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John Wignall Leather

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John Wignall Leather (1810-1887)


1887 Obituary [1]

JOHN WIGNALL LEATHER, eldest son of George Leather of Knostrop Hall, near Leeds, was born on the 26th of April 1810.

He received his early tuition at Hipperholme School (near Halifax) under the Reverend Richard Hudson, and afterwards completed his education at Durham School, where he showed great ability, gaining the head prize in mathematics in the sixth form, and receiving also the highest encomiums from the head-master for his talents and application.

On leaving school he entered the office of his father, who had an extensive and varied practice as a Civil Engineer in the north of England, and who was one of the earlier Members of this Institution.

In 1833 the subject of this memoir reported, in conjunction with his father, to Christopher Beckett, banker of Leeds, on the water-supply of that town, advocating the adoption of the Eccup source. Other schemes from this source were propounded by Mr. Mylne, M.Inst.C.E., Mr. H. R. Abrahams, Civil Engineer of London, and by Mr. Fowler, Civil Engineer of Leeds ; but ultimately the scheme of George Leather and Son was adopted by a Company formed in 1837, and a successful application to Parliament was made in that year.

The scheme, which was one of the earliest of that character, consisted of a large storage-reservoir at Eccup (about 7 miles from Leeds) of some 50 acres in extent ; a second storage-reservoir at Weetwood, and a service-reservoir at Woodhouse Moor. Between Eccup and Weetwood there was a tunnel 1.25 mile in length, through the Alwoodley ridge ; other portions of the aqueduct were either open conduits or pipes. These works were ably and economically executed, the reservoirs being from the first perfectly watertight.

In 1847, more gathering ground was added to the Eccup source, and, in consequence of a threat of a rival company, parliamentary powers were sought to pump the water found issuing from the north end of the recently constructed Bramhope Tunnel (about 4 miles north-west of the Eccup), on the Leeds and Thirsk Railway, now forming a portion of the main line of the North Eastern Railway. The Act was obtained, but the works relating to the tunnel-water were never executed.

The rapid growth of the population of Leeds, together with the occurrence of a very dry period in 1851, which seriously diminished the existing sources, compelled the Directors to instruct Mr. Leather to explore ground at a greater distance for an additional supply. After an extensive examination of the Wharfe Valley, including the River Skirfare - considerable feeder in the upper reaches of the valley - and after an inquiry into the question of pumping from the River Wharfe at a point nearer to Eccup, Mr. Leather reported to the Directors in favour of a gravitation scheme from the River Washburne, a considerable tributary of the River Wharfe, entering it 3 miles below the town of Otley.

This scheme was designed, in the first instance, to collect and store the whole of the dry-weather flow of the several streams in the Washburne Valley and the Stainburnbeck Valley, and to convey the same to Eccup, making due provision for compensating the mills below for such abstraction. The necessary plans and sections were duly deposited in 1851.

J. F. Bateman, M. Inst. C.E., was afterwards called in by the Directors to report upon the scheme, and also upon the question of pumping from the River Wharfe, which had a few advocates in the town. He reported most favourably upon Mr. Leather's project and against pumping from the River Wharfe. In the following year, however, arrangements were in progress for the transference of the undertaking of the Water Company to the Leeds Corporation, and this gravitation scheme from the Washburne never came before a Parliamentary Committee.

Mr. Leather was also employed at an early period on the water-supply of the neighbouring town of Bradford. In 1838 he reported, together with his father, in favour of bringing certain springs at Manywells in the Hewenden Beck Valley, about 7 miles from Bradford, to that town ; and in 1840 Messrs. Leather were instructed by the Water Company to complete plans for this project, and an Act was obtained in 1841.

The scheme consisted of a large compensation-reservoir on the Hewenden Beck opposite the Manywells springs, a store-reservoir for town purposes at Chellow Dean (afterwards supplemented by a second reservoir at this point), and a service-reservoir at Whetley Hill in Bradford, a line of piping conveying the water from Manywells to Whetley Hill. These works were executed between 1842 and 1844, the reservoirs proving watertight.

Such, however, was the rapid growth of Bradford, that in 1852 it was found necessary to increase the water-supply, and Mr. Leather was instructed by the Directors to devise a scheme which would add considerably to the existing source of supply. He reported in favour of utilizing the large gathering ground of the Hewenden Beck (in which the Company had already works); and that this should be supplemented by an extension, by means of tunnelling, into the adjoining valley of the River Worth, the head waters of which he proposed to collect into four large reservoirs for compensation and town purposes. This scheme was considered at the time a very bold one, but the Directors adopted it, and plans and sections were duly lodged for the session of 1852-3.

The Bradford Corporation, however, being desirous of becoming possessed of a well-devised and economically-constructed waterworks, and to have the water-supply of the borough in their hands (following the example of Leeds and other large towns), consulted Mr. Bateman, who designed for them an admirable scheme in the Worth Valley in opposition to that of Mr. Leather. Plans of this scheme were also duly deposited for the same session. Mr. Bateman’s scheme was even larger than that proposed by Mr. Leather, providing as it did for 9,000,000 gallons per day for the town, in addition to which was the millowner’s compensation.

These competing projects were before the Commons Committee in April 1853, and a very long and keen fight ensued. The Company was represented by Mr. Hope Scott, Q.C., and Mr. Gathorne Hardy (now Viscount Cranbrook), and the Corporation by Mr. Sergeant Wrangham, Mr. Merewether, Q.C., and Mr. Manisty ; the result, however, was that both Bills were thrown out.

Preparations were then made for a renewal of the contest in the ensuing session; Mr. Bateman, by remodelling his Worth Valley scheme, and Mr. Leather, by abandoning his scheme, except so far as retaining the summit reservoir in the Hewenden Valley, and a compensation reservoir below the same, and adopting an entirely new source in the Aire Valley, and in the Wharfe Valley; where he secured drainage grounds capable of yielding about 10,000,000 gallons a day for town purposes. This was adopted by the Water Company, and ultimately the Corporation agreed to purchase the undertaking of the Company, and to support Mr. Leather’s scheme in Parliament. Notwithstanding considerable opposition from millowners and landowners in both Houses, the Act was obtained. The question of the amount of compensation to the Wharfe millowners was reserved for decision to Sir William Cubitt, Past-President Inst. C.E., who eventually gave his award, which was considered most favourable to the Corporation, as it did not require any increase in the size of the compensation reservoir, or any other alteration in the scheme as designed by Mr. Leather.

The new works, consisting of seven large reservoirs, three tunnels, each over a mile in length, with several shorter tunnels and many miles of conduits and cast-iron piping, were speedily placed in the contractor’s hands.

In 1857 Mr. Leather lodged plans for additional conduits and piping, which were subsequently executed; but it was some considerable time before the whole of the above works were completed. Mr. Leather was largely employed in drainage works, both for town purposes and in the fens in Lincolnshire.

In 1845 the Corporation of Leeds instructed Mr. Leather to advise them respecting the schemes which had been designed by Captain Vetch, R.E., and by Mr. Walker, borough surveyor, for the drainage of Leeds, Holbeck, and Hunslet. The subject was a difficult one, and Mr. Leather reported at great length on the whole question; and, being unable to recommend either scheme, he submitted a plan of his own, having an outfall 8 feet diameter at Knostrop. This he subsequently carried into execution, together with all the principal branch sewers, in the above-named places.

The Leeds and Bradford waterworks and the Leeds drainage works have been described at some length, as they were not only in Mr. Leather’s hands from the first, but were early examples of such works, when there was little experience to guide an engineer. Mr. Leather also designed and executed the Chesterfield waterworks.

The fen drainages which Mr. Leather executed were between Lincoln and Boston on each side of the River Witham ; the protrusion of the high lands on the north side of the Witham, between the parishes of Bardney and Stickswold, causing the drainage to be extremely difficult. The following were the chief drainages he designed and executed :- the Nocton Drainage; the Methringham Drainage; the Blankney, Linwood, and Martin Fen and Dales Drainage ; the Billinghay and Walcot Fen Drainage ; the Washingbro' and Heighington Fen Lands Drainage; the Billinghay South District Drainage; the Bardney Drainaga; and the Billinghay North District Drainage.

Mr. Leather was also engineer, in conjunction with his father, to the Aire and Calder Navigation, one of the most important in the kingdom (now in the hands of W. H. Bartholomew, M. Inst. C.E.), and designed and executed important works at Goole, including the docks and lock gates there, the Goole canal, and thence the 7-foot navigation to Wakefield and Leeds, with the bridges and culverts and other works connected therewith; as also the docks at Leeds, and the cast-iron aqueduct at Stanley Ferry, near Wakefield, which, in one span of 155 feet, carries this navigation at a considerable elevation over the River Calder. The depth of the navigation here provided for is 8.5 feet, and the weight of water suspended is 940 tons. Each suspending arch weighs 101 tons, and the wrought-iron suspending rods weigh 30 tons. This work, which was in every respect successful, is exceedingly ornamental in its character ; and at the exhibitions in London in 1851, and in Paris, 1855, a model of it (as well as a model of the Crown Point Bridge in Leeds, hereinafter described) gained Mr. Leather medals for construction in iron.

Mr. Leather was also employed in designing a scheme for rendering the River Aire navigable from Leeds to Armley, but these works were not carried out. He likewise reported on the River Witham navigation, and to the promoters of a canal between Grantham and Newark, and a reservoir to feed the same, such canal to pass through the townships of Murton, Stainforth, Bottesford Normanton, Long Bennington, Great Staunton, Cotham, and Hawton, to Newark ; but this project was abandoned.

Mr. Leather was engaged by the promoters of the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway and Dock Company in February, 1837, and submitted designs for a harbour and dock at Hartlepool, and a railway from that port to Stockton, and plans for the same were duly lodged. The railway was commenced in the following year, and completed in February, 1841.

This very early completion of railway work was thus noticed in the Leeds Mercury of February 20th, 1841 :

"This undertaking altogether reflects the highest degree of credit on the public-spirited company who are engaged therein, and also on the talented engineers and their assistants, and the contractors who have been employed in executing the work. In point of fact, we shall not overstate our feeling on this subject, if we remark that the way in which the works have been finished on the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway affords a model of railroad construction. Messrs. George Leather and Son, of Leeds, are the engineers-in-chief, and John Fowler [now Sir John Fowler, Past President Inst. C. E.], their assistant was the resident engineer."

The most difficult work on the above railway was the Greatham Viaduct, of ninety-two arches of brickwork, which crosses a point, probably at one time an arm of the sea, where the ground required the piers to be piled from 30 to 60 feet in depth.

Mr. Leather was also occupied in laying out other railways, among which may be cited, the Birmingham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton Railway, in 1835; in 1836, for the Midland Railway Company in finding a line north of Leeds on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, and the Manchester, Leeds, and Goole Railway ; in 1837, for the Northern and Eastern Railway.

In 1843-5 he was engaged by the promoters of the Cambridge and Lincoln extension Railway ; the Sheffield, Rotherham, and Barnsley, &C., Railway; and the Leeds and York (short line) Railway. Mr. Leather was also retained on many important oppositions to railways.

In 1836 he opposed, on behalf of the town of Sheffield, the Midland Railway, advocating an alternative route, which carried this line through the town of Sheffield and along the Trent Valley, both of which routes have since been adopted by that company. Since then the Cheltenham and Tring, the Great Western, the Leeds and Bradford (Midland), setting up in opposition the short line from Leeds to Bradford, have been constructed; he also opposed other lines in the interests of the navigations with which he was connected.

In bridge construction, Mr. Leather designed and executed, in addition to those connected with navigations, two bridges over the River Aire at Leeds, namely, one at 'Crown Point' of cast iron, with arch of 120 feet span and 12 feet rise ; and a second, called 'Victoria Bridge,' of stone, with elliptical arch of 80 feet span and 1... ft rise ; both bridges being very ornamental in design.

Mr. Leather retired from business about ten years before his death, which took place at De Grey Lodge, Leeds, on the 31st of January, 1887, in his seventy-seventh year. In the later years of his professional life he was employed chiefly as a consulting engineer, and occasionally in important arbitrations and before parliamentary committees, where his extensive and varied experience in engineering matters was of much value.

He became a Member of the Institution on the 6th of March, 1849.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1887 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries