The ‘Manchester Corporation Waterworks Act’ was given Royal Assent on 23 May 1879. This entitled the Corporation to dam the lake at Thirlmere creating a reservoir from which water would be pumped over ninety miles to Manchester. Although no time limit was set by the Act for the completion of the reservoir, the compulsory land purchase powers were to lapse at the end of 1886. Engineering work did not start work immediately. Purchase of land took up considerably more time than anticipated, there was a slowdown in trade and manufacturing during the early 1880s, and rainfall was generally above average. This resulted in Manchester’s urgent need for additional water supplies to be less than forecast and it was not until 1885 that the engineering works began in earnest.

Hardwicke had taken little upfront activity in opposing the Thirlmere project in the late 1870s. With the Lake District Defence Society (LDDS) now up-and-running, however, he and his colleagues were in a strong position to monitor the building of the dam and its associated infrastructure. Regular contacts and meetings between the society and Manchester Corporation’s Waterworks Committee were held, with Hardwicke and W. H. Hills usually attending on behalf of the LDDS.

An early casualty of the engineering work was the ‘Rock of Names’, a large rock on which William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others had carved their initials in 1800. The rock was midway between Grasmere and Keswick and had been a favourite meeting place of Wordsworth and his friends. By the1880s it had become a destination for tourists and Wordsworth devotees. Initially, Manchester Corporation agreed that the rock could be moved to the Wordsworth Institute at Cockermouth. However, it was discovered that the rock was too large to move and the only remaining option was to dynamite it. After the rock’s destruction Hardwicke and Edith spent the next few days collecting fragments of the blown-up rock, later rebuilding them into a cairn on the east side of the road to Keswick at a higher level. In 1984 the cairn was taken to Dove Cottage in Grasmere.

Although there were many aspects of the engineering works that needed monitoring, the one that gave the greatest angst was the proposal to build a new road on the west side of the reservoir. The Act gave Manchester Corporation permission to raise the level of water by 50 feet. By June 1888, however, the Corporation had recalculated their water needs and assessed that these would be met for a considerable period of time to come by raising the level of water to no more than 20 feet. Only 10 million gallons of water a day needed to be taken, not the 50 million gallons originally proposed, thus reducing Manchester’s costs by a significant amount. These changes also brought into question whether there was now a need for the new road high up on the west side of Thirlmere. On the 13 June 1888, a letter, signed on behalf of the Commons Preservation Society (CPS) and the LDDS, was sent to Manchester Waterworks Committee:

Members of the Commons Preservation and Lake District Defence Societies have been deputed to go over the ground, and they are of opinion that, owing to the extensive engineering operations which would be required, the construction of a new high level road would seriously detract from the beauty of the western shores of the lake, and they believe that no adequate compensation for such injury to the scenery would be found in any added convenience for passenger traffic. . . . We therefore feel assured beforehand of your approval of the suggestion which we venture to make that the construction of the new high level road on the western shore be abandoned, and that such modifications only of the existing road be made as may be found necessary.1

The three signatories to this letter were Hardwicke and W. H. Hills for the LDDS, and George Shaw-Lefevre for the CPS. This offer must have been music to the ears of the Waterworks Committee, for they were being given an added opportunity to save many thousands of pounds. Any agreement, however, to abandon a new road on the west side of the lake would necessitate an amendment to the 1879 Act.

At a public meeting in Manchester on 5 December 1888, Alderman John Harwood, Chairman of the Waterworks Committee, updated attendees on progress with the works at Thirlmere. He told the meeting that the Committee had been in regular discussion with the LDDS, one outcome of which was the request referred to above that the new road be abandoned.

In telling Manchester Corporation to abandon the new road the LDDS had not consulted with the local community. They appear, not for the first time, to have acted on their own initiative. When reports of the meeting in Manchester were published in newspapers, supporters of the west road were quick to respond. The MP for Penrith, James Lowther, expressed his concerns. Mountford Baddeley, a writer of guide books on the Lakes, and a member of the LDDS since its formation, published a scathing criticism of the actions of Hardwicke and his colleagues:

Of the Lake District Defence Society, however, I know a great deal, having been an active member of it from its initiation. The part played by the society in this memorial is as follows:—Two or three of its committee, which has not been subject to reappointment for several years—there are no regular meetings—did not like the idea of this carriage-road. They, therefore, without any consultation with the general (subscribing) body of their members, approached the Waterworks Committee in the name of the whole society, and suggested that the road should be abandoned. The meeting of the Commons Preservation Society was attended by one member of this committee, and the result was a memorial which certainly might prima facia be accepted as a reasonable excuse for the action of the Corporation of Manchester in seeking to be released from their parliamentary obligations. . . . All that we, who think that the promised road will benefit the district as a tourist resort a hundred-fold in excess of the slight and temporary damage involved in its construction—all that we ask for the present is that the inhabitants of the Lake District should be allowed to express their opinions, and that the Corporation will weigh the value of such evidence against what I venture to call the utterly misleading memorial which has hitherto so greatly influenced their actions.2

It later emerged that Baddeley, unknown to his colleagues in the LDDS, had been in discussions with the Lake District Association (LDA), most of whose members were keen supporters of the new road being built.

Whilst these discussions on the proposed road were ongoing, Hardwicke was also standing as an Independent Liberal candidate for the Keswick division of the new Cumberland County Council. During his election campaign he was frequently asked for his views on the road. He knew that many of the electors supported its building but, along with the LDDS executive members, he opposed it. Hardwicke was elected a County Councillor on 18 January 1889. Though public opinion was moving against them, the stance of the LDDS was the same as it had always been, namely, that the new road on the west side of the lake should not be built. By late January 1889 support for building the new road was substantial. The Cockermouth Highway Board had entered the fray in support, and Manchester Corporation began to worry that if litigation ensued they could suffer heavy losses.

The situation was getting messy. Hardwicke recognised that his dual roles as an executive member of the LDDS and a County Councillor representing his electors were becoming incompatible. He took matters into his own hands and resigned from the LDDS. To have taken the decision to resign from the society that he founded must have come as a shattering blow to Hardwicke. He obviously found himself in a position where he had alienated almost everyone to some degree. It was certainly a mistake, very poor judgment, and a large degree of arrogance, on the part of Hardwicke and Hills, to suggest to Manchester Corporation that the road be abandoned without any consultation with other affected individuals and organisations. To make matters worse, it appears that Hardwicke might have given mixed messages during his election campaign depending on who he was addressing. None of the above is referred to in the account of the Thirlmere road in Hardwicke’s biography

The eventual outcome was that no amendment to the 1879 Act with regards to a road on the west side of the lake was requested and it was duly built and opened in February 1894. This was the first, and only, defeat for the LDDS. Thirlmere Reservoir was opened at a ceremony on 12 October 1894. Hardwicke and Hills were both invited. Hardwicke read a prayer at the ceremony and proposed the toast at lunch to ‘The Waterworks Committee of the Manchester Corporation’. He also wrote four sonnets for the occasion, one specifically praising the chairman of the Waterworks Committee. There was a second ceremony on 13 October in Manchester when the waters were turned on. Hardwicke again participated.

Manchester Corporation, Hardwicke and the LDDS, continued their skirmishes for many years to come, mainly on the issue of tree planting. The Corporation had pledged in the 1879 Act to make good the beauty of the landscape after the engineering works. What happened in practice was the wholesale destruction of the native woods and forests. The indigenous oak, ash, birch and other trees were felled and replaced with lucrative conifers such as larch, spruce and fir extending over more than two thousand acres. A cartoon appeared in the Manchester Evening Chronicle as late as 1911 showing Hardwicke pleading with an axeman not to cut more trees down on the shore of Thirlmere. In 1985 the legality of this planting was challenged in the courts by Mrs Susan Johnson who argued that it was not part of the agreement made by Manchester Corporation in the 1879 Act. Mrs Johnson won her case and Manchester Corporation was forced to adopt a new approach to tree planting. Mrs Johnson was the daughter of Henry Herbert Symonds, a future chairman of ‘Friends of the Lake District’.


  1. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 1888, 6 December, p. 8.
  2. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 1889, 24 January, p. 7.

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