COAST And Country: Loch’s Bicentenary Will Be A time To Honour Robert Thom

25 September, 2021 | Features

THE next time you drink some water, fill a kettle or take a shower, spare a thought for Robert Thom, writes David Carnduff.

He was the engineering mastermind behind the creation of Loch Thom and its aqueduct — “The Cut”.

These were essential to Greenock’s flourishing industries in the 19th century and gave its population access to abundant, clean water at a time when poverty and disease were rife.

Next year will mark 195 years since the loch’s sluice gates opened for the first time to set the water surging along The Cut. It was an event that was fundamental in securing Greenock’s future as an industrial town.

Before 1827, the year of its opening, Greenock had been repeatedly short of water, a predicament that prompted Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, the Fifth Baronet of Ardgowan, to seek help from Thom who had designed a scheme to supply water to the Rothesay cotton mills.

Credit for enlisting the engineer’s help is also given to Greenock magistrate George Robertson who knew the scarcity of water was a major issue. Thom agreed to the requests and began investigations in the Greenock hinterland,

His attention focused on a basin of land crossed by streams which emptied into the Clyde at Inverkip. He realised that with careful land engineering and construction of some walls, a loch could be created to retain the precious liquid.

But with the hills too thick to allow bore holes for pipes, a way had to be found to convey the water to Greenock. A six-and-a-half mile aqueduct was the answer.

Now fast forward to 2021, one of the driest and warmest summers on record in the west Scotland.

People familiar with the varying levels of water in the loch will tell you that, this year, they have seldom seen it so low, with expanses of peaty mud exposed on all sides.

I asked Scottish Water if the current extremely low level was caused by the dry summer, or whether it had been lowered deliberately for maintenance.

A spokesperson said: “It’s a combination of both –- we were carrying out major construction works at the beginning of 2021 at Loch Thom which required two-metres drawdown. Since then, we have seen little rain and demand has pulled the reservoir level down further.”

The loch is the sole supplier to Overton treatment works, delivering 30 megalitres daily, in recent times via a tunnel. Currently, Scottish Water is encouraging people to use only the water they need.

The bicentenary — only six years away — will surely be an opportunity for Inverclyde to pay tribute to Thom and his legacy for Greenock. Just what form this should take will, hopefully, be given full consideration by interested parties.

For the opening on 16 April 1827, the burgh officials organised a gala occasion and declared the day a half holiday.

A historical account of the event states: “Huge crowds gathered at either end of the aqueduct and at a quarter of an hour before noon the sluices were raised by William Leitch, the chief magistrate, who immediately entered a boat prepared for the purpose and floated along on the first tide of the stream.

“Crowds of delighted spectators welcomed the arrival of the boat at Overton with loud cheers and, in addition, the salute of a cannon.” Now, there’s inspiration for 2027!

Pin It on Pinterest