Logo of Tanworth-in-Arden

When the canal first opened the Canal company purchased water from the Birmingham to Worcester canal company. ( When available)

As there are no large rivers or natural lakes from which to take the water a reservoir needed to be built and Earlswood was chosen. There were several designs put forward.

Research in the Warwickshire County Record Office revealed that two earlier designs for lakes at Earlswood were logged with the Warwick Court of Quarter Sessions.

The first would have been much larger then the present lakes, and stretched another ¾ mile right up to the canal by Lady Lane bridge. (As the canal company was always short of money perhaps they could not afford this design).

A second design was for two oval shaped lakes which did not touch in the middle. A hand written note on this plan reads — “Received in to my office 30th day of September 1794 Clarke to the peace for the County of Warwick.”

The present design was finally chosen, and in 1821 a parliamentary Act permitted the Stratford-on-Avon canal company to purchase 51 acres of the unenclosed commons in Earlswood for £969 8s 9d to build reservoirs to supply water to the newly built Birmingham to Stratford canal.

This was 5 years after the canal was opened and 27 years after the second design was lodged.

This money was paid to a number of land owners, the largest share to the Earl of Plymouth

Work quickly started on constructing an earth dam across the two shallow valleys each of which has a stream running through it. The dam has a puddle clay core which is held up by an earth embankment on each side. The clay must be kept damp, as like all clay if it dries out it will shrink and crack.

Three lakes were constructed and are now called Engine House, Windmill & Terry’s pool.

The two streams which ran through the valleys were Springbrook and Cloweswood brook. These streams form the headwater of the River Blythe. These streams were diverted into the a complex system of feeder ditches. These feeder ditches allowed the stream water to be feed into any of the three lakes.

To get water from the lakes into the canal, a feeder Canal was constructed from the North-east corner of the lakes, a distance of ¾ mile and running parallel to Lady Lane. Only the top nine inches or so of water will flow out of the lakes into the canal by gravity. The rest of the water must be pumped. Was this by design or error ? Are the lakes in the right place ?

I have looked at the land contours around Earlswood, and I think the canal engineers got it about right. Earlswood is quite high and the dam is 139m (456 ft) above sea level.

Running parallel with Broad Lane is a ridge 154m (505 ft) above sea level. The railway tunnel at Wood End Station was built through this ridge (but much later), and this is the highest land in the area.

All the rain falling on the north side (station side) of this ridge runs into the lakes forming the head water for the River Blythe. This water eventually makes its way into the River Trent and finally into the North Sea. Rain falling onto the south side of the ridge runs in to the River Alne and then into the River Avon and finally into the Severn Estuary. (This is where the water company gets its name Severn & Trent). About four square miles of farmland drain into the lakes, this is enough to fill the lakes easily over the winter.

If the lakes had been built higher up the valley then more water would have flowed into the canal by gravity. However the area of farmland available to collect the rain would have been reduced, and there may not have been enough rain water to fill up the lakes in drier years.

To get the remaining water out of the lakes a steam pump was installed in the Engine House near to the cross roads by the “Red Lion” Public House.

To pump the water out of the lakes into the canal an engine house was built to house a beam engine with an outside boiler fired by coal. The coal was of course delivered by canal barge, and a small wharf was constructed across the road from the engine house. Coal was then wheelbarrowed across the road to the boiler as needed.

There is very little known about the origin of the beam engine. The engine beam is though to have been made about 1795. But the engine house was built about 1822 so it may have been a second hand engine, or had it been stored until needed.

In British Waterways archives there are lots of documents dating to the mid 1930s with correspondence between the chief engineer of The Great Weston Railway in Swindon and the local engineers. One of the letters has a description of the beam engine.


The pumping machinery erected about 1795 is practically the same in design in design as originally devised. There are 3 pumps: one 1’ 6” diameter and two of 9” diameter each. These three pumps work on one crosshead into the well above mentioned which is 35’ deep. There is a foot-valve about 25′ below the surface which works with the 1’ 6″ pump. The other pumps are of shorter stroke.

The whole of the pump fittings are in good working order.

The engine which works the pumps is a single acting high pressure beam engine. The exhaust is made to heat the feed water by passing it through a cylindrical vessel on its way to the chimney. The beam is of cast iron in two plates with distance pieces between them; it is 18’ long between centres.

The pumps are constructed to the south end of the beam and the piston to the north end. The diameter of the cylinder is 17 ¼ inch, with a stroke of 72 inch – the same stroke as the 18 inch diameter pump. When the steam, acts on the top of the piston it pulls down its end of the beam thus raising the other end and the pumps and the water required.

The boilers are about 15 foot long over-all with hemispherical ends and about 4 foot in diameter. They are heated externally, their being no flues in them. The brickwork setting being so arranged that as much heat as possible may be got out of the coal, The fire grate is about 4 foot by 2.foot 6 inch with hot plate and bridge.

The general pressure of steam is 15 lbs. but the maximum allowed is 20 lbs. per square inch.

The number of strokes per minute is 13.

How much water could the engine pump at full speed. Over 51,000 gallons per hour.

Why was the steam engine replaced and what followed it ?

The original steam engine was installed in 1820 and by 1935 the third set of boilers were worn out and in need of major repair. (There is reference in the early 1900’s to the new boilers at Earlswood) The canal and lakes were now owned by the Great Western Railway who carried out a review of there options and a set of costing sheets were found in the British Waterways archives. (dated 23 Jan 1936)

These records show that the
“Engine man” W Lewis was paid 2500 hours @ 50 shillings per week = £ 132-16-0
“Water attendant” J Hames was paid 1351 hours @ 50 shillings per week = £ 71-15-0
Total = £ 204-11-0
A set of costing was done on the running costs in 1935
Wages £ 205.00 2 men to run the engine That’s for a year.
Stores £ 4.00
Fuel £ 101.00 Coal 61 tons this include haulage
Petroleum 1063 gallons ( TVO paraffin)
Petrol 55 gallons ( to start oil engine)
Maintenance £ 134.00
Total for the year £ 444.00

From other documents I know there was an OIL engine & pump supplementing the steam engine.

(This was probably an internal combustion engine which was started on petrol and when it was hot it was changed over to TVO )

In 1935 the average daily hours of pumping were 9 ½ hrs Days pumping 164 ( about 5 ½ months)

Total amount of water pumped 230,000,000 gallons for the year. 1935

Costings were done four options

  • New boilers plus wages for an engineer and stoker and coal for a year. Outlay £ 735 no saving
  • Replace the existing steam engine with an internal combusting engine plus wages for one engineer and fuel for a year. Outlay £ 850 running cost of £ 331 per year. Saving of £113 per year
  • Replace the existing steam engine with an automatic electric vertical pump, electric and wages for one man with a comment that he could help around the lakes for half his working day. Outlay £ 970 running cost of £ 280 per year. Saving of £164 per year
  • Replace the existing steam engine with an automatic electric horizontal pump, electric and wages for one man with a comment that he could help around the lakes for half his working day.Outlay £ 870 running cost of £ 272 per year. Saving of £172 per year

The electric pump option was the cheapest by far so the steam engine was removed.

Letter dated 3 Dec. 1936 says The engine was sold for £ 40.00 to Messrs John Cashmore Ltd, Newport, South Wales. (Cashmore’s were and still are scrap dealers and iron founders).

Written by Roy Willmott