Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 25, 2018
Webpage updated: March 09, 2020




Burrator Reservoir is a beautiful spot set in the midst of farmland and moorland close to the villages of Sheepstor and Meavy.

Mr Edward Sandeman (1862-1959) was appointed Plymouth's Water Engineer in July 1891.  He had previously been the Assistant Engineer at Blackburn in Lancashire, where he had carried out important works worth over 1 million.

Burrator Reservoir before the Second World War.

Burrator Reservoir before the Second World War.
From a postcard.

In December 1891 he prepared a report on the water supply of Plymouth in which he recommended the Burrator Gorge for a storage reservoir and the provision of a direct pipeline from there into the Town.  The Corporation adopted his scheme on March 30th 1892.

The Plymouth Corporation Act of June 9th 1893 authorised the construction of the reservoir, along with a pipe-line from there to the service reservoir at Roborough.  Work started on the construction of the Burrator Dam on August 9th 1893, with Sheepstor Dam being started the following year, both under Mr Sandeman's supervision. 

The Burrator Dam is built across the river Meavy at the Burrator Gorge.  It is constructed of concrete faced with dressed granite.  The smaller one at Sheepstor is built on a dividing ridge between the Meavy and Sheepstor Brook and is formed by an earth embankment with a core wall of puddled clay above the original ground level and a concrete section below ground.  Essworthy Farm, Head Weir Cottage and Sheepstor Bridge, with its attendant Wall Letter Box, were lost under the waters of the lake but Longstone Farm, formerly Longstone Manor House, remained on dry land but within the fenced area of the Reservoir.  The Plymouth Leat (Drake's Leat) became lost beneath the water although it remained as a mainly dry course from the Reservoir in to Plymouth.

The site upon which Burrator Reservoir was constructed.  The house in the centre of the picture still stands beside the road around the lake.

The site upon which Burrator Reservoir was constructed.
Head Weir Cottage is in the centre of the picture.

Burrator Reservoir was officially opened on Wednesday September 21st 1898 by the Mayor, Councillor J T Bond.   It cost 178,000 of which the two Dams cost 102,000 and 24,000 respectively.

It was reported shortly afterwards that as a result of the construction of the Reservoir, the revenue from the water property had increased from 13,000 to 15,000 per year while the expenditure had decreased from 4,000 to 3,500.  Mention was also made of the fact that although the Reservoir was completely frozen over in January 1917, when the top was covered with ice 10 inches thick, a constant supply of water was still delivered to the Town.

The watershed for the Reservoir was stated in the 1930s to be 5,360 acres.  In order to preserve the purity of the water discharging into the Reservoir, the Corporation bought the whole of the watershed in 1916.  The last portion of land was freely donated to the Town by Mr John Bayly.  Boundary posts marked "PCWW 1917" can be found on the moorland surrounding that area, the abbreviation standing for Plymouth Corporation Water Works.

Work started on raising both the Burrator and Sheepstor Dams by 10 feet in December 1923.  This would enlarge the capacity from 668 million gallons to 1,026 million.  The work was financed by the Government as part of an unemployment relief programme.  A suspension bridge was erected by Messrs Orr, Watt & Company, of Motherwell ion Scotland, near Burrator Dam to carry traffic while the work proceeded.

A temporary road bridge was erected across Burrator Reservoir during reconstruction of the dam.

A temporary suspension bridge was erected across Burrator Reservoir while the dam was being increased in height.

At each end of the temporary bridge was a sign that read:

10 Tons WEIGHT

However, that apparently did not deter Mr Russell Lillicrap, a timber merchant from Horrabridge, who drove his traction engine towing a threshing machine across it.  The weight stretched the cables so much that they had to be repaired.

The enlarged reservoir was opened by the Mayor of Plymouth, Alderman W H J Priest, at the "Fyshinge Feast" held on Wednesday September 12th 1928.

On September 21st 1929 the Council granted the workmen a days paid leave. 

Brian Bishop walking on the iced over Burrator Reservoir in 1963

Brian Bishop bravely walking on the waters,
totally covered with ice, January 26th 1963.
  Brian Moseley.

The whole area has been planted with trees which gives Burrator Reservoir the look of an alpine lake.  The area of the Reservoir at overflow level is about 150 acres.

The Burrator Dam.
From a postcard.

A general view of Burrator Lake.
From a postcard.

Burrator Lake with Sheepstor in the background.
From a postcard.

A general view of Burrator Lake.
From a postcard.