Old Nottinghamian saves the World OR Why no statue? (4)

Thomas Hawksley was born on July 12th 1807 at Arnot Hill House in Arnold, Nottingham, to parents John Hawksley and Sarah Thompson. Arnot Hill House is still there:

John was a worsted woollen manufacturer who co-owned the mill in Arnold. The mill engine’s cooling pond is now the ornamental lake, situated in front of Arnot Hill House. That’s still there too:

Thomas was educated at the Free School, or Grammar School, in Stoney Street, studying under the Headmaster, Dr Robert Wood.

Thomas arrived on May 27th 1821, at the age of 13 years 6 months. His school days were comparatively brief, for in September 1822 he was removed, with a view to practical training.

Thomas was self-taught from the age of 15 but eventually he was articled to an architect and surveyor Mr Edward Staveley, of Nottingham. He soon became a partner, along with Mr Jalland, of “Staveley, Hawksley and Jalland, engineers, architects, &c.” By 1835, Thomas was based at Middle Pavement and Trent Bridge, and “Staveley & Dudley” were based in Stoney Street. Mr Hawksley and Mr Jalland then worked together until 1850 when Jalland left. Thomas then left for London.

During his time in Nottingham, in 1823, aged only 23, Thomas had constructed a new pumping station for the Trent Waterworks Company near Trent Bridge.

Before this, Nottingham’s water was taken from shallow wells or from the Trent or its tributaries. The new pumping station filtered water taken from the Trent through natural beds of sand and gravel. The water was then pumped through a 15 inch main to a reservoir near the General Hospital. The pipes that carried the water were always kept under high pressure, and taps provided water day and night. Thomas eliminated leakage, and ensured an unvarying supply of fresh water. The pressure also meant that germs could not get in. This arrangement provided “Britain’s first constant supply of clean water, whose high pressure prevented contamination.”

In 1832, the young engineer personally turned on the tap. Anybody in Nottingham could now have clean fresh water from the tap in the yard, thanks to Thomas’ pumping station:

Thomas was the first engineer to set up a scheme of this type in a large and generally fairly dirty industrial town, and to make it work. The local plumbers, of course, objected tooth and nail to doing what Thomas told them to do, but his patience and, presumably, the threat of the sack, persuaded them to obey him.

In 1845, Thomas became chief engineer of the newly formed Nottingham Water Company. Five years later he excavated a seven feet wide and 250 foot deep borehole to get at the purest water which was present in the Bunter sandstone below the town:


Before long, Thomas was setting up schemes like the one at Nottingham across the length and breadth of England.

In this way, an Old Nottinghamian provided clear fresh water at the turn of a tap for most of the citizens of Barnsley, Barnstaple, Birmingham, Boston, Bridgwater, Brighton & Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Darlington, Derby, Durham, Great Yarmouth, Haslingden, Hinckley, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leicester, Lichfield, Lincoln, Liverpool, Lowestoft, Merthyr Tydfil, Middlesbrough, Newark Newcastle-on-Tyne Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Rochdale, Southport, Sheffield, Southend, Stockton, Sunderland, Wakefield Waterford, Wexford, Windsor, Worcester and York.

Sunderland seems to have revered Thomas. There is a Thomas Hawkesley Park in Sunderland, full of expensive four and five bedroom houses:

It’s not as beautiful, though, as Hawkesley House:


Thomas was also a gas engineer and, applying the same basic principles for gas as for water, he advised about how to set up the supply for large cities. The number of gas-works he built was very large, and included Barnsley, Bishop Auckland, Burton-on-Trent, Cambridge, Chesterfield, Derby, Folkestone, Gosport, Lowestoft, Newark, Normanton, Nottingham, Pilkington, Radcliffe, Sunderland and Bombay.

Thomas also worked hard on sewage treatment and, as with water and gas, he helped a great many places including Aylesbury, Birmingham, Hertford, Whitehaven, Windsor and Worcester. He anticipated modern methods in refusing to discharge raw sewage into rivers and recommended treatment with chemicals. He believed that spreading the resultant mixture on farmland might well render it completely harmless.

Here is Thomas in later life:

Thomas became the first president of the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (1863), President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1872), President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and of the Institution of Gas Engineers (1876) and Fellow of the Royal Society (1878). And he was not a one-trick-pony. In 1885 he received a gold medal for the invention of an instrument for the assistance of the deaf.

Thomas died on September 15th 1893 at 14 Phillimore Gardens in Kensington. London.

In 1907, Thomas’ son, Charles, established the Thomas Hawksley Fund on the centenary of his father’s birth on July 12th 1907. In 1913 Charles initiated the Thomas Hawksley lectures. The first was given by Edward B Ellington, an expert in hydraulic engineering, talking about “Water as a Mechanical Agent”. The lecture was presented at the headquarters of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and then given again in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham. Subsequent speakers have included H L Callendar (published the first steam tables), F W Lanchester, (the car engine), Harry Ricardo (an engine designer) and Sir Noel Ashbridge (broadcasting). Hawksley lectures still take place today.



photo of lake courtesy of geogreph




Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, The High School

14 responses to “Old Nottinghamian saves the World OR Why no statue? (4)

    • And a more or less completely unknown one! Thomas Hawksley had a major impact on Western civilisation, but he has had no recognition at all, beyond a couple of small things in the local area.

  1. GP

    What can be accomplished when our minds are put to the task, eh John?! I can well understand why the man is still honored today!

    • Yes, he must have been a very innovative engineer back in the 1820s. Nobody had thought of putting the water in the tap under pressure until he had the idea.
      And nowadays, 200 years later, there are still so many cities in the world which haven’t got a working water system and they still throw their sewage into the street!

  2. Steve Boyes

    One of my ancestors Arthur Nicholson worked at the Lincoln Water Works in Elkersley Notts. This plant was designed by Thomas Hawksley. The 1911 census describes Arthur as a Stationary Engine Fitter and he went to work at the Water Works some time after 1911 and worked there until his death in 1937. Of the many advances mankind has made perhaps the greatest is the supply of clean water and the treatment of sewage. This has probably saved more lives than all the developments in medicine. These are the people that deserve statues.

    • Thank you for those interesting details about Arthur Nicholson. I would agree with you 100% on the importance of Thomas Hawksley’s innovations, and such men very definitely deserve the statues. In the future, “Why no statue?” will be looking at the man who conquered the disease which had always claimed more casualties than the fighting in more or less every war since the Year Dot. WW1 was the first where this didn’t occur.

  3. Wow! Thomas Hawksley deserves more than a statue! To have achieved so much is just incredible. Why on earth don’t we know more about him! Thank you John.

    • My pleasure. I fully agree with you. People such as William IV, George IV and even Victoria haven’t had 1% of the impact on our daily lives that Thomas Hawksley has. And nobody has heard of him.

  4. What a talented young man! Happily, someone rescued him from a formal school education that might well have stunted his creative mind.

  5. He certainly was a talented young man who has influenced our lives more than most. I agree with what you say about a formal school education. Back in those days they spent a lot of time on Latin and Greek, frequently learning it off by heart in large quantities.There was certainly not too much Maths and no science subjects of any kind.
    In the last Iraq conflict, one British Army unit was stationed in an Iraqi city of 20,000 people, and they had no water based sewage system. In the book I read, the British lads just could not believe that people could live like that and not make an effort to improve the situation.

  6. Chris Waller

    This is a fascinating story and I have to confess I had never heard of Thomas Hawksley until reading this. He probably saved more lives with his innovation than were saved by any medical developments. We tend to take clean drinking water for granted these days. Mind you, I can remember the days, even into the early 1960s, when my aunt and uncle in Ticknall relied for water on a tap out in the street. If anyone is deserving of a statue then it is certainly Hawksley.

    • Yes, Chris. There can be no better candidate for a statue than this man. At the moment I think that there is a page about him on the school website, and in Arnold, a northern suburb of Nottingham, he figures in a tourist board “Who was famous in Arnold?” display. And that’s all. Yet he must have saved more lives than any man in history.
      Incidentally, I remember the pumps at Ticknall very well. As a four or five year old, I used to count them as my Dad, in his green Austin A40 Devon, roared through the village at 25mph. (12, if my memory serves me well).

  7. Jan

    The pumping station is still there on the Ropewalk. And, if you fancy a drink of “corporation pop”, don’t go into the Hawksley Pub a couple of hundred yards away, down Derby Road. High pressure water supplies and tarmac roads: both firsts for Nottingham.

    • I hadn’t realised that there was a pub named after Hawksley, although google says that it is “Permanently closed”. I do hope not. It’s not as if he is celebrated in a lot of different places!

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