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.

3 thoughts on “Lambton Reservoir

  1. Pingback: What lies beneath? | A bit of this, a bit of that

  2. As an ex Hunter Water employee, I found this article quite interesting. I have been inside this reservoir as well as many others of a similar age.
    During my tenure at Hunter Water I was charged with the maintenance of all reservoirs , inside and out.

    Perhaps you could retell the stories of building Buttai reservoir as well.

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