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