Early environmental activists fought to protect Thirlmere

The A591 at Dunmail Raise between Keswick and Grasmere after a section was washed away by flood water from a swollen beck during the weekend's torrential rain.
The A591 at Dunmail Raise between Keswick and Grasmere after a section was washed away by flood water from a swollen beck during the weekend's torrential rain.

It is good news for the residents, business owners and tourists to the Lake District that the A591 between Grasmere and Keswick has recently reopened.

A stretch of the road at Thirlmere was washed away on the night Storm Desmond struck Lancashire and Cumbria on December 5 last year and it has taken until now to repair it.

Gary Rycroft.

Gary Rycroft.

The Thirlmere Aqueduct, which carries water from the lake to quench the thirst of the people of Manchester, is a remarkable piece of engineering. Originally opened over 120 years ago, today 200m litres of water flowed from Thirlmere to Manchester using nothing more than the power of gravity. The water travels a steady downwards gradient falling 20 inches for every mile covered.

Thirlmere is also iconic as marking the beginning of the modern day environmental protection movement. The formation of the Thirlmere Defence Association in 1877, which included prominent Victorians such as John Ruskin and Octavia Hill (who went on to help form The National Trust) is recognised as the first example of people mobilising against the threat of industrialisation to the natural world.

The Thirlmere Defence Association took on the City of Manchester Corporation when it started to buy up large tracks of land around Thirlmere with the intention of damming the lake and building the aqueduct.

The prototype Environmental Warriors seeking to protect Thirlmere and its environs charged the Mancunians with vandalising a wild and picturesque landscape. For their part the City of Manchester felt it was their duty to provide what its citizens wanted, namely, clean water.

It was a battle which raged in the Press, Parliament and Courts for many years. As we know, the City of Manchester were eventually victorious and Thirlmere was changed forever, turned into a reservoir, with the height of the lake being artificially increased.

There is a Lancaster legal connection to all of this in that William Housman Higgin QC represented the City of Manchester in the Thirlmere case. He was born at Acrelands, Skerton, on February 28 1820. That fine Georgian House is now Skerton Liberal Club.