Welsh Congregational Church

In Minmi in 1864, after a period of torrential rain, a fissure opened beside Back Creek. The contents of the creek poured in, and the colliery below flooded. All the miners managed to escape, but the pit was closed for months afterwards.

Forced to look elsewhere for employment, a group of Welsh miners moved from Minmi to work the newly opened colliery in Lambton. The men belonged to the Welsh Congregational Church, under the leadership of Rev Evan Lewis. They soon erected a simple wood slab church on De Vitre St. The uncertainty of mining meant that most buildings in Lambton at that time were of a similar primitive and temporary character.

In 1868 however, the Welsh miners expressed a confidence in Lambton below, to match their assurance in God above. They decided that a new building, worthy of its great purpose, should be built of stone. They were granted permission to use a quarry on Newcastle Rd nearby, and the men bound themselves “one to another” in an oath, that they would erect a new building in Dickson St, by their own hands, free of charge.

At the 50th anniversary celebrations in 1918 it was remembered that “Some of the men quarried the stone, others wheeled it to the site, and many, after their shift ended at the pit for the day, put in several hours in building the edifice. One of the workers was Mr. J. Parry, who, though then a coalminer, had originally been a stonemason.”

Above the front porch, an engraving in Welsh reads “Bethel capel annibynol adeiladwyd, A.D. 1868” which translates to “Bethel Independent Chapel, built A.D. 1868” The building ceased to be used as a place of worship in 1977, when the Congregationalists merged with the Uniting Church.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the stone building, which stands today as an enduring legacy of the faith of those Welsh miners, even in troubled times past.

An undated photo by Ralph Snowball of the Welsh Congregational Church in Dickson St, Lambton. Newcastle Region Library, image 001 004276.

The church building at 43A Dickson St in 2017, now used as a hair and beauty studio.


The article above was first published in the December 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional information

Acknowledgements

An important source of information for this article was pages 84-85 of “The Story of Lambton”, published by the Newcastle Family Historical Society. In particular, it has details of the binding oath that the men of the church made regarding the construction of the stone church. A handwritten account by Deacon Richard Thomas details the genesis of the oath, as the men considered the future while maintaining the property of the earlier wooden building.

“One day about seven of us were fencing this ground, it was a warm day and we were taking a spell in the shade of the building. One of the party said ‘to see whether we are in earnest or not let us prove it. I am prepared to give five pounds towards it and one pound each for my three sons.’ At once each of the party promised five pounds. That same day Mr David Williams said he knew of a quarry, not more than a hundred yards away, where there were plenty of stones, if we could get permission to open it. That was in Young Road (now a section of Newcastle Road) between Grainger and Hill Streets on the Waratah Coal Company’s ground. A deputation interviewed the Manager, asking permission to open the quarry. Permission was freely granted, and it was decided to have a stone structure. We decided that in order to save expense we would bind ourselves one to another and that we would quarry the stones and bring them to the place free of charge. We worked hard and remained true to each other, without a hitch. I need not mention that it was a big contract for about seven or eight men.”

Clarifications

When dealing with the history of churches in Lambton, it is important not to confuse churches with similar names. For instance the Welsh Baptist Church was different to the Welsh Congregational Church, even though the the minister of the Welsh Congregationalist Church, the Rev Evan Lewis often also preached at the Welsh Baptist Church. Also the Welsh Congregationalists were different to the English Congregationalists, although they later merged in 1904.

Date of Opening

One aspect of the story of the stone Congregational church in Lambton that is slightly frustrating, is pinning down the date of opening. “The Story of Lambton” p. 84 states that “the chapel was completed and opened for worship in June 1868.” However I cannot find any evidence for this date. I have found three newspaper articles in Trove that give a bit of a timeline …

  • 24 Jun 1868 – After noting that the Primitive Methodist are enlarging their building, the report notes that “the Congregationalists are about to make a similar movement, as their chapel is found to be not sufficiently commodious for the hearers.”
  • 12 Nov 1868 – “The erection of the Primitive Methodist and Welsh Chapels are being proceeded with, and the work has already made considerable progress.”
  • 25 Feb 1869 – “The new Welsh Church is on the eve of being completed, and will be opened for public worship ere long.”

Whereas most churches in that era, on the completion of their building held a formal opening service that was well reported in the newspaper, the Welsh Congregationalists don’t appear to have had a formal opening of their small but impressive stone building.

One thought I had in trying to pin down an opening date, was to look in Trove for reports of anniversary services in subsequent years. There were many such reports, but it turns out that the Welsh Congregationalists managed to hold anniversary services variously in the months of June, July, August, September, October, and November. To make matters even more confusing, an eighth anniversary was celebrated in 1877 implying an opening year of 1869, but a 76th anniversary was celebrated in 1944 implying an opening year of 1868.

The best sense I can make of all this is that the church construction took place mostly in 1868 (hence the stone inscription on the front of the church), but that it only began to be used in 1869, and that there was no formal or official opening ceremony.

The quarry

The stone for the church in Dickson St was obtained from a nearby quarry on Young St, now Newcastle Rd. We know that the power station for the electric light scheme instituted in 1890 was built in a disused quarry. There is no definite proof, but it seems highly likely that this was the quarry used for the church. A 1904 panorama of the Lambton taken from the top of Noble St shows the both the quarry and the church in close proximity.

A portion of a 1904 photograph that shows both the Bethel Chapel in Dickson St, and the quarry on Newcastle Rd where the stone was probably quarried from.

Rev Evan Lewis

The grave site in Sandgate Cemetery of Rev Evan Lewis, who started, and then led the Welsh Congregational Church in Lambton for 38 years, until his death in 1902.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Jun 1864
3 Jun 1864
Inundation of the workings of the Melbourne and Newcastle Minmi Colliery Company, after a period of torrential rain.
"No cloud is, however, without a silver lining, and in this case there is a pleasing relief to the dark side of the picture, in the employment afforded by the other coal associations to the men left without work by the Minmi inundation." … "We may say that, beyond a change of residence, but little inconvenience will result to the men so suddenly deprived of their former scene of labour."
11 Jun 1864Further details on the flooding of the Minmi colliery: "It appears that it was not the bed of the creek which yielded, but a fissure was created six yards distant from it. This gap is now being filled up, and a breastwork composed of logs and clay has been built up in front, to guard against a similar occurrence."
27 Aug 1864“It will be twelve weeks on Friday next since the mine was filled with water by the creek breaking in during a heavy rain storm, and what was previously a flourishing busy community, has, by this long period of inactivity, been brought to a very low state in its prosperity ; for with the exception of a few men who remained to assist in clearing the water out of the pit, the great bulk of the colliers found employment at the neighbouring collieries, and in many instances removed their wives and families.”
24 Jun 1868After noting that the Primitive Methodist are enlarging their building, the report notes that "the Congregationalists are about to make a similar movement, as their chapel is found to be not sufficiently commodious for the hearers."
26 Sep 1877
23 Sep 1877
Eighth anniversary celebrations of the Lambton Welsh Congregational Church.
21 Aug 1944
17 Aug 1944
The 76th anniversary celebrations of the Lambton Congregationalists, held in their "spacious hall, recently renovated."

Lambton Reservoir

Every day thousands of people drive along Newcastle Road, paying little or no attention to an historic water reservoir nestling under the Lambton hilltop. This year being the 125th anniversary of Hunter Water, it is timely to reveal some of its hidden details.

Part of the Hunter River District Water Supply Scheme, that piped water from Maitland, the 400,000 gallon reservoir was completed in August 1885. At that time, the Newcastle Morning Herald reported:

“The reservoir is 65 feet in diameter, and depth at circumference 20 feet. This excavation has been made in solid rock. A massive brick wall, running from 5½ bricks thick at foundation to 3 bricks thick at the surface has been erected, about 200,000 bricks having been used in its construction. The floor of the reservoir is of concrete and cement. Then there are two arches and a central dome. These arches are supported by several cast iron girders. The girders rest on massive stone blocks, and are placed in the form of two circles in the reservoir, in order to meet the arch work and dome at top. The second arch and centre dome being of Portland cement and coke was first spread on temporary wooden frames and allowed a reasonable time to set; this it has done admirably, and has since borne the weight of horses and drays on top of it. An embankment of rubble stone and earth has been made over the whole of the work. Several inches of approved soil has been placed over this, and the whole has been sown with grass seed, so that in a few months we may expect the reservoir to present the appearance of a huge grassy mound, and those unacquainted with it will hardly credit that it hides such a wonderful amount of skilled work from sight.”

The Merewether reservoir on Glebe Hill (65 Macquarie St), nearing completion in 1886, was the same size and design as Lambton reservoir. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Although taken out of service many decades ago, the Lambton reservoir remains hidden under the grassy mound. The adjacent pumping station is still in use.


The article above was first published in the November 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional information

The Ralph Snowball photo on the University Cultural Collections site was originally mis-labelled as being New Lambton Reservoir, 1917.  Working with Robert Watson, we were able to establish that the photo was actually of Merewether reservoir on Glebe Hill in 1886.

Design of Lambton Reservoir, 1885.

A March 1887 article describing the Hunter River District Water Supply shows that the Glebe Hill reservoir was almost identical to the size to the Lambton reservoir.
The reservoir at Lambton is built on the hill above the Public school, a distance of twelve and a half miles from. Buttai. It will hold 402,600 gallons. At fifteen and a third miles from Buttai a 15-inch branch pipe, a mile and a quarter in length, is connected with a reservoir having a capacity of 403,000 gallons, to supply Hamilton, Adamstown, the Glebe, and other towns along the line.

Reservoir Hotel

Three years after the reservoir was constructed, Mr J Cox had a two storey, sixteen room hotel erected on the opposite side of the road. The first landlord, Mr J Dent at the suggestion of Mr Cox, named it “Dent’s Reservoir Hotel”. The building still survives today and is now a private residence.

The former “Reservoir Hotel”, Newcastle Road, Lambton.

The former “Reservoir Hotel” on the corner of Newcastle Road and George Street, North Lambton. November 2017.

Newspaper articles

For reasons of limited space in the original printed version of my article in the Lambton and New Lambton Local, I had to condense the quotation from the Newcastle Morning Herald report from 20 August 1885. The full text of the original newspaper report is as follows:

THE LAMBTON RESERVOIR. (FROM OUR OWN, CORRESPONDENT.) The reservoir at Lambton in connection with the Hunter River District Water Supply Scheme is now completed, and ready for its intended purpose. The reservoir is situated on a piece of land purchased from the Lambton Company, close to the main road on the hill, commonly called Hartley’s Hill. The work has been in progress during the past eight or nine months. Several hands have been employed at it, and a fair amount of money circulated through the district as a consequence. To describe fully the work under the different headings in the contract would occupy columns of space, but the following details will give some idea of its magnitude :-The reservoir is 65 feet in diameter, and depth at circumference 20 feet. This excavation has been made in solid rock, and out of distance of all underground coal works. A massive brick wall, running from 5½ bricks thick at foundation to 3 bricks thick at the surface has been erected, about 200,000 bricks having been used in its construction. This wall is well packed, with stone concrete all round, and cemented in a workmanlike manner on the face. The floor of the reservoir is of concrete and cement. Then there are two arches and a central dome ; the first arch is of substantial brickwork, the second and central dome being of Portland cement and coke. These arches are supported by several cast iron girders, each of which has been submitted to, and is capable of sustaining, a test weight of 28 cwt. The girders rest on massive stone blocks, and are placed in the form of two circles in the reservoir, in order to meet the arch work and dome at top. There are also pipes connecting with the mains under the roadway to fill the reservoir, outflow pipes for the supply of the town, and waste pipe to carry off surplus water. In the second arch there is a cast iron ventilator, and in the centre of the dome there is another heavy piece of cast iron machinery, the top of which is moveable, and leaves an aperture generally termed a manhole, immediately below which is an iron ladder several feet in width. This is securely fixed, and will serve as a means to inspect the interior of the reservoir from time to time. I may mention that all the interior ironwork has received a painting that will prevent rusting. The most difficult work was that of the arches, but this the contractor appears to have surmounted with success and credit. The first arch being of brick, and 7ft. 6in. in the span, is merely a continuation of the main wall of the reservoir to the first set of iron girders. It is a substantial piece of work, and is well backed up with concrete and rubble stone. The second arch and centre dome being of Portland cement and coke, a great deal of care had to be exercised in the mixing, in order to secure a proper state of firmness in the setting. This mixture, which is some twelve inches in thickness, was first spread on temporary wooden frames and allowed a reason able time to set; this it has done admirably, and has since borne the weight of horses and drays on top of it. An embankment of rubble stone and earth has been made over the whole of the work. Several inches of approved soil has been placed over this, and the whole has been sown with grass seed, so that in a few months we may expect the reservoir to present the appearance of a huge grassy mound, and those unacquainted with it will hardly credit that it hides such a wonderful amount of skilled work from sight. The block of land is fenced with a substantial sawn timber and paling fence, 9ft 6in in height, and painted white. The trees have been fallen within the enclosure, and if the Government would only now have the stumps grubbed out, it would give the land a much improved appearance. I understand that a caretaker’s house is to be erected, and doubtless the stumping will be done then, if not before. The contractor for the work is Mr. J. G. Gatty, and that gentleman has shown a spirit of energy and determination throughout to make it a credit to his workmen, himself, and the Government, and now that the contract is approved and passed by the officials, is a satisfactory proof that he has succeeded. Mr. Davis, the Government Inspector, has been present during the progress of the work, and to him all material has been submitted before used, therefore between the contractor and the inspector, each doing their best, the Government can rely upon having a work that is well done.

Article Date Event DateNotes
14 Jan 1873"When the town of Lambton was sold ten years ago, a block of land was reserved as a water site, but, when Grainger-street was extended, this reserve had necessarily to be appropriated. It is suggested that another piece of land should be devoted to the purpose instead of the one appropriated. A spacious reservoir on any of the heights surrounding the town would furnish abundance of water either in case of fire or to supply the inhabitants during the hot and parching summer months."
16 Feb 1875As part of the formation of a Fire Brigade, the supply of water is considered. "A reservoir on the heights overlooking the town westward could be excavated without any very great expense or difficulty, and thus an ample supply of water would be always at command, not only in case of fire, but in the event of any lengthened drought."
12 Aug 1880"Rain is wanted badIy, as water is very scarce. Crowds of people flock around the colliery locomotives daily, both here and at New Lambton, to beg buckets of water from the drivers, who supply the want as far as possible."
19 May 1882Due to scarcity of water, Lambton residents have to carry water from the Waratah Colliery reservoir, and the council is arranging to have water sent up in tanks along the Lambton colliery railway.
19 Mar 1885Excavation of the reservoir has been completed, and bricklaying is in progress.
25 May 1885"Work at the reservoir is still being pushed ahead vigorously. The iron girders are all erected, and the arch brickwork commenced."
20 Aug 1885Report on the construction of the Lambton reservoir on Hartley's Hill, as it nears completion.
15 Dec 1885The water has reached Lambton and the reservoir is almost filled.
22 Dec 1885Leakages from pipes, causes water from the Lambton reservoir to gush through the streets, much to the delight of the youth of the town who "soon found it out, and, to use their own words, went in for a real good plodge in the water."
31 May 1888
30 May 1888
Opening of "Dent's Reservoir Hotel", on the corner of George and Young streets, opposite the reservoir.

Croudace’s Paddock (Jesmond Park)

The Scottish Australian Mining Company, owner of the Lambton colliery, was pivotal in the establishment of three of Newcastle’s finest recreation reserves – Lambton Park, Blackbutt Reserve, and Jesmond Park.

Although not officially dedicated until 1924, the Jesmond Park site had a long history of recreational use. From Lambton’s earliest days, this low-lying area at the northern extremity of the company’s mining lease, with Dark Creek running through it, was used for competitive pigeon shooting. It soon also became a popular picnic site, known as “Croudace’s Paddock” presumably because the permission of Thomas Croudace, the colliery manager, was needed to use the area.

Churches, schools, and community groups regularly held picnics there, sometimes with hundreds of attendees. The site was within easy walking distance from Lambton, North Lambton and Jesmond. It became even more accessible when the Newcastle to Wallsend tramway was constructed in 1887. Around this time, the idyllic bushland nature of the picnic site was altered somewhat with the establishment of Campion’s soap and tallow works adjacent to Dark Creek.

As early as 1908, Lambton Council and local residents began petitioning the Lands Department to have the area formally set aside as a public park. Their efforts were rewarded in 1923, when Frederick Croudace (son of Thomas) as manager of the colliery, gifted to the council the 22 acres of land that become Jesmond Park.

Even before the park was officially acquired, the Jesmond Cricket Club was asking permission to lay a wicket, and the park soon became a popular venue for other sports such as football and soccer. A tennis court was constructed in the north-east corner of the park in 1925, and a new Jesmond Park tram stop, in line with Steel St, was opened in 1926.

In 1938, control of Jesmond Park passed from Lambton Council to the newly formed Greater Newcastle Council, who maintain the park to this day.

Jesmond Park in 1934, overlooking a dam on Dark Creek that provided water to Campion’s soap and tallow works.

The same location in Jesmond Park, 2017.


The article above was first published in the September 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional information

  • When the Newcastle to Wallsend tramway was first constructed, there was no tram stop at Croudace’s Paddock, however by request, trams would stop there on special occasions. By 1905 residents were petitioning to have a permanent stopping-place at the site. A new tram stopping place in line with Steel Street was opened in 1926.
  • The area known as Croudace’s Paddock was larger than just the Jesmond park site, but encompassed much of the flat area adjacent to Dark Creek. A 1904 article describes the seven acre sanitary depot as being in Croudace’s Paddock. The sanitary depot was located where the Skyline drive-in theatre would later be constructed, and where Drysdale Drive and Rees Way is today.
  • A November 1938 article on the park noted that the “portion of the park now used as a recreation area was once a cultivation paddock. On it fodder was grown for the mine horses. The land flattened out with the passing years; signs of plough furrows disappeared and a cricket oval was formed.”
  • The Tennis Court opened in 1925 was situated in the north east corner of the park.

    Location of Jesmond Park Tennis Court. 1944 aerial photograph superimposed on Google Earth.

  • Croudace’s Paddock was occasionally used for purposes other than recreation, such as first aid classes, or military encampments.

“Jesmond Park, showing the trees in profuse foliage and forming a delightful rural scene – approximately four miles from the ocean beaches.” Newcastle Morning Herald, 16 Dec 1933.

Campion’s Soap and Tallow Works

According to the Jesmond Public School 1887-1987 Centenary booklet, John Campion arrived in Australia from England c1880. Around 1887 Campion began refining tallow for miner’s lamps, in partnership with his brother-in-law Ben Cunnington. The photo below, from the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections, shows Campion & Cunnington’s Soap and Tallow Works in 1892.

Campion and Cunnington’s Soap and Tallow Works, Jesmond, NSW, February 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The nature of soap manufacture meant that the works were susceptible to fire, and a number of incidents of destructive fires were recorded over the years.

A 1944 aerial photograph shows the soap works building sitting astride the remnants of Dark Creek, just to the north of the concrete storm water drain. Just to the east of the building is the dam that appears in the 1934 newspaper photograph.

Campion’s Soap and Tallow Works in 1944.

1944 aerial photograph overlay in Google Earth, showing location of Campion’s Soap Works, Jesmond NSW.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
13 Jun 1871
10 Jun 1871
First mention of "Croudace's Paddock" in the newspaper. Inquest into the accidental shooting death of a young lad, Charles Blim, after a pigeon shooting match.
23 Sep 1871"A grand pigeon shooting match is to come off between two old knights of the trigger, in Mr. Croudace's paddock, at Dark Creek, on Saturday (three weeks) between Blacket Richardson and John Ferguson, for £10 aside."
11 Nov 1871Picnic in "Croudace's Paddock" of the Lambton Band of Hope, with 300 attendees.
20 Sep 1873Remarks on the naming of Dark Creek … "Jesmond is the correct, and more suitable name of this locality. It derives its title of Dark Creek from the men and days of thirty years ago, when the place was remarkable for its thickly, woody, and consequently shaded appearance."
6 Jun 1879Incident of cruelty by youths towards a "native bear" (koala) at "Croudace's Paddock.
19 Oct 1895Advertisement for the Lambton Primitive Methodist Sunday School picnic in Croudace's Paddock, advising that "the Traffic Manager having been written to, the trams will probably stop at the paddock."
26 Oct 1897
23 Oct 1897
"The members of the Wallsend and Lambton Government ambulance classes assembled in Croudace's Paddock, Lambton, on Saturday, and were examined in squads by Drs. Nash and Stapleton as to their knowledge of the principles of rendering first aid to the injured."
5 May 1900"The Newcastle, Lambton, and Wallsend companies of the 4th Infantry Regiment went into camp at Croudace's Paddock, Jesmond, last night, while it was raining heavily. It is intended to "take" Charlestown this morning."
3 Aug 1900
1 Aug 1900
A fire at Mr. J. Campion's tallow refinery.
23 Oct 1902
22 Oct 1902
"Croudace paddock is fast getting into favour as a holiday resort. There were no less than five parties of picnicers on the ground and the immediate vicinity yesterday."
1 Feb 1905Residents petitioning for a tram stopping-place in Croudace's Paddock.
23 Apr 1908
21 Apr 1908
The Minister for Lands rejects Lambton Council's application to have Croudace's Paddock dedicated as a public park.
5 May 1909
4 May 1909
Jesmond Progress Committee asks Lambton Council "to approach the general manager of the S.A.M. Company, with a view of getting a grant of the land known as Croudace's paddock as a public park for Jesmond."
15 Jul 1910
14 Jul 1910
Fire in Campion's Soap Works, Jesmond.
23 May 1917The tramways department asks Lambton Council to suggest a name for the stopping place near Croudace's paddock. The Council recommends the name "Charlton", however there is no evidence that this name was ever adopted.
23 May 1917"The Council decided to suggest that the stopping place be named Carlton Place, and recommended that the stopping be shifted a few chains easterly."
1 Jan 1919Lambton Council asks the Lands Department to resume Croudace's paddock, Jesmond, for a recreation reserve. Alderman Bell said that "for many years the area, by permission of the S.A.M. Company, had been largely availed of for picnic purposes, and as a ground for cricket and football. The situation was on ideal one, and with very little expense it could be converted into one of the best parks in the district."
5 Oct 1920Alderman Hardy, Mayor of Lambton, raises with the Minister of Lands the question of resuming an area of land at Jesmond, known as Croudace's paddock, for a park. "The Minister assured the Mayor that this matter had not been overlooked. The papers had been referred to the district surveyor."
23 Mar 1921
22 Mar 1921
Frederick Croudace, meets with the district surveyor and a representative of the council to inspect the land known as Croudace's Paddock, for the proposed park at Jesmond.
25 Jul 1923"The matter of the acquisition of an area approximating 22 acres of land at Jesmond had been brought to a successful conclusion by an interview with Mr. Robinson, general manager of the Scottish Australian Mining Company, who agreed to grant the land to the council for park purposes, the only obligation on the part of the council will be the survey transfer and fencing costs. The thanks of the council were due to Mr. Robinson and Mr. Croudace for the fairness and courtesy shown during the negotiations and to the company for its generous gift."
22 Aug 1923
21 Aug 1923
"A. Barrie, on behalf of Jesmond Cricket Club, asked Lambton council last night for permission to lay a wicket on Jesmond park. The Mayor said that the application was premature, as the council did not yet have control of the park. It was resolved to refer the matter to the Scottish Australian Mining Com pany."
20 Feb 1924
19 Feb 1924
"The S.A.M. Company had dedicated to the municipality Croudace's paddock as a public park. Efforts were made to obtain a grant from the Government to improve the area, but so far without any good result."
30 Apr 1924
29 Apr 1924
Various mentions of Jesmond Park at Lambton Council meeting, including that a site for a tennis court had been decided on.
14 Sep 1925
12 Sep 1925
Opening of tennis court in north east corner of Jesmond Park.
17 Feb 1926
16 Feb 1926
Lambton Council to ask the tramways department to have the "tram stopping place at Jesmond Park extended in a line with Steel-street."
9 Jun 1926
8 Jun 1926
"A petition was received from the residents of Jesmond, bearing 42 signatures, asking that the Jesmond loop be retained as a tram stopping place in addition to the new stop at Steel-street."
22 May 1934Photograph of Jesmond Park, 1934.
25 Nov 1938"Within a four-penny-tram ride of the city is Jesmond Park - a natural playground which has been saved for posterity by a council now extinct. Practically unknown by many people, the park provides ample facilities for sporting activities amid the quiet surroundings of the silent bush."

Glebe Hill Reservoir

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site has a Ralph Snowball photo with the caption “Construction of the water reservoir, New Lambton, NSW 1917”. In tracking down the location of this photo, thanks to Robert Watson I somewhat surprisingly ended up in a different suburb and a different year.

Construction of Glebe Hill Reservoir, 1886. Located at 65 Macquarie St, Merewether. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Part 1: Ridgeway Road?

Given that the photo is taken from an elevated position overlooking a flat plain I had always assumed that the location was where the reservoir now is at the top of Ridgeway Road, New Lambton Heights.

Water Reservoir site, corner of Ridgeway Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

A search of Trove appeared to confirm my assumption, with a 9th January 1917 newspaper article reporting that

“The construction of the New Lambton reservoir was completed on the 3rd instant, and after satisfactory tests were made the reservoir was brought into use.”
Further investigation however cast serious doubt on this being the site of the Snowball photo, for none of the other details matched up.
  • the topography of the land wasn’t right – there is a deep gully below Ridgeway Rd, but in the photo the land slopes down more gently.
  • the reservoir in the photo was of brick construction, but the New Lambton reservoir was of reinforced concrete.
  • the reservoir in the photo was large (from estimates of the dimensions in the photo I calculated the capacity to be 350,000 imperial gallons) whereas the New Lambton reservoir was only 50,000 gallons.

Visiting the site of the Ridgeway Rd reservoir revealed that the 50,000 gallon 1917 reservoir is still there, covered in ivy, beside the new 1954 steel reservoir. It is clearly not the reservoir in the Snowball photo.

The 1917 ivy covered concrete reservoir, Ridgeway Rd, New Lambton Heights.

On the horizon of the Snowball photo there is a very faint outline that appeared to me to be the outline of Shepherd’s Hill on the coast. What other reservoirs on the hills around the Newcastle would provide a view eastwards over the flatlands towards the coast?

A 1940 map of Newcastle shows reservoir locations as small blue circles. Having ruled out the Ridgeway Rd site [1], I then considered Lambton Reservoir [2], St James Rd Reservoir [3], and Lookout Reservoir [4].

1940 map of Newcastle, showing reservoir locations.

Part 2: Lambton?

Lambton Reservoir was built in 1885 and sits in the middle of Newcastle Road at the top of the hill.

Lambton Reservoir, Newcastle Road.

Interestingly, a drawing of the Lambton Reservoir shows that it is the same design as the reservoir in the Snowball photo, with a central dome and two concentric rings of arches to form the roof.

Design of Lambton Reservoir, 1885.

But despite the similarity of design, the topography of the land in the photo doesn’t match. If the photo was of Lambton Reservoir we would expect to see the township of Lambton (including the very prominent Post and Telegraph Office building) before us.

Part 3: St James Road?

The reservoir (marked 3 in the map above) in New Lambton, between St James Rd and Queens Rd was built soon after August 1926. It didn’t seem to match up too well with the shape of the land in the Snowball photo – the St James Rd reservoir appears to have a slight ridge to its right, which is absent in the old photo. Also in 1926 we would expect to see the growing suburb of New Lambton below the reservoir, instead of the large expanse of scrub land that we do see.

Reservoir, between St James Rd and Queens Rd, New Lambton.

Part 4: Lookout?

The reservoir marked 4 on the map above was known as the Lookout Reservoir. It also was constructed on 1926, and its location can still be seen in the empty circular space between the two newer above ground steel reservoirs.

Location of the “Lookout Reservoir”, corner of Grandview Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

The “Lookout Reservoir” seemed to be a better candidate for the Snowball photo in terms of the shape of the land and size of the reservoir, but it led me to an impossible conclusion … the “Lookout Reservoir” was constructed in 1926, but Ralph Snowball had died in August 1925, before construction had begun!

Part 5: Merewether?

At this point, Robert Watson came to my aid, and with some inspired thinking rescued me from my impossible conclusion. He deduced that the reservoir in the Snowball photo is actually situated in Macquarie St, Merewether.

Location of Glebe Hill reservoir on the 1940 map.

I had led myself astray in too quickly assuming that the Snowball photo was looking east towards the coast. It is in fact looking north-west, across the Broadmeadow flatlands towards Waratah.

Glebe Hill Reservoir, Merewether.

Panorama from the site of the Glebe Hill reservoir.

Glebe Hill Reservoir in Macquarie St Merewether is now part of a private residence. Google Street View.

A newspaper article from May 1886 states that the construction of the reservoir began in November 1885, only three months after the Lambton reservoir was completed in August 1885. The article contains a detailed description of the design that matches the photo very closely.

The roof is formed of two concentric arched rings and a dome carried by cast-iron girders, supported by iron columns resting on stone foundations some two feet square.
A March 1887 article describing the Hunter River District Water Supply shows that the Glebe Hill reservoir was almost identical to the size to the Lambton reservoir.
The reservoir at Lambton is built on the hill above the Public school, a distance of twelve and a half miles from. Buttai. It will hold 402,600 gallons. At fifteen and a third miles from Buttai a 15-inch branch pipe, a mile and a quarter in length, is connected with a reservoir having a capacity of 403,000 gallons, to supply Hamilton, Adamstown, the Glebe, and other towns along the line.
Note that although the reservoir is located within the modern day suburb boundaries of Merewether, it is sometimes called the “Hamilton Reservoir”, as that was the principal township it served.
Some other hints that confirm that the Snowball photo is of the Glebe Hill reservoir are the faint outline of smoke stacks in the distance. At the right are two stacks of different size, close together.

Broadmeadow copper smelter stacks.

These are the stacks of the English and Australia Copper Company smelter at Broadmeadow.

To the right is a single stack of one of the A.A. Company pits in Hamilton, and the very faint outline of the roof of St Peters Church in Denison St, Hamilton.

The Glebe Hill reservoir photo is taken from a spot only about 400 metres away from another Ralph Snowball photo taken in 1897, which shows the same landmarks in the distance.

The Newcastle lowlands. 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

1886 Glebe Hill Reservoir photo (top) and 1897 Glebe Rd photo (bottom)

The Glebe Hill reservoir is marked on Corporal Barrett’s 1910 map of Newcastle, situated on Lake Macquarie Rd. Quite possibly the two buildings marked at the end of Henry St are the two buildings we see in the Snowball photograph.

Glebe Hill reservoir, on 1910 map. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.


Acknowledgements

My thanks to Robert Watson who had a substantial input into the content of this article. Thanks also to Brendan Berghout of Hunter Water, who pointed me towards some useful information on early water supply infrastructure, and who helpfully reminded me that imperial gallons (220 gallons/m3) are not the same as U.S. gallons (264 gallons/m3). It was a casual conversation with Brendan on a bicycle commute to work one morning that was the genesis of this journey of discovery.