The need for new housing in early 20th century Richmondshire

Getting water supplies to Finghall was a problem.

Local historian Ian Spensley continues his look at Richmondshire’s 20th century history. In this month’s article he examines the district’s infrastructure and housing

As the district’s population grew there was an urgent need for good, safe water supplies as well as the installation of mains sewage systems.

Hawes was expanding with houses being built along the main road in conjunction with a supply of stone from quarries at Burtersett, Gayle and Staggs Fell. At Leyburn, development continued from the 19th century with a number of housing estates being built, including those on the Shawl in about 1910 and those opposite the Station from the 1920s.

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The Rural District Council minutes shed much light on this process, a process that was not always smooth. In January 1939 at the meeting to decide on which development should proceed, that on Bellerby Road or that on Moor Road, the meeting began with the expulsion of three women observers who were not rate payers.

After a heated discussion a previous decision in favour of Bellerby Road was rescinded and that on Moor Road approved by four votes to two with ten abstentions.

Water Supplies

The leading sanitary engineer of the day was Mr FJ Rodwell who had previously been a mining engineer at the Keld Heads Lead Mine near Wensley Station. One of his first jobs was to arrange a water supply for Leyburn from a lead mine level (tunnel) on Leyburn Moor in 1895. This was augmented in 1926/7 with an additional supply from another lead mine level on Preston Moor. At Hawes, water had previously been taken from the White Hart Well which was heavily contaminated by sewage getting into the natural cavern system running below the streets, and an outbreak of Typhoid in 1871/2 resulted in 90 cases and at least five deaths.

I have no date for a proper supply being installed in Hawes but by 1924 the town’s supply was said to be good enough to drink, though highly coloured and unsightly.£1,230 was borrowed to improve it.

Getting supplies to Hunton and Fingall was an intractable problem. Fingall’s supply from Thorney Keld spring proved inadequate and sinking deeper wells pumped by windmills was only a stop gap. In 1912 Leyburn’s supply was giving 1,000 gallons an hour but leakages gave cause for concern and the service was not helped considering such cases as six houses on St Matthews Terrace being supplied by a single pipe. In 1920 Fingall and Patrick Brompton supplies were condemned.

Three more wells were attempted at Patrick Brompton but drilling was prevented by large boulders and a shaft had to be sunk in 1922 which proved successful giving 1,000 gallons an hour. Fingall was still having problems in 1930 and a new scheme was planned. Supplies at Leyburn were beginning to break down in 1925, mainly because the Railway Company was periodically taking the full supply so an additional reservoir was planned at a cost of £3370. New housing was being built apace in Leyburn and the council had to get tough in 1934 when Sanderson & Co connected their new houses on Bellerby road without permission.

The same year Express Dairies gave notice of their intention to build a factory in Leyburn (opened in January 1937). Something like a water war broke out in 1935 when Bedale RDC sought a supply from the Leyburn area.

Leyburn RDC initially opposed this but seem to have settled for an extra supply to Leyburn being guaranteed from Bellerby. Bedale RDC then approved the scheme costing £55,000 to take water from Bellerby Spring (500,000 gallons per day). A bore hole was put down 100 feet in 1937 giving 3,200 gallons an hour.


The initial sewage scheme at Leyburn was started in 1907 by Bushby & Sons of Leeds at a projected cost of £2,673. By 1908 most of the houses to the north of the square had been connected where in the past at least one had discharged straight into the beck. Castle Bolton’s sewage scheme was put in by JH Thistlethwaite in 1912, with Lord Bolton paying a large contribution to save the rate payers’ costs however at least two houses still remained to be connected by the 1960s. By 1920 most houses in Leyburn and Middleham had water closets but most of the rest of the dale still had earth closets.

1931 saw sewage schemes planned for Arrathorne and Carlton in Coverdale. Preston under Scar sewage scheme was installed in1934 and the first public convenience for Leyburn was built at the east end of the central buildings the same year.