GeoScienceWorld
Volume

200 Years of British Hydrogeology

Edited by J. D. Mather

Abstract

The collection of papers in this volume records the development of hydrogeology in Britain over the last 200 years. Following the application, by William smith, of stratigraphic principles to the sinking of wells, Victorian engineers and scientists established groundwater as a major contributor to public water supplies. In the twentieth century, the development of groundwater continued rapidly, controlled by an ever-changing regulatory regime. The 25 papers in this volume review the progrss which has been made, and the lives and work of some of those who were intimately involved.

  1. Page 1
    Abstract

    In the early years of the 19th century William Smith and his pupil John Farey began to apply stratigraphic principles to the sinking of water wells. Between 1840 and 1870 engineers, such as Robert Stephenson, and geologists, such as James Clutterbuck, Joseph Prestwich and David Ansted began to make systematic observations. After 1870 Geological Survey officers, particularly William Whitaker, Joseph Lucas and Charles de Rance, became involved in groundwater work. Lucas introduced the term hydrogeology and produced the first British hydrogeological maps. The first half of the 20th century was a period of missed opportunities with the significant advances in hydrogeology taking place in mainland Europe and North America. The Water Act of 1945 marked the start of a new era in which the Geological Survey and, after 1965, the Water Resources Board led the way. Hydrogeology is now a mainstream branch of geology in Britain and interest in the subject is such that the Hydrogeological Group of the Geological Society has a membership of around 1050.

  2. Page 15
    Abstract

    In 1797 Smith recorded his first known ‘Order of Strata’. This was based on his work as a land, colliery and canal surveyor around Bath, Somerset. It already shows a clear awareness of the occurrence of spring lines (especially in the Fuller’s Earth, soon to cause such problems in the construction of the Somerset Coal Canal). In his better known June 1799 version, Smith much extended this, with a new third column showing springs, now tabulated for five of his 23 strata. Smith thus had a keen awareness of both the importance of, and the problems raised by, how water was, or was not, retained in rocks and how it was released at stratigraphically controlled spring lines. This paper briefly reviews five of his involvements with ‘water-related’ geology. The first was as canal engineer. Here one of the two branches of his first canal later had to be abandoned because it could not be made to retain water where it passed over the Dolomitic Conglomerate. The second was as a land drainer. This he first attempted at Camerton in about 1796. This skill brought him most of his early employments after his dismissal from canal work in June 1799. Third, Smith was next a significant exponent of the art of creating water meadows, particularly in Bedfordshire and Norfolk. Smith was active next in a fourth field, erecting sea defences along the east coast of England. Finally he was often consulted on how to find or control new water supplies, as at Swindon or Scarborough. It was this last work which used his stratigraphic skills to their fullest extent.

  3. Page 31
    Abstract

    John Snow was a physician but his studies of the way in which cholera is spread have long attracted the interest of hydrogeologists. From his investigation into the epidemiology of the cholera outbreak around the well in Broad Street, London, in 1854, Snow gained valuable evidence that cholera is spread by contamination of drinking water. Subsequent research by others showed that the well was contaminated by sewage. The study therefore represents one of the first, if not the first, study of an incident of groundwater contamination in Britain. Although he had no formal geological training, it is clear that Snow had a much better understanding of groundwater than many modern medical practitioners. At the time of the outbreak Snow was continuing his practice as a physician and anaesthetist. His casebooks for 1854 do not even mention cholera. Yet, nearly 150 years later, he is as well known for his work on cholera as for his pioneering work on anaesthesia, and his discoveries are still the subject of controversy.

  4. Page 51
    Abstract

    William Whitaker was employed by the Geological Survey from 1857 until 1896 and subsequently worked as a consultant until his death in 1925. This paper examines the background to the era in which he worked and why he merits detailed consideration. Whitaker’s personal life, career in the Geological Survey, contribution to learned societies and field clubs, work in retirement and his death are detailed. His contradictory personality, contribution to hydrogeology and his claim to the title of ‘father of English hydrogeology’ are assessed.

  5. Page 67
    Abstract

    Joseph Lucas joined the Geological Survey in 1867 and spent almost 9 years mapping in Yorkshire. Forced to resign in ignominious circumstances, for the rest of his life he earned his living advising on groundwater supplies. In 1874 he was the first to use the term hydrogeology in its modern context and defined this new subject in a series of papers in the 1870s. He drew the first British maps showing groundwater contours and described how to carry out a hydrogeological survey. For many years he lobbied for such a survey to be carried out over the whole country and for it to be used as a basis for water resource planning. He was an accomplished linguist, translating material from a variety of European languages, and wrote books on natural history and genealogy. He and his family lived at Tooting, in south London, where he is buried in the Churchyard of Saint Nicholas.

  6. Page 89
    Abstract

    About a dozen workers were active in researching the hydrogeology of the Permo-Triassic sandstones of the northern Cheshire Basin, UK, in the 19th century. They were mostly amateur geologists, members of the geological societies of Liverpool and Manchester. Spurred by the water resource requirement of the two cities and by the formation of the societies, research burgeoned from the mid 1800s. Over the latter part of the century, a conceptual model of flow in the sandstones was developed which has most of the essential features of a present-day conceptual model, including intergranular and fracture flow, fault influence on flow, recharge reduction by drift and urban land cover, overspill recharge, influent river recharge (including estuarine intrusion), and cross-boundary flow. Water balances were undertaken to assess aquifer yield and attempt to understand well yields. Pollution from sewers, river water, estuary water, and graveyards was considered, as was water/rock interaction. Experimental work demonstrated: the proportionality between flow rate and pressure difference (1869); the importance of fractures to well yields (1850); the principle of specific yield (1869); the effects of lamination on unsaturated flow (1877); and the shape of breakthrough curves is sigmoidal (1878). Most of these findings were independent of previous work elsewhere. Whether this is because of the local, essentially amateur environment in which the researchers were operating, or whether this lack of communication was essentially a feature of research at this time, is uncertain. However, it does have implications for general theories of science.

  7. Page 107
    Abstract

    From a humble background in the mining communities of Tyne and Wear, with little academic education, Robert Stephenson followed in the footsteps of his father, George, and became one of the foremost civil and mechanical engineers of the early 19th Century. While he is primarily associated with railways, Robert Stephenson had considerable dealings with groundwater during his professional life, applying a rational, empirical approach that would be familiar to modern practitioners. Stephenson’s approach to groundwater issues was probably shaped largely by the years spent battling water-bearing quicksands during construction of the Kilsby Tunnel near Rugby on the London to Birmingham Railway. Careful observations allowed him to conclude that local drainage by use of arrays of wells was possible, without the need to drain the whole aquifer body. Later in his career he advised on public water supplies from the Chalk for London and the Sherwood Sandstone for Liverpool. His careful observations and reasoned interpretation, allowed him to advance the concept of a ‘cone of influence’ around a pumped well and to develop tests and monitoring programmes to assess the impact of new abstractions on existing water features. Today, his work may seem basic, even obvious, but, in the days before the work of Darcy and Dupuit, there were many who disputed his findings. Stephenson preferred to let the facts to speak for themselves, but where this was not possible he vigorously publicised the benefit of applying a scientific approach to the management and control of groundwater.

  8. Page 121
    Abstract

    The earliest detailed technical descriptions of British mining practices still in existence (which date from the late 17th and early 18th centuries) dedicate many paragraphs to the problems posed by the unwanted ingress of ground water into underground workings. Excessive water in working areas seriously hinders production. More importantly, sudden inrushes of ground water to underground workings are a significant mortal hazard. In view of the problems experienced with water ingress to workings, the main preoccupations of the early mining engineers were utterly practical, focusing on the efficient removal of water which could not be prevented from entering the workings (by simple bailing, by adit drainage or by pumping), and on efforts to minimize water ingress in the first place (by the use of tubbing in shafts and the use of rock barriers and dams in working areas). Occasionally, the mining engineers took time to reflect upon the origins of the water they encountered in their work. In their writings we find some of the earliest accurate conceptualizations of issues of ground water origin, driving heads, hydraulic gradients (including vertical upward gradients) and natural heterogeneities in water quality. So successful were these early mining engineers in their endeavours that they bequeathed most of the technological basis for the development of large-scale public-supply ground water abstractions, and much of the basis for the geotechnical control of ground water during construction projects, from about 1820 onwards. By the late 19th Century, mining engineers concerned with ground water management became gradually isolated once more within their own specialist domain, where they went on to develop a vernacular hydrogeology of their own, replete with its own key concepts and vocabulary. Nevertheless, occasional interchanges of experience between mining and the water industry have continued to enrich both sectors down to the present day.

  9. Page 159
    Abstract

    During the 19th Century, the British military pioneered geological mapping and teaching, and the operational use of Norton tube wells. In the First World War, the British army appointed its first military hydrogeologist to serve as such, to develop water-supply maps for Belgium and northern France and guide deployment of Royal Engineer units drilling boreholes into the Cretaceous Chalk of the Somme region and Tertiary sands beneath the Flanders plain. Similar well-boring units were also deployed with geological guidance in the northeastern Mediterranean region. All military geologists were demobilized after hostilities ceased, but wartime experience was quickly drawn together in the first Royal Engineer textbook on water supply. During the Second World War, several British military well-drilling units were raised and deployed, notably to East Africa and North Africa as well as northern France, normally with military geological and sometimes (in Africa) with military geophysical technical direction. A reduced well-drilling capability has since been retained by the British army, through the Cold War to the present day, supported by a small group of reserve army geologists to contribute basic hydrogeological expertise to the armed forces for peace-time projects and war-related operations.

  10. Page 183
    Abstract

    Celtic interest in groundwater has continued to the modern era in much of Scotland and Ireland, despite abundant good quality surface waters. Groundwater investigation in the 19th and 20th centuries was prompted by the need to remove water from mine workings in Scotland and to provide water for industry in the Midland Valley of Scotland and the Lagan Valley in the north of Ireland. Little development took place in the south of Ireland until relatively recently. Champions of groundwater investigation include the venerable Scottish geologists Ben Peach and John Horne, as well as lesser known advocates of hydrogeology such as John Jerome Hartley in Ireland. These workers were supported by numerous people directly and indirectly involved with developing the understanding of the groundwater resources of Scotland and Ireland.

  11. Page 193
    Abstract

    The importance of the Bath thermal springs in the development of science over some 400 years is explored. Several references to the springs from Saxon times and the Middle Ages give qualitative information of interest for the present day. The springs have drawn some of the most famous philosophers and scientists to test new theories and develop hypotheses on the nature of matter and to develop early ideas in the chemical and geological sciences. Theories on the hydrological cycle and on hydrogeology were tested and the springs have a long history as a site for discoveries in chemistry and natural radioactivity. Interest in the springs continues to the present day. Whilst our knowledge of the origin of the water, the heat, the detailed chemistry and other properties has been resolved, some questions still remain for the attention of future generations and for the application of advancing scientific methods.

  12. Page 201
    Abstract

    Among Wealden towns Tunbridge Wells is comparatively new. Before the Civil Wars of the 1640s there was no village here, nor any name on a map. Chance finding of chalybeate springs a few miles south of Tunbridge (now Tonbridge) attracted attention at Court, and even gynaecological interest. Curiously, this provides explanations both for the supposed virtues of the waters and the founding of a summer resort. By repute, the springs were discovered in 1606, though this story was already 160 years old before it first appeared in print. Verifiable facts indicate that Thomas Neale, FRS, (1641–1699) was the main agent in organizing the nascent resort’s amenities, beginning in 1676 with plans to construct a chapel or assembly room. The springs themselves issue from Lower Cretaceous Wealden beds, a few feet above the Wadhurst Clay, in a shallow valley formed by the headwaters of the River Grom. Siderite (iron carbonate or chalybite) abounds in these formations.

  13. Page 213
    Abstract

    Scotland today has a plentiful supply of drinking water derived from upland gathering grounds, but groundwater supplied all of its major towns and cities in the past. Pollution of many of the old groundwater sources, as well as the atmosphere, by the massive industrial boom of the mid nineteenth century in central Scptland led to the development of hydropathic establishments to dispense the ‘water cure’. Most drew on fresh and pure groundwater sources, and the establishments continued to be a popular source of medical care until the early part of the twentieth century. The groundwater sources were characterized by weak to moderate mineralization unlike the strongly mineralised waters typical of the more traditional spa resorts. A small part of the hydropathic legacy remains in use until this day

  14. Page 219
    Abstract

    The main British hydrogeological contributions to a very extensive area are referenced and it is concluded that notable contributions have been made to the understanding of regional sedimentary basin hydrodynamics. The British hydrogeological involvement in much of the area, however, has unfortunately been less than that of the French, principally because of past colonial influences.

  15. Page 229
    Abstract

    The Colonial Office established and funded geological surveys in British West African colonies, from 1903 until self government in c. 1960. Provision of water supplies, at first a minor component of the services provided, later often dominated departmental activities. Understanding of the nature of groundwater mirrored the state of the art elsewhere: supply kept pace with demand. Exploration of sedimentary basins led to development of major aquifers. In the 1930s innovative refinements of geophysical siting and well sinking techniques were developed. From 1980 major water borehole programs were largely supervised by British consultants, who continued to pioneer siting and construction techniques.

  16. Page 239
    Abstract

    The 6 km2 peninsula of Gibraltar is unusual hydrogeologically as, in effect, a small but high limestone island, subject to a Mediterranean climate of cool wet winters and warm dry summers. Provision of an adequate water supply for its town and garrison has been a continuing problem, particularly as the population has grown from about 3000 in the 18th century to over 30 000 by the end of the 20th. The narrow peninsula is dominated by the Rock, a mass of Lower Jurassic dolomite and limestone whose main ridge has peaks over 400 m high. Early supplies of potable water were from roof and slope rainwater runoff, and from shallow wells in the Quaternary sands that cover ‘shales’ flanking the Rock at low levels. Intermittent hydrogeological studies through the 19th and 20th centuries, notably in association with the British Geological Survey in 1876, 1943–1952, and 1974–1985 attempted to develop inferred groundwater resources within the sandy isthmus which links the Rock to southern Spain and in the Rock itself. Problems resulted from inadequate understanding of the geology, of recharge, of the behaviour of aquifers containing saline water at depth and of the need to protect aquifers from pollution. Failure to extract adequate groundwater led to development of a separate supply of saline sanitary water to reduce demand for potable water and innovative attempts to improve slope catchment of rainwater, before near-total commitment to desalination for potable supplies in 1993.

  17. Page 263
    Abstract

    The first resistivity soundings applied to borehole siting in Basement areas of Africa were probably measured by Dr. Sydney Shaw in 1933 in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Using a Megger Earth Tester and Wenner array, soundings were measured at a selection of both dry and successful boreholes, and compared. Re-examination of Shaw’s soundings using modern technology shows that the sounding curves are of surprisingly high quality even on today’s standards and indicate a strong relationship between interpreted depth to unfractured granite and drilling results. His survey helped the adoption in Africa of resistivity methods as standard practice in the location of drilling sites for water supply.

  18. Page 271
    Abstract

    After the drought of 1933–1934 the Geological Survey became responsible, under the Inland Water Survey, for collecting and collating data on groundwater. In 1935 a Water Unit was formed for this purpose. Following the Water Act of 1945, the Survey advised the Government on aspects of the Act relating to groundwater. The Act led to the introduction of quantitative hydrogeology in England and Wales. The groundwater resources of the main aquifers were assessed, well hydraulic theory was applied to British aquifers, and geophysical techniques and new instrumentation introduced.

  19. Page 283
    Abstract

    Jack Ineson will always be associated with introducing quantitative methods to British hydrogeology. A geologist with a sound knowledge of mathematics and statistics, unusual for the time, he seized the opportunity in 1948 to apply to British aquifers the burgeoning theory of well hydraulics initiated by Theis. Ineson’s career was mainly spent with the Geological Survey of Great Britain, now the British Geological Survey, but in the period 1965–1970 as Chief Geologist of the Water Resources Board. It was, however, a relatively short career with the start postponed by the Second World War and tragically truncated in June 1970 as a direct consequence of his experiences in the war.

  20. Page 287
    Abstract

    Stevenson Buchan, a Scot educated at Aberdeen University, joined the Geological Survey of Great Britain in 1931. Assigned to the Southern District Unit he became involved in hydrogeology when he revised the 6-inch to the mile maps of Greater London. This led to the publication of a memoir on the water supply of the County of London in 1938. During the war he was involved in the search for water and coal. Appointed Head of a new Water Department when hostilities ceased he was given responsibility for overseeing the statutory obligations placed on the Survey by recent Water Acts. He developed around him a group of able colleagues creating the first groundwater research group of any size in the UK. Promoted to Assistant Director in 1960, he was very active internationally and in his role as an enabler and administrator played an important role in the development of hydrogeology in the UK.

  21. Page 295
    Abstract

    Until 1965 the Water Department of the Institute of Geological Sciences had two principal functions – data collection and a national groundwater advisory service, but a limited research role. A change in the legislation then led to the loss of the advisory service but a major increase in the research role, backed by the support of successive Directors. After two years in which outstanding commitments were met and six new staff recruited, a portfolio of research projects was introduced. These were principally applied projects in the UK and overseas, but with a continuing background of fundamental studies. The most successful projects involved hydrogeochemistry; mechanisms of matrix flow in the Chalk; diffuse pollution from agriculture; point source pollution from landfills; groundwater/surface water interactions; automation of well records for publication; hydrogeological maps and the application of hydrogeology to civil engineering projects. The development of advisory work overseas was also important. The presence of the Hydrogeological Department in the Institute of Geological Sciences and its introduction of innovative techniques and ideas had a significant influence on the development of the hydrogeological community in the UK.

  22. Page 319
    Abstract

    Norman S. Boulton (Fig. 1) was a civil engineer who achieved international recognition for his work on groundwater hydraulics. He recognized that in unconfined aquifers water is released from storage by drainage under gravity from the pore-spaces in the cone of depression as it expands. This ‘delayed yield’ gave a characteristic S-shape to the log-log, time-drawdown graph of water levels in an observation well near a pumping well. Boulton developed a mathematical solution that reproduced the three segments of the curve. Most of his career was spent in academia mainly at the University of Sheffield where he was Professor of Civil Engineering between 1955 and 1964. His work embraced studies of structural engineering and soil mechanics as well as groundwater flow.

  23. Page 323
    Abstract

    The Water Resources Board was formed in 1964, an outcome of the Water Resources Act of 1963. Its remit was to advise the Government and the new river authorities on ‘the proper use of water resources in England and Wales’. It made three major regional studies of water resources and, in 1973, advocated a national water strategy. The Water Resources Board was disbanded in 1974 following the reorganization of the water industry under the Water Act of 1973 which created the regional water authorities. In the 1970s, a decline in the rate of population growth together with an economic recession reduced the demand for water and the Board’s proposals were not fully implemented. After 1974 the Central Water Planning Unit continued the Water Resources Board’s role until it too was disbanded in 1979.

  24. Page 339
    Abstract

    The creation of the river authorities and Water Resources Board in 1965 and the Water Authorities, Water Research Centre and Central Water Planning Unit in 1974 led to an explosion of groundwater investigation and development in England and Wales. In Southern Water’s region, from the Hastings Beds of the Wealden Series to the Recent beach gravels at Dungeness, a dozen or so schemes were carried out to investigate and develop aquifers and manage their groundwater resources. Six schemes are described here, including artificial recharge in Sussex, groundwater augmentation in Hampshire and the assessment of saline contamination from minewater disposal in East Kent.

  25. Page 363
    Abstract

    The last quarter of the 20th century has seen the most rapid development of hydrogeology in terms of both the depth of understanding of hydrogeological processes and of the hydrogeology of Britain, with an associated rapid growth in the number of people employed as professional hydrogeologists in the UK. The four main influences that brought about these developments are changes in the structure of the UK water industry and environmental regulators, particularly in England and Wales; influences of EC directives on UK environmental regulation; a growing public awareness of environmental issues and the pressure they applied on successive governments; and developments in computing power, software development and electronic instrumentation. The paper examines the fields in which hydrogeologists have worked during the last three decades and concludes that it has been the richest period for hydrogeological achievement in the history of the science.

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