Part of page from a water rent book Show image info

Part of a page from the Water Rent Book for 1805 showing the entry for Jane Austen's father at 3 Green Park Buildings (Reference BC/7/1/11/1/29)

Records of public health infrastructure: Water supply 1768-1974

From the mid-eighteenth century, an increasing quantity of records help to tell the story of the Council’s role in the supply of piped water to the city.

1. Council Minutes and Reports (BC/2/1)

Signed minutes of the full Council, 1631-1974 (BC/2/1/1)
The minutes of the full Council contain some references to water supply, but for the period after 1768 the easiest place to start looking for information on matters relating to the water supply is usually the minutes of the Waterworks Committee.

Signed minutes of the Waterworks Committee, 1768-1968 (with gaps) (BC/2/1/164)
The earliest volume to have survived starts in 1768, although from internal evidence it seems that there was at least one volume before this. The volume for 1850-1855 has similarly not survived. The minutes contain very detailed operational information, such as the names of those supplied and charges made; policy and strategic matters appear in the minutes only from the mid-twentieth century.

The Waterworks committee had several standing and special sub-committees:

  • General Purposes sub-committee, 1887-1905 (BC/2/1/165)
  • Odd Down Water Supply sub-committee, 1895 (BC/2/1/166)
  • Special sub-committee, 1938-1949 (BC/2/1/167)
  • Mendip Area sub-committee, 1950-1952 (BC/2/1/168)

In addition, there were two ad-hoc (temporary) water committees:

  • Water Supply Committee, 1868-1876 (BC/2/1/170)
  • Special Water Supply Committee, 1887 (BC/2/1/171)

Printed minutes of the Council and Committees, 1895-1974 (BC/2/178; available on open access in the searchroom)
These minutes are sometimes less detailed than the signed minutes, but contain indexes.

Reports to the Waterworks Committee, 1836-1935 (BC/2/1/169 and BC/7/1/2)
Two series of these reports are held: a series (presumably created by the Town Clerk) kept with the Council minutes (BC/2/1/169), and a series (probably created by the Waterworks Engineer) which has survived with the Waterworks records (BC/7/1/2) They include reports written by the Engineers and the Town Clerk and submitted to the various Waterworks committees of the Council, and those written by the Committees and submitted to the full Council. The Reports include detailed information and recommendations relating to administrative, legal and engineering matters.


2. Records of the City Waterworks (BC/7/1)
An extensive series of records, including:

Papers relating to the promotion and implementation of Waterworks Bills and Acts, 1846-1903 (BC/7/1/3-5, BC/7/1/7 and BC/7/1/9)
In order to extend the water supply to all parts of the city, the Council had to promote Bills in Parliament to enable it to raise the necessary funds and give it the powers to purchase land and obtain the rights to springs. The Bills might be opposed and fail or be amended; if successful (possibly with amendments), they resulted in Acts giving the Council the powers it required. The Council also opposed Bills promoted by other authorities which it believed damaged their own interests. The papers include the records created or collected by the Town Clerk for the promotion of the Bills in Parliament, records of the passing of the Bills, and detailed records relating to the subsequent execution of the works specified in the Acts. They consist of:

  • Records relating to the 1846 Bath Water Act (9 & 10 Vict. c.220), 1845-1876 (BC/7/1/3)
  • Records relating to the 1866 Bath Bill, 1865 -1867 (BC/7/1/4)
    Although primarily focused on the city water supply, this Bill had a wider scope. It failed to comply with the standing orders of Parliament and was dismissed. 
  • Records relating to the 1870 Bath Act (33 & 34 Vict. c.53), 1869-1876 (BC/7/1/5)
  • Records relating to the 1903 Bath Corporation Water Act (3 Edw. VII c.20), 1902-1930 (BC/7/1/9)
  • Records relating to the Council’s opposition to the 1887 West Gloucestershire Water Bill, 1887-1888 (BC/7/1/7)

Papers relating to the acquisition of private waterworks, 1740s-1888 (BC/7/1/6)
A number of private companies and individuals supplied water to parts of the city. The Council acquired these waterworks, mainly in the 1870s and 1880s, by various means.

Papers relating to the building of Monkswood Reservoir, 1893-1898 (BC/7/1/8)
The Council successfully applied to Local Government Board to borrow money and undertake building works for a reservoir.

Administrative and operational registers, 1772-1975 (BC/7/1/11)
A significant series of records, including:

  • Water rent books, 1772-1927 (BC/7/1/11/1)
    These show the names and addresses of householders receiving a water supply and the amounts paid.
  • Registers of grants of right to join the water mains, 1777-1822 (BC/7/1/11/2)
  • Survey and report books, including records of the times when water supplies were turned on and off, and surveys of sizes of cisterns and number of water closets, records of faults and ‘abuses’, late C18-early C19 (BC/7/1/11/3-6)
  • Registers of rainfall, 1860-1965 (BC/7/1/11/9)
  • Spring gauging (also includes rainfall levels), 1891-1928 (BC/7/1/11/12)
  • Registers of trade water meter readings, 1932-1959 (BC/7/1/11/17)
  • Registers of average daily consumption of water, 1929-1962 (BC/7/1/11/18)
  • Engineers’ monthly reports (including yield of the springs, average daily consumption, state of the reservoirs, rainfall, and quality of water) 1951-1963 (BC/7/1/11/33)
  • Waste detection monthly reports, 1929-1948 (BC/7/1/11/24)
  • State of reservoirs and pumping, 1935-1980 (BC/7/1/11/28)
  • Repair orders, 1945-1969 (BC/7/1/11/30)
  • Accounting and financial records: materials and labour cost sheets, registers of materials outward and inward, wage sheets, 1929-1975 (BC/7/1/11/19-21, BC/7/1/11/23, BC/7/1/11/27)
  • Registers of correspondence inwards, 1943-1968 (BC/7/1/11/29)

Town Clerks’ papers relating to water supply, 1792-1957 (BC/7/1/1)
These records cover the whole range of administrative issues relating to the City waterworks, reflective of the wide-ranging role played by the Town Clerk at this time. The series includes:

  • Requests from the public for new and improved water supplies
  • Legal advice regarding disputes
  • Surveys and reports on the physical upkeep and maintenance of the works
  • Correspondence relating to finance and acquisition of legal powers
  • Plans showing the layout or intended layout of pipes and sources of water
  • Agreements to buy individual springs for use in supplying water

Individual items of particular interest in this series are:

  • A survey of water closets and associated papers, 1820-1832 (BC/7/1/1/4)
  • Specification for a Pumping Engine and Boiler, 1884 (BC/7/1/1/34A)

Correspondence and filing series, 1906-1974 (BC/7/1/12 - BC/7/1/16)
These contain a huge amount of information on a range of matters. There are several different series:

  • Waterworks Engineers’ correspondence files relating to the management and maintenance of the waterworks, 1928-1958 (BC/7/1/12).
  • Waterworks Office filing, predominantly operational and technical in nature relating to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the Waterworks, 1939-1974. (BC/7/1/13-14).
  • Waterworks Committee correspondence, filing series kept by the Town Clerk, predominantly relating to strategy and legal matters, 1903-1974 (BC/7/1/15-16).


3. Town Clerks’ general correspondence, 18th and early 19th centuries (BC/3/2)
A small number of documents among the Town Clerks’ general correspondence relates to water supply. They include:

  • Draft copy of Abstract of grant from the Commissioners under the Bath Improvement Act to the Corporation of springs of hot and cold water on the north side of Bath Street,1793 (BC/3/2/45/12)
  • A draft agreement for the supply of water and connection to a common sewer to two houses at rear of premises in Market Place, Bath, 1795 (BC/3/2/20)
  • Draft minutes relating to the dispute between the Corporation and John Symons respecting the springs of water on Beacon Hill, Walcot, Bath, 1797 (BC/3/2/24/5)
  • A plan showing the water pipes belonging to the Earl of Manvers and the Corporation c.1800 (BC/3/2/24/10)
  • The case for Lord Manvers' right to break up pitching at Abbey Gates and lay a water pipe to his house in Philip Street, 1810-1811 (BC/3/2/40)
  • A letter from B. Gaby to Philip George junior [town clerk] concerning the building of a wall at Beechen Cliff on Holloway Road, Bath. A request for the Corporation to contribute towards the building of the wall as it would aid the security of their water tanks,1833 (BC/3/2/1/2)


4. Town Clerk’s Letterbooks relating to Urban Sanitary Authority matters, 1878-1905 (BC/3/4)
Bath City Council acted as the Urban Sanitary Authority (USA) for the city from 1872 until 1905. The Town Clerk was also the Clerk to the USA, and kept a separate series of letterbooks for USA matters. In 1905, the Council stopped holding separate meetings as USA, and the Town Clerk stopped keeping a separate set of letterbooks. The letterbooks contain detailed information about a range of public health matters, including water supply.

  • In-letters (letters received)1892-1905 (BC/3/4/6)
  • Out letters (copies of letters sent out), 1878-1905 (BC/3/4/2)

Abstracts of some of the in-letters can be found at


5. Miscellaneous records relating to private waterworks
As well as the City Council, many private companies and individuals supplied water to small areas of the city.

  • Correspondence between John Wood and the Garrard family concerning the water supply to The Circus, 1754-1771 (photocopies of originals, PP/508)
  • Deeds of the Circus Waterworks Company, 1758-1873 (0091)
  • Deeds and papers relating to the ‘Rivers Waterworks’ (supplying The Circus, Gay Street, Queen Square), 1758-1887 (0810/6)
  • Leases relating to private water supplies, Walcot, 1787-1873 (0032/5)
  • Agreement for building a water reservoir in Somerset Place, with plan, 1810 (0054/27)
  • Agreement with the Combe Down Water Works Company Ltd. to supply water to Beechen Cliff estate, 1905 (0434/2)
  • Combe Down Waterworks Company Ltd: notes on the Company’s undertaking, including statement of land and machinery owned, brief history of sources of supply, and tabulated schedules of water mains, compiled for proposed re-amalgamation with Bath Waterworks, c. 1951 (0183/1)


6. Other records: local newspapers
Local newspapers contain valuable information on the development of the City waterworks, providing an alternative perspective to the official records. The Record Office holds various Bath newspapers, including the Bath Chronicle; details can be found in our research guide to newspapers.

The online British Newspaper Archive (BNA) at includes the weekly edition of the Bath Chronicle 1760-1950. The BNA enables targeted searches to be carried out, and is the best place to start research in the Chronicle. The Record Office offers free access to the BNA; for more information see


7. Books and other published sources

Bath City Council Cold Water Committee. History and Present State of the City Waterworks, 1878 (PP/1489).

Richardson, L and Whitaker, W. Wells and Springs of Somerset (includes details on the source of domestic water supply to Bath Rural District), 1928 (PP/1405).

Booklet commemorating Bath City Council’s part of the Mendip Area Water Supply Scheme, 1957 (0172/7).

Hardy T. The Water Supply of Bath, 1975 (PP/1979/1).

Hardiman, Alan ‘Servicing the Houses of Bath 1714-1830: Water Supply’ in Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society Journal 27, 1994. pp.11-18 (PP/1837/1).

The Survey of Bath and District, no. 27, 2012. Includes article on the Combe Down Waterworks (PP/2169/27).

Clark, Mary and Huggins, Gill. Bathampton Down: a hill divided, 2017. Includes information on reservoirs and waterworks (PP/2580).