The Sanitary Improvements of the Burgh - The Water Supply - Sewage Purification Works

Twenty-six years ago the town, from a sanitary point of view, was unworthy of a police burgh of 5000 inhabitants, inasmuch as the streets were neither kerbed nor channelled, the sidewalks being divided from the vehicular roadway by open ditches, and the general sewage was carried to the outside of the burgh by a drain made with rough stones, into which the sewage was convoyed through “jaw-boxes" placed at every tenement.  Long stretches of this sewageway was open, and where it was closed in, on the main streets, the water often burst through the surface and formed small shafts or fountains during a heavy rain-storm.  Hawthorn hedges grew untidily along the streets where the land was not built upon, and water-barrels stood at nearly every door to catch the rain from the house-tops, for which purpose wooden rhones were erected by the tenants.  When the barrels were full to overflowing, the water found its way into the side ditches, and acted the part of the scavenger.  Pigs were kept and fed in nearly every backyard, and every individual butcher had his own private slaughter-house on his own premises, and it was no uncommon thing to see the blood streaming down the street while a slaughter was being made.  No scavenger was employed to clean the streets, and the collections remained until they were removed by heavy rain.  The domestic water supply came from the South Moss, where it was collected by two ponds, and filtered through a small filter of two brick chambers filled with sand that was seldom changed, and in which frogs and askers dwelt in myriads.  The Police Commissioners were their own sanitary inspectors, and when the streets and back places became too objectionable, they appointed a committee to make a tour of the burgh, and where they found it necessary to notify the proprietors to have their tenements put into a better sanitary state.

Such was the sanitary condition of Armadale at the beginning of the year 1880, when John Easton, the letter carrier from Bathgate, deceived by heavy snow, fell into a deep ditch at the east end of the burgh and was somewhat inconvenienced, a circumstance that caused a complaint to be sent to the Board of Supervision, which resulted in the Commissioners of the burgh being called upon to remedy the state of affairs.

It was at once resolved to lay pipes in the ditches and cover them up, as well as lay a whinstone kerb and surface channel on each side of the streets, to divide the sidewalk from the turnpike road.  The contract was entrusted to Mr. Frew, of Airdrie, and was duly carried through under the supervision of his son, Mr. John Frew, the present sanitary inspector for the county, Bathgate District inspector, superintendent of the district water works, and sanitary inspector for the burgh of Armadale.

This was the beginning of a long programme of sanitary improvements that have continued to be made until little remains to be done.  The Commissioners appointed the senior local constable to be sanitary inspector at a small salary, with the consent of the chief constable, and an effort was made to compel property owners to observe better sanitary conditions.

The water supply was a great hindrance, the quality being inferior and the quantity insufficient, especially during the summer months, when it was a common necessity to turn off the water in the evening until morn­ing to allow it to gather.  The Commissioners, to improve matters, had a pipe track laid from No. 17 Pit to the south pond, when all the water pumped out of the pit added but little to remove the difficulty.  Many suggestions were made to improve the water supply, but every scheme dissolved when the cost came to be considered.  At last a bill was brought into Parliament to form County Councils with certain powers, and in this the hope of Armadale lay.  But during the passage of the bill Airdrie and Coatbridge Water Company applied for Parliamentary powers to acquire the water available in the Forrest Burn area, and as this would have reduced the volume of water in Barbauchlaw Burn, which is a continuation of the former, the whole of Bathgate district, in common with Armadale, became alarmed at the prospect of losing their most natural water supply.  A strong opposition was formed, and witnesses for and against the scheme, both from the burgh and the district, went up to London to give their views before the Parliamentary Committee appointed to sit on the case.  Those who were against the water being diverted by the Airdrie and Coatbridge Water Company succeeded, and the hope now lay in a large water scheme being taken up by the County Council about to be elected.

The first County Council election, which took place in the spring of 1889, was fought, so far as Armadale was concerned, on the water question, when James Wood, Esq. of Bathville, who had stoutly defended the district water rights, was returned as tie first member to represent the burgh.  As soon as the newly-created Council got settled down to business, they began to consider the water supply of Armadale and Bathgate district and a Bathgate District Committee was formed to carry through a scheme for supplying the district with a sufficient quantity of water fit for domestic use.  Engineers were engaged to prepare plans and estimates for carrying the water from the Forrest Bum water area.  By October, 1891, the District Committee were so satisfied with the report submitted by their engineers that they resolved to apply to Parliament for a Provisional Order to carry out the proposed scheme.  The Order was granted early in 1892.  By the summer of 1893 the contract for excavating a large reservoir south of the village of Forrestfield was completed, and the work commenced.  A large range of filters were built at Stanerigg Farm, at the top end of Bathville Row, and by the end of 1895 Armadale was in possession of an ample water supply of a superior quality at a cost of 1s 3d per £ of rent valuation, one-half of which is payable by the tenant and the other half by the proprietor.

Shortly after the County Council came into office (1890), the Burgh Commissioners found it necessary to appoint a qualified sanitary inspector for the burgh, when their choice fell upon Mr. John Frew, the county and Bathgate district inspector.  Mr. Frew at once set about to suggest great improvements in the sanitary condition of the town.  The private slaughterhouses possessed by the butchers to him were a serious danger to the public health, and his reports to the Local Government Board on the sanitary state of the burgh brought a pressing demand from that body to the Burgh Commissioners to have the state of affairs remedied forthwith.  After due consideration the Commissioners resolved to abolish private slaughter-houses by erecting one large slaughter-house at the northern boundary of the burgh, where all animals meant for human consumption must be slaughtered under the eye of a superintendent.  The project met with considerable opposition from the butchers, who held that it was going to put them to a great deal of inconvenience, but the scheme was carried through, and the Sheriff's sanction to the bye-laws obtained on the 9th November, 1894.  The next step was to obtain the approval of the Local Government Board, which was given on the 27th day of the same month, and later, on the 21st January, 1895, Sir George Otto Trevelyan, H.M. Secretary for Scotland, approved of the bye-laws for the regulation of the slaughter-house, and at once private slaughter-houses ceased to exist.  With increased power, the Commissioners prohibited water-barrels from occupying a position on the street front, and the conditions under which pigs could be kept were made so strict as to discourage them from being fed within the burgh.

The next scheme the Commissioners had to face in order to improve the sanitary state of affairs was a complete sewage system.  The old sewage drains, built of rough stones, were not of a nature to prevent sewage gas from rising into the air; and to remedy this a complete system of sewage courses was mapped out and undertaken by stages, until the whole of the burgh has been overtaken.  This scheme, with an ample supply of water, has greatly improved the health of the burgh, which is very free from epidemic diseases.  Scavengers are engaged daily cleaning the streets and carting away the refuse that used to be washed away by the rain or removed by the tenants.  The ashpits are cleaned out at short intervals, the ashes being sold to the farmers in the vicinity, the revenue there-from contributing largely to defraying the cost of the scavengers' services.  Many houses have the water inside, and all are required to be connected with the main sewage, and properly trapped to prevent noxious gases from escaping.

The Town Council were beginning to congratulate themselves on having got the burgh into an almost perfect sanitary condition, when their attention was drawn by the Bathgate District Committee of the County Council, through a complaint by Colonel Hope of Bridgecastle, to the burgh sewage entering Barbauchlaw Burn and polluting the water.  The Town Council, after considering the subject, agreed to erect a small sewerage filter at the head of Colinburn Glen, where the sewage enters, on its way to Barbauchlaw Burn, through the lands of Whitockbrae Farm.  This filter was calculated to remove the evil, but the fact that the road surface water, which belongs to the County Council as Road Trustees, being allowed to enter the burgh sewage pipes, the first heavy fall of rain that came overtaxed the filters and removed them.  The Town Council's attention was again drawn to the pollution, and a demand made that the evil be remedied.  At last a proper sewage purification scheme had to be faced.  Various places were visited where such works were in operation, and out of the various schemes Mr. Will. Baird, the burgh surveyor, and Mr. Frew, the burgh sanitary inspector, devised a satisfactory scheme eminently suited to the natural conditions of the land where the works were proposed to be built.  Having received the approval of the Town Council, the plans were passed and ground acquired, but not before the ratepayers were called together in the Town Hall and the circumstances of the case explained.  The estimated coat was £2500, and arrangements were made for borrowing that amount on the strength of the burgh sewage assessment, and the contract was soon in the hands of the workmen.

Meantime the County Council was approached, with a view to obtaining assistance from them, since the road water entering the sewage pipes had to be provided for, and at last the County Council consented to pay a small annual sum for the privilege of their water being carried through the town pipes.

The works were completed at the beginning of the present year, and the opening ceremony took place on the 15th February, when Provost Smith, in a speech, recited the circumstances which led the Town Council to erect such works, and called upon Colonel Hope of Bridgecastle to open the valve that set the works in motion.  Colonel Hope, in a short speech, congratulated the Town Council on their achievement, and expressed the hope that the works would do all that was claimed for them by Provost Smith.  Having opened the valve and declared the works open, the burgh surveyor conducted the party over the works and explained the system in an interesting manner, after which the company lunched in the hotel.  The following is a review of the works, as furnished by Mr. Baird, the burgh surveyor, who made out the plans and directed their construction:-

In this scheme provision is made for a population of 5000 persons.  The whole of the sewage gravitates to the outfall works at Colinburn Glen, near to which are formed a series of detritus tanks, in which the heavy-matter will be intercepted.  The sewage then passes to a screen chamber, and thence to a covered scum tank, in which the first process of purification takes place, i.e., the liquefaction of solid organic matter.  This tank has a depth of seven feet, and is formed in divisions, giving a total length of travel of eighty yards.  The supernatant water rises through a clinker bed, thence to the collecting tank, which is formed above the roof of the scum tank.  A channel which goes the whole length of the four bacteria beds is connected to this tank, and in this the supply apparatus is fixed - one to each bed.  The contact beds have a depth of four feet nine inches, and suitable area.  The filtrant used is hard-burned clinker from the Glasgow Corporation refuse destructor.  The beds are well sub-drained and provided with air vents.  Automatic symphonic apparatus controls the supply and discharge of the liquid to the beds.

It has already been stated that a channel running the total length of the beds connects these with the collecting tank.  In the latter the sewage collects as it arrives at the works, until the volume is sufficient to fill a bed.  The automatic feed then comes into operation, discharging the contents of the tank to the bed.  The use of the dosing, or collecting, tank is of extreme importance, as it prevents the sewage standing in the beds for a longer period than is necessary to purification.  If this period is exceeded, purification is set up in the beds, a foul effluent resulting.  The automatic feed is of case iron, and is in reality an inverted rectangular syphon, one limb of which dips into the collecting chamber, the other into a sump discharging to the bacteria bed.  As a bed fills, the air from a dome placed therein is transferred through an air pipe to the feed creating an air-lock therein, which shuts off the supply, and, at the same time, air is transmitted to the blow-pipe of feed of apparatus in the adjoining bed, which is thus weakened and made ready to come into operation upon the next filling up of the collecting tank.  In this way each bed fills and stops in rotation.  The discharge of the beds through the timed syphons is brought about very similarly.

The syphon proper is placed in a chamber, its extension arm dips into the bacteria bed, a. tap in the wall between the two supplying the syphon chamber with sewage from the bed.  When this syphon chamber is filled to the requisite height, the syphon at once comes into operation, discharging the contents of its own chamber, and sucking out through the overflow arm also the contents of the bacteria bed.  The rate of supply to the syphon chamber may be regulated in order to determine the time of contact required.  The whole of the periods - filling, standing full, and discharging - are thus brought about automatically and without movement.  Upon this largely depends the effluent produced.

The patentees and manufacturers of this syphonic control apparatus are Messrs Adams, hydraulic engineers, York, etc..

Since the opening of these works the Town Council have been greatly perplexed over the difficulty of dealing with the road sand washed through the sewage pipes to the purification works.  The first act to prevent the sand from entering into the purification beds was to make a special settling tank a short distance from the main works.  The amount of sand that collects in this tank requires considerable attention.  The removing of the sand became a difficult problem, and various schemes were suggested, which ultimately resulted in a patent pump being purchased that was warranted to lift the sludge.  The paper and rag's, however, that find their way down the pipes seriously hinders the services of the pump.  A proper system of dealing with the sand - at the time of writing - has not been arrived at, but the purification tanks are reported to be giving satisfaction, and are being inspected frequently with a view to being copied elsewhere for a similar purpose.


Home Contents Preface Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Chapter VII Chapter VIII Chapter IX Chapter X Chapter XI Chapter XII Chapter XIII Chapter XIV Chapter XV Chapter XVI Chapter XVII Chapter XVIII Chapter XIX Chapter XX Chapter XXI Chapter XXII Notes