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The charity making life better by water

Levelling up at Winterburn Reservoir

Situated at the gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, Winterburn Reservoir has been helping us supply water to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal since the late 19th century. This summer, as we marked its 130th anniversary, thanks to the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we began a three-month maintenance project to bring the ageing site in line with modern safety standards.

Winterburn Reservoir

In its heyday, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was one of the busiest trade routes in the country, linking the east and west of England and bustling with working boats laden with coal, grain and limestone. However, in the late 1800s, traffic on the canal ground to a halt, as water levels plummeted following a series of droughts.

To remedy the situation, the decision was taken to create two new reservoirs at Barrowford and Winterburn, to feed the canal and maintain healthy water levels. Built by engineers Edward Filliter and Henry Rolfe, and opened in 1893, Winterburn Reservoir would be the last great canal construction project of the Victorian age.

Sheep grazing near Winterburn Reservoir

More than 130 years on, Winterburn Reservoir still plays a crucial role in supplying the Leeds & Liverpool Canal with water, as well as serving as a vital blue and green space for people and wildlife. As project manager, Stuart Sutherland, explains: “Our reservoirs feed our canals and maintain water levels along the inland waterways, a function that is proving increasingly important as we face the challenge of climate change.”

Essential maintenance was carried out at the Grade II Listed reservoir this summer, building on a raft of works carried out in the mid-1990s. To complete the repairs, skilled stonemasons had to clean the spillway flight, carefully removing vegetation, deteriorated masonry and grouting. Once they were done, they began replacing and repointing the stonework.

Skilled stonemasons

“It’s a careful balance to maintain the historic integrity of this 130-year-old asset to withstand the demands of the 21st Century,” says Stuart. “While skilled stonemasons apply traditional lime mortaring techniques that would have been used in the construction of the reservoir, we are employing the latest innovations to lower our carbon footprint and reduce onsite disruption.”

The repairs were completed at the end of summer, bringing the reservoir up to date and helping to ensure the thousands of people who visit the Leeds & Liverpool Canal each week can continue to enjoy this beautiful part of our network.

"It's fantastic to see the support of our players making a real difference in our communities,” says Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery. “They’re helping to protect important projects like the Winterburn Reservoir, and support and foster the conservation of our country’s canals and waterways.”

Historic canal network

The repair project at Winterburn Reservoir is just one of many we’re carrying out across the country, as we strive to maintain our nation’s historic canal network amid the ongoing challenges presented by climate change, diminishing wildlife habitats, and an ageing infrastructure.

Recent government funding cuts have made our job even tougher, but with your invaluable support, we’re determined to redouble our efforts and work even harder to keep our canals alive, protecting and preserving our network for future generations.

Last Edited: 25 September 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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