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Environment and History

A Tale of Two Yorkshire Villages: The Local Environmental Impact of British Reservoir Development, c.1866-1966

Andrew McTominey

Environment and History 26 (2020): 331-358. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15444572414083

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The supply of clean, soft water was of great importance to towns and cities in Britain during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, helping to maintain a healthy population and the resources for industries. Leeds, West Yorkshire, was no exception to this, with the Leeds Corporation in the 1860s looking north of the town to the Washburn Valley for a new supply of water to replace the polluted waters of the Rivers Aire and Wharfe. The construction of four reservoirs in the valley, three between 1869 and 1879 and a further one between 1961 and 1966, irrevocably altered the natural environment. In order to highlight how the actions of a municipal body impacted on the natural environment and the lives of those residing there, this article will examine two case studies: the village of Fewston, which was severely damaged by land subsidence a year after the completion of the original three reservoirs in 1880; and the construction of Thruscross Reservoir and the flooding of West End village in the 1960s.

KEYWORDS: Water supply, reservoirs, subsidence, socionature, engineering


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