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During the war, a munitions factory near Bridgwater required so much water that the Huntspill River was dug in 1940, the huge Gold Corner pumping station was built, and the Cripps River was radically altered to flow south instead of north.
For me, this was the most striking new information to come from Bruce Garrard’s talk to the Conservation Society on June 3. Bruce walked the entire length of the river from its source above Bruton to its mouth at Burnham and wrote the book The River. It tells the story of the Brue and the Axe, two rivers that used to be one. Bruce focused this talk on the period since the war. He also posed some important conservation issues.
The Puriton ordnance factory was sited on the edge of the Levels because it needed a guaranteed supply of 4.5 million gallons of water every day — equivalent to 100,000 households.
Louis Kelting, the Catchment Board’s chief engineer, combined this requirement with reviving a drainage scheme mooted in 1853: the Huntspill drains 45,000 acres, a third of the Somerset wetlands.
The main engineering problem was that the Huntspill River was designed to be 25 feet deep, but it turned out impossible to dig past 16 feet, where clay underlies the peat. So Gold Corner pumping station had to be redesigned: it’s the biggest in the Southwest, lifting water from the Cripps River two or three metres to get it into the Huntspill. “If it hadn’t been wartime, I doubt whether this would ever have been done,” Bruce said.
The ordnance factory is no more, but the pumping station carries on pumping. Without it, the Brue valley would flood every winter from Burnham back as far as Glastonbury.
Bruce Garrard’s own website has the full illustrated text of his talk, including the conservation issues he raised at the society’s meeting in June. About two dozen Consoc members turned out; he was pleased that nearly all bought a copy of his book.