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Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders

Date 2007

Event ID 590536

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


This apparently single-storey ashlar masonry covered reservoir near the head of The Royal Mile was built in 1849–50 for the purpose of storing 1.65m gallons of water for the supply of the upper end of the Old Town and is not what it seems from its exterior. Much of the reservoir building is below ground, with retaining walls of ashlar masonry about 10 ft thick at the base tapering to 6 ft at the top founded on rock, creating a reservoir more than 100 ft square and about 25 ft deep. The timber-truss roof is supported on the outer walls and by 24 slender hollow cast-iron columns 9 in. in diameter sited within the reservoir. The building was designed and built under the direction of James Leslie, engineer to the Edinburgh Water Company. In 1991 the reservoir was no longer required and is now tastefully conserved as the Edinburgh Tartan Weaving Shop from a visit to which its original purpose and construction can still be appreciated. This reservoir replaced a smaller cistern, 43 ft by 28 ft by 6 ft, from one of Scotland’s earliest piped water supply schemes by which a supply of ‘sweet’ water was obtained for the town by means of gravity through a 3 in. diameter cast-lead pipe from Comiston springs at Tod’s Well on the Pentland Hills three miles to the south. The elevation of this well is indicated at Castlehill by the cannonball in the wall of Cannonball House.

From either this or a smaller Castlehill cistern at the same site, water was introduced by gravity to five stone wells on the High Street in 1681, and later to lower wells, including the one which still exists in the Grassmarket. From these wells women ‘caddies’ drew the water for households. The engineer for this great public health improvement was George Sinclair, a former professor of philosophy and mathematics at the University of Glasgow. The system was improved later by J. T. Desaguiliers who directed the laying of a four and a half inch diameter lead main from Comiston with 13 air valves and four cleansing cocks in ca.1720.

R Paxton and J Shipway 2007

Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Lowlands and Borders' with kind permission of Thomas Telford Publishers.

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