NEWCASTLE’S first subterranean drinking water reservoir is about to see the light of day for the first time in half a century.
Number 1 Reservoir in Cooks Hill will be showcased as part of a project that will provide a unique insight into late nineteenth century Newcastle.
An engineering marvel of its time, the cathedral-like structure was opened on the corner of Tyrrell and Brown streets in 1882 – 90 years after the establishment of Sydney’s famous tank stream.
It predates the city’s electricity network and train line to Sydney.
The original reservoir’s orate stone archways, complete with dripping stalactites, and 32 four metre-high brick columns today stand as a virtual time machine.
Hunter Water recently decided to reopen the structure with the intention of conducting public tours.
Natural resources, lands and water minister Kevin Humphries said the reservoir’s historical significance compared with Fort Scratchley, the Bogey Hole and Nobbys Lighthouse.
‘‘The reservoir is the first underground reservoir of its age to be opened to the public. I am delighted Hunter Water has decided to share it with the community,’’ Mr Humphries, who inspected work on The Res project this week, said.
The impetus to build the reservoir was a desire to the reduce the large number of deaths resulting from water-borne diseases such as typhoid.
The two million litre water store remained a vital part of the city’s water supply before it was emptied and decommissioned in the early 1960s.
An adjoining water store, built in 1918 remains in service.
Hunter Water managing director Kim Wood said the tours would provide a unique experience for participants.
‘‘In addition to allowing the public to climb down into the belly of the reservoir, the tour will include a history of the Hunter’s original water supply and reveal a glimpse of life in the late 1800’s,’’ he said.
Work including installing stairs, lighting and improved ventilation is underway to make the site accessible for tour groups.
The first tour of The Res is expected to be held in early 2015.
Due to the expected strong demand, the tours will operate by ballot.
Visit hunterwater.com.au/theres to register.
* Prior to the construction of Newcastle reservoir, most residents relied on backyard wells. As a result of water pollution from sewage and sources the city had a death rate of 42.6 per 1,000 residents.
* Construction of Newcastle Number 1 reservoir in Tyrrell St began in 1880.
* The two million litre storage was designed to supply water to the city’s low-lying districts.
* The jack arch vaulted stone and brick structure is supported by wrought iron beams and 32 brick piers.
* The reservoir site was expanded in 1917 with the start of construction on the larger adjoining Number 2 reservoir.
* The Newcastle reservoir pumping station was built in the late 1920s to allow the reservoir to be connected to Chichester Dam and the newly construted Waratah reservoirs.
* Reservoir Number 1 has been empty since it was decommissioned in the early 1960s. Reservoir Number 2 remains in use.