The day they said they wanted to flood the valley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 December 2017
Suffolk woke to a shock 50 years ago – a vision to flood almost 600 acres near Ipswich and create a 3,000million-gallon reservoir. Not great for those whose homes and farms were in the way
The owner of Alton Hall said he’d probably have to abandon it, because the water would come to within a foot of the property. Not just any house, either. It dated mainly from the 1600s, with a later Queen Anne frontage, and one wing would be partly swamped. Mr Bateman’s land was also said to be one of three or four Suffolk manors listed in Domesday Book.
He also owned nearby Tattingstone Hall Farm, built in the 16th and 17th Centuries and now run by a tenant. He reckoned that would be under 50 or 60 feet of water if the valley were dammed to create a reservoir.
It wasn’t just the landed who were affected by this £2million blueprint unveiled three days into 1968. Five Acres, at Holbrook, was a row of 24 dwellings built about 40 years earlier. Home to about 50 people, most were owner-occupied and many had been modernised. They’d all go, if the plan went ahead.
The reservoir was needed, the public was told, because the underground sources from which Ipswich (and other parts of Suffolk) drew its precious liquid would soon not meet the population’s needs. After 1971, supplies for nearly 250,000 people would have to be bolstered with water from elsewhere.
So the idea was to build a dam 65 feet high and 650 yards long across the valley of Tattingstone Brook.
Today, we know the reservoir as Alton Water: a haven for wildlife and watersport activities, as well as storing all that H2O.
The EADT’s front page of January 4, 1968, gave a stark illustration of what could happen. A dotted line over a photograph of Holbrook Mill Pond represented the height of the dam planned by Ipswich Corporation Water Undertaking to save water for Ipswich, Felixstowe, Stowmarket, Woodbridge and other places.
Inside the paper were similar photographs of three properties set to be affected – Milbrook at Tattingstone, Tattingstone Hall Farm, and Alton Hall at Holbrook. The dotted lines said it all.
Words weren’t really needed, but the report explained that once Tattingstone Brook was dammed by the huge embankment, “The entire valley would then be flooded to a depth of over 60 feet in places by pumping water through a pipeline from the River Gipping at Sproughton a few miles away.”
The reservoir would stretch for about three miles from near the Tattingstone White Horse pub, through Tattingstone Park, and along the valley to Holbrook Mill – about 586 acres, including 219 of arable land, 44 acres of pasture, 104 of scrub or woodland, and 177 of rough grazing.
About three-dozen houses, and other properties, would either be engulfed or be so close to the water’s edge as to be uninhabitable.
About 75 people would lose their homes. They’d been visited and told before the project was made public.
Robert Cross, deputy town clerk of Ipswich, “gave an assurance that all property owners affected would be treated ‘with the greatest sympathy’. Owner occupiers would be compensated to the extent of the full market value of their properties.”
A statement from the town clerk’s office said: “It must be emphasised that the Holbrook/Tattingstone reservoir proposal is still only in an early stage of investigation.”
Other possible sites had been looked at – including the Belstead Brook valley south of Ipswich, and the Mill River Valley in the Foxhall and Bucklesham area east of the town – but Tattingstone/Holbrook was judged the best option.
Mind you, the little brook wouldn’t be up to the job on its own. Most of the water would be pumped from the River Gipping when its flow was high. A pumping station at Sproughton would send water down a pipe to about half a mile north of the Tattingstone White Horse, where it would be discharged into the brook.
Water would be purified at a treatment and softening plant and pumped to users at the rate of five or six million gallons a day.
A number of minor roads, bridleways and footpaths would have to be closed, and the main A137 road between Ipswich and Manningtree would cross the northern part of the reservoir on a raised embankment.
Ipswich Corporation hoped to know by the autumn if the plan was feasible. If so, it would be the second half of 1969 before legal proceedings were completed.
If everything went smoothly, work could start in the first half of 1970, and finish the following year. The maximum water level might be reached by the end of 1973, or during 1974.
It must have been bewildering for those living under the “footprint”.
Mr RF Harwood, of Tattingstone Place, said the edge of the reservoir would come to within about 50 yards of his windows, and would flood about 40 acres of his land.
The most disturbing thought, for him, was that the water wouldn’t be maintained at a consistent height.
“At certain times of the year the reservoir might look like a glistening lake, but at other times, particularly in the summer when the level is low, it will be an expanse of stinking mud and a breeding ground for mosquitoes.”
The borough water engineer disagreed, saying the rise and fall in a normal year should be only 10 to 15 feet.
It was also feared the reservoir would cut Tattingstone in two. Some people might have to make detours of a couple of miles to get to the post office or church.
One of the landowners likely to be most affected was Mr Bateman, of Alton Hall, who owned more than 1,200 acres in all. The reservoir might swallow 300-350 and split the rest into two. “It looks as if I should have to get a boat from one side to the other.”
At Tattingstone, Mr and Mrs A Irving had bought Milbrook only the previous summer. “We have just had central heating installed,” said Mr Irving. “Now we are told the house may be submerged up to the second storey.”
At Five Acres, Holbrook – the row of two-dozen threatened homes – mother-of-seven Mrs Rita Appleby wasn’t downcast by the thought of moving on after 15 years.
“We have been told that we will be given a fair price for our homes and property, and I am sure we will be treated fairly.
“We have been told that we will be found new homes and my husband and I have stipulated that we must stay in Holbrook because he is a fireman here.”
The chairman of Ipswich Water Committee said it was vital to plan about 10 years ahead. Existing supplies pumped from underground sources would soon not be enough for the needs of Ipswich and the 404 square miles of Suffolk served by Ipswich Corporation Water Undertaking.
A reservoir could store river water that currently overflowed and was lost in the winter.
Alderman Walter Mulley also said that if the scheme went ahead, every effort would be made – through landscaping and tree-planting – to make the reservoir an asset for the area.
The EADT report said: “Apart possibly from some fishing, it would not be the intention to use the reservoir extensively for recreation.
“It is considered it would not be suitable for bathing, and its use for sailing would be limited, because it is thought that this is an area where the present quiet character should be preserved.”
A 2009 Anglian Water leaflet explained: “The dam was constructed in 1974 from local London clay. Following extensive trials, a multi-stage treatment process was commissioned and water was finally pumped into supply in October 1986.” Alton Water was officially opened by The Princess Royal on July 10, 1987, and was the result of 13 years’ planning. A dismantled water mill was rebuilt at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket.