Streamside Walk – an attractive former sewage plant

Many people in Thornbury today would be surprised to realise that the attractive stream and pond in Thornbury which is a popular walkway was actually the site of a sewage works.

In the early 1900s the Guardians of the Poor in Thornbury who ran the Workhouse became concerned that the arrangements for disposal of the sewage were inadequate.

The Guardians were responsible for the care of the people in the Workhouse and gradually seemed to take on the powers and responsibilities of local government for the whole area especially in terms of sanitation and education.

Indeed, the number of people using the workhouse was surprisingly large.  The Act of 1834 had set up Poor Law Unions so that local parishes could come together to deal with the problem of able bodied poor who could only be given help through the workhouse.  “Thornbury Union” comprised about 16 parishes including Berkeley Oldbury and Cromhall and so the Workhouse in Thornbury was set up to hold about 300 inmates.

The records that we have seen show that actual numbers varied but there generally seemed to be about 100 inmates and in 1898 for example it was reported that they had provided temporary accommodation for 190 vagrants.  There was also an infirmary at the Workhouse.  On top of all this the Workhouse would have to supply facilities for the resident staff and for the other people who worked there, not to mention the Guardians and other visitors.

Sewage pipes from workhouse 1911

In 1896 it was reported in the Gazette that the Board of Guardians was concerned about the nuisance of sewage and it was decided the best plan was to construct a cesspool “at a certain distance from the Workhouse” to which the drains could be extended.  We do not know if this plan was implemented because in 1903 it was reported that the problem had worsened and the provision of a septic tank was being discussed.

In 1911 the Guardians came up with another proposal to move the effluent well away from the site.  The plan involved the laying of an underground pipe from the Workhouse to a little treatment works situated next to the stream in the Coombe.

The image on the right is from a plan dated 1911 showing the course of the sewer pipe from the workhouse into the settling bed.

On 17th October 1911 Florence Hosgood and William Young Sainsbury (the owner and tenant at The Coombe, the large house facing the Workhouse on the corner of Gloucester Road and Church Road) agreed to allow the Guardians run the proposed pipe under The Coombe to what is now Streamside Walk.  Florence, as the owner of the property received £80 and William as tenant received £25.   They were also given the right to link their building to the sewer.

Sewage Works plan 1923

The Works comprised two elements, the sewage initially passed through a primary settling tank where the ‘suspended solids’ were allowed to settle to the bottom of the tank.  The original plan shown above shows this as a square.  We assume that this tank is the stone structure which still stands above and just upstream from the pond.  The effluent then passed through a filter bed where the liquid trickles through rotating arms and spread over a bed of coke (or similar material) resulting in a biological cleansing of the effluent.  This is the large round pond which is still there today.  The treated effluent was then allowed to join the stream and was taken down to the River Severn.  We are not sure what arrangements there were for periodically removing settled solids from the tank.  The plan only shows one tank but perhaps there were two tanks allowing one to be closed off from time to time, otherwise the untreated effluent would have been allowed to flow directly into the stream.  The Ordnance Survey Map of 1923 shown here on the left has these two structures and a third square which may have been a secondary settling tank for removing more of the solids after the effluent had passed through the filter bed.

By 1932 Thornbury Grammar School in Gloucester Road had grown to over 220 children from the 30 children that had been on the site in 1907.  The large new building erected that year needed a proper sewage disposal system.  In that year Harry Clark the then owner of The Coombe received a sum of £100 from the County Council because they planned to enlarge the sewage pipes running under The Coombe.  This would allow the sewage from the Grammar School and Headmaster’s house to be treated in the sewage works in what is now Streamside Walk.   We believe that this proposal may have been superseded by the plan to build a large modern sewage works on the road to Oldbury and to connect this to all the properties in Thornbury.  The new sewage works was opened in 1935 and we assume that this led to the Streamside Walk facility becoming redundant.

Click here to read about the introduction of sewers to Thornbury