in Liverpool. He also appears to have been involved in the lead mining industry in Derbyshire.
Research: Paul Sharratt
B i b l i o g r a p h y
"1852: Derby. A Map, A Gazeteer, A Newspaper" by K.P. Archer,
published by Kevin Archer, 2009
"Derby History and Guide" by M.Craven
Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1994
"Extent of Sorocold's Water Supply at Derby" by F.Williamson
Derbyshire Archaeological & Natural History Society's Journal, Vol.74, 1954
"George Sorocold of Derby: a pioneer of water supply" by F.Williamson
Journal of the Derbyshire Arch. & Natural History Society, Vol.57, 1936
"The Engineers of the English River Navigations, 1620-1760" by A.W. Skempton, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Vol.29, 1953
reference sources   BDCE1

Derby Waterworks, site of