Report - - The Chew Reservoir Syphon – Greenfield, Saddleworth - Sept 2015 | Underground Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - The Chew Reservoir Syphon – Greenfield, Saddleworth - Sept 2015

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
The Chew Reservoir Syphon – Greenfield, Saddleworth



The Chew Reservoir Syphon has very little history, to be honest it has none at all I can find. From what I know it was built as the outlet for the reservoir around 1912 and headed about ¾ of a mile through the Pennines, linking Yorkshire to Cheshire; it was no longer used after Dovestones Reservoir was built in the 1967 as the water was then sent down there. This however is not the case as there is still plenty of water gurgling though the pipe to Cheshire on my visit.

About 1.5 meters high and 1 meter wide, it runs under the moorland hills, linking one valley to the next. It is completely parallel and runs perfectly straight, a pipe appears at the entrance on the Eastern side, a small bore sample pipe and valve just after the first bend, this is mirrored on the Western end as the pipe disappears into the moors. Throughout the tunnel the pipe is flanged jointed at equal distances.


The reservoir scheme in the Greenfield and Chew Valleys by the Ashton Stalybridge and Dukinfield Waterworks Joint Committee commenced in 1870. Chew Reservoir was built to hold 200 million gallons of water. Intended to be a compensation reservoir, it also had a filtration plant so that it could be used for drinking water in times of drought. Completed in 1912, the reservoir was the highest constructed in England, at 1,600 feet (488 m) above sea level, until the Cow Green Reservoir in the North Pennines in Teesside was completed in 1971. The reservoir is connected to the larger Dovestone Reservoir further down the Chew Valley by the Chew Brook.

A tram-road was laid in Chew Valley to transport 42,318 cubic yards or 32,350 cubic metres of clay to make an inner core for its dam to make it watertight. The tram and railway are now gone, but you can still make out the line it followed, embankments and bridges still in place.

The Building of Chew Reservoir.


A section of a historical document on the building of Chew Reservoir, it must have been a grim place to work even in summer!


“Chew was a hard place. You could die of exposure in sight of the smoke of Manchester and Sheffield. The mills and all the houses smoked up to the moors. Usually the wind from Lancashire blew the smoke into Yorkshire.

The dam is one of the highest in England, so high there are no hills on either side of the lake: only low flat banks, like a fen. Within a few feet of Chew Brook's source another beck rises and flows the other way into Longendale. Chew Brook flows into its lake through black mounds of earth, like miniature tips around a colliery.

On the moor it is bleak and black. The moss — the bog — is more water than earth. The ground oozes black water, stained prismatically like oil. Grass humps up between patches of bare black earth. Up there is nothing but the moss. Each step opens up more black patches and bright green holes. Lost curlews cry. Hares are big as lambs. The wind always blows.

In 1908 we were boring in the gutter trench at the Chew Valley dam and it was a very cold winter. I lodged at Upper Mills at one time but was such a rough old place I shifted and went down to Rough Town in Mossley. The crowd where I lodged was Nick Docker, Scan Williams, Curly Williams, Snatchem, and London Snowy. They all worked up the Chew Valley, landlord Offland and all. He was a, gangerman and his missus was a knockabout as well.

We were getting good money there, until the walking ganger come along and says, 'You men are earning too much money' and knocked a ha'penny afoot off. We'd been getting a tanner an hour until then. We were knocking out twelve shillings a ten-hour shift.

Historical photos of what's left of the Blacksmiths at the reservoir.



The contractor was Momson and Mason and the dam served Stalybridge, Ashton-under-Lyne and Dukinfield. The dam was right on top of the moors at the end of a gorge and it was too steep and high to get materials up an ordinary railway. We went to work in small railway carriages, roofed with tin, with back-to-back seats. At the end of the route we got out and walked up the cart road up the gorge.

The puddle and muck for the dam come from Mossley and when that got to the end of the route the wagons were uncoupled and dragged up the mountainside by a winch. On the top-yard an engine pulled them to the dam.

There were two gangs of men boring with jumper drills in the gutter and two men in the sump hole. In one gang was Geordie Owens, me, a feller they called Taff and one big lazy old bugger. Old Shoebury was filling peat wagons. The men in the sump were Tommy Tucker and his brother.

Well it was a very cold hard winter and we were seventy foot down by December and there was ice half way down the trench sides. We went back to work after one dinner time and Tommy Tucker goes into the sump hole with his brother. We'd blasted just before dinner, but one of the holes had misfired and when Tommy struck it with his pick, it blew out. It blew half his face off and caught his brother on the head.

We needed a round-bottom skip to get them out of the trench but the skips on the derricks were square ones with doors in the bottoms. Eventually they got hold of the right skip and wound them out. They carried them down the mountainside and put them on the paddy train but Tommy died just before they got him to hospital in Manchester.

His brother was hurt bad as well. He was laid up for a long time but he did get better eventually and I worked with him in the Lunedale tunnel later. They were navvy people, like us, only they were tunnel tigers by rights”.

Well on with My Visit and a few photos.

This is the entrance looking up the valley to Chew Reservoir, about a 1 mile away on the skyline (the road isn't a road, but just a service track for United Utilities).


Looking at the front door, they built things proper in the 1900's.


First view inside.


The long tunnel and pipe, it stayed the same to the other end!


And on and on.


From the West end, the back door looking back down the tunnel.


Nice view out the West exit.


This is the Western exit, if you think the East entrance is remote, the West exit drops you out in the middle of the moors well away from any path. You have to pick your way carefully back through the peat bogs and tussocks to find footprints again.


Well that's it, great stroll. I did this years ago, but the Western end had a grid over it making a retreat the only option rather than navigation skills over a baron and featureless moor.

Report includes some historical photos, couldn't find any of the construction of the reservoir or even the Chew Valley Railway, and a few of my landscapes of previous strolls in my back garden,

I enjoyed the effort getting this done, but doubt it will be the next Camelot.


Last edited:

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Cheers all, it was a nice stroll as always :D

Beautiful location for a stroll and cracking pics as always but that history....an unimaginably hard life.
It does sound an unimaginably hard life, read this extract about 15 years ago when researching for a local rock climbing guide book, keep on bumping into it online and have to read it again each time it pops up. It must have been a very grim job even during the summer months.
Last edited:

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Nice find. What's the syphon actually for?
Cheers OT, I think the syphon is probably just a local name for a water authority pipe which leads to another valley rather than contouring around the hill. I always thought it was were the original feed from the reservoir went before they built Dovestones Reservoir, however it was bubbling away nicely when I went through so probably still in use.

A very grand name for what is a small tunnel with a 12" pipe running through :D
Last edited:

Oxygen Thief

Staff member
Cheers OT, I think the syphon is probably just a local name for a water authority pipe which leads to another valley rather than contouring around the hill. I always thought it was were the original feed fro the reservoir went before they built Dovestones Reservoir, however it was bubbling away nicely when I went through so probably still in use.

A very grand name for what is a small tunnel with a 12" pipe running through :D
Cheers :thumb


28DL Member
28DL Member
Hi, I'm the current United Utilities Headworks Controller for Chew reservoir and I found this report very interesting, thanks for putting it up. There is a reason the flow is on to the Swineshaw valley and is still used today , and that is to top up Higher Swineshaw reservoir at the head of Brushes valley in Stalybridge. As part of my duties I check the tunnel entrance and feeder streams once a week on that side of the valley and take water levels and the rain gauge readings three times a week. The flow to the Swineshaw valley is garvity fed, thanks

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
Thanks @Houndtrail for the helpful and interesting information, I have often wondered what it actually was for.

Very envious of your job, a great location to work :thumb Mind you we probably pass a few times a year as I wander around the edge of the moor and watch the UU Landrover drive up the Chew Track.

The Lone Ranger

Safety is paramount!
Staff member
@Houndtrail I'm usually up there first thing most mornings myself when I'm home, work a 3 week on/3week off rota in the North Sea so make the most of my time at home and like to think the Chew Valley as my back garden :D


28DL Member
28DL Member
What a great post. I'm new-ish to the area (Mossley) and stumbled upon Dovestones after hearing how nice it was (it's actually a mile from my house). I've been up to the Chew Reservoir a couple of times (walked around it once and managed to fall into a waist deep peat bog). I'm trying to visualise exactly where this entrance is...walking from dovestones carpark anti clockwise (past the sailing club), you take the right spur which takes you up the utility road up Chew Valley...so clearly it's on the ridge high up on your right hand side...is it actually visible from the utility path? The photograph you've shown looking down at the path suggests it is, but I can't recall ever seeing anything up there that looks man-made.

Or do you have to get up to the reservoir itself and then double back on yourself along the ridge to find it?

I might give that a whirl this weekend.

But what an absolutely beautiful area. I'm still bimbling around exploring it. Went around Greenfield reservoir tonight on the bike, up to the bottom of Greenfield reservoir...got to the entrance of that massive water channel that runs under the hill all the way through to the Dovestones side.

Similar threads