Waterworks Museum

Waterworks Museum

Pump Wheel

Pump Wheel


Cities and towns grew steadily in the 19th century and outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever caused by infected water were common in Hereford. Rivers and underground water could be full of sewage and industrial waste. By the middle of the century the link had been made between bad water and disease and proposals for a waterworks began to be discussed. The Hereford Waterworks started in 1856 with the installation of a beam engine pumping water to a reservoir on Broomy Hill. The works continued to grow to meet the demand of a growing population. A second beam engine was installed in 1862 and the large triple expansion beam engine in 1895. The water tower on Broomy Hill was built in 1883 to improve water pressure for the new houses on the higher ground and for fire fighting in the City. Developments in other parts of the County were slower. In Leominster, people took their water from public pumps or directly from the river, while the richer townsfolk had their own private wells. It was not until these became infected by sewage and the rich people began to die that anything was done. A waterworks was only constructed in 1865 after a typhoid epidemic in which 38 people died, in the building that is now the Tangye House at the Museum.


Progress was also slow at Ross on Wye until Alderman Thomas Blake, a man of humble origins who had risen to become a Member of Parliament, decided to take action. Alton Court waterworks was built in 1887 using water from deep wells, called boreholes. Important engines and pumps from Alton Court and Leominster are on display in the Museum. “I witnessed such scenes of filth and uncleanliness in the city as I did not before believe could exist in a civilized community.” So wrote Hereford’s first municipal engineer, Timothy Curley, in the 19th century – doubtless in awe of the challenges before him. He was dismayed by the spectacle of cesspools and open sewers, sources of foul ‘miasmas’ believed to cause infections, for in those days noxious stench generally brought with it life-threatening diseases.


The Noel Meeke Heritage Water Park is unique in the UK and is aimed primarily at young people but ALL visitors are encouraged to enter and have a go with the historic water devices. Here visitors can interact with full-size devices for lifting, pumping, moving and filtering water which have been used down the generations. In a totally safe environment children can have immense fun and learn at the same time the difficulties of obtaining water in days gone by. In 2003 Museum volunteers investigated the derelict site of what was the Royal Ordnance Munitions factory at Rotherwas on the outskirts of Hereford. In more or less the state it was left at the end of WWII stood, in total darkness, a Blackstone 5-cylinder diesel engine, multi belt drive system and a Mather & Platt two stage centrifugal pump. All the ancillaries were just as they had been left - even the WWII signs were on the walls and the original lighting system in place. These artefacts are now in the safe custody of the Museum and housed in the purpose built Rotherwas Building, which echoes many aspects of the original bunker. Here, our exhibition tells the story of the Rotherwas Munitions Factory (including the story of the air raid on 7 July 1942), of fire fighting at the munitions factory and of life on the home front in Hereford.


Boiler explosions were the curse of the industrial revolution that caused many deaths and this led pioneering engineers to look for an alternative power source to steam. An engine that used only heated air was developed at broadly the same time by John Ericsson in Sweden and Scotsman the Reverend Robert Stirling, who in 1816 patented an engine that is often referred to a Stirling engine in his honour. Hot air engines work in the Stirling cycle and because they do not require a boiler they are simple and safe to run. Small engines were often found in the kitchens of large country houses and larger engines were used in factories and foundries to drive machinery. Ericsson pioneered his engine in the United States and in collaboration with Alexander Rider they produced hundreds of reliable engines, which in Britain were built under licence by Messrs. Hayward-Tyler & Co of Luton. These Hayward Tyler engines had their heyday in the 1890s and the Museum is custodian of two fine examples, which work at the Museum side by side. The 1/2hp engine dating from the 1880s was originally installed in a country house at Swainshill near Hereford to lift water from a deep borehole.


The Waterworks Museum houses the oldest working triple-expansion steam pumping engine in the UK. It stands two-floors high and is quite awesome in operation. This engine was capable of pumping one million gallons per day and supplied Hereford with water from 1895 onwards, being last used for real in 1952. Its steam plant, a Lancashire boiler, remains on static display. All parts of the site can be accessed by wheelchair users and all signs use lettering which is legible to those with impaired vision. There are disabled toilets and free parking. Assistance dogs are welcomed. There are many tactile displays. A wheelchair is available for use.


Location : Broomy Hill, Hereford, Herefordshire HR4 0LJ

Transport: Hereford (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 436 stops 10 minutes away.

Opening Times : Tuesdays 11:00 to 16:00; Steam days usually Sunday. See Calendar

Tickets Non Steam: Adults £4.00;  Seniors £3.00;  Children £2.00

Tickets In Steam: Adults £6.00;  Seniors £5.00;  Children £2.00

Tel: 01432 357 236