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Exeter Stories

Exeter folk and friends in their own words - 1890's to the 1990's │ << Previous story │ Next story >> │

Steve Garry - some notes about the Water Treatment Works and the the sewage boat


My father, (James) Arthur Garry was the manager and chief chemist of the treatment works at Countess Wear from the mid 1950's up until his retirement, some years after the works were transferred to the South West water authority, so I have a lot of memories of that time, we went out on several trips on SW2. This is a very uncertain memory, I think the first Captain was Ted Long, but that would need to be confirmed by someone else, it was a long time ago.

SW1, was a Morris Van that my father used to get to and from Countess Wear, and to other pumping stations around the city, the main one being on the Council service depot in the Tan Lane site close to Marsh Barton, and there was also an underground pumping station in Western Road, off Okehampton St. I can remember that in the year that St Thomas was badly flooded (December 1960 I think) we went to Western Road, and Dad spent a good while looking for the cover over the underground sump, (it was under water at that stage) but he has to be careful to get the right cover, as there was also another cover that was on the pump room, with all the electrics in it, so he had to make sure he got the right cover. Lifting the cover helped reduce the water level in the immediate area, but it wasn't possible to make that much difference, as the flood was still rising, and eventually became widespread over a much larger area.

In those days, there was no road from the Bypass swing bridge (there was only one bridge at that time) to the works, the only access was via the towpath of the canal. and there was a small narrow gauge railway that was used to bring dried sludge for distribution to local farms for use as fertiliser, and to move heavy machinery in and out of the treatment works, As part of the upgrade of the works in the late 50's, the access route was widened by pilings and backfill put into the river bank, and a road constructed that subsequently replaced the railway, which became redundant with the upgrade of the works and the use of SW2 to dispose of sewage offshore.

I can remember SW1, a standard Morris Van, blue in colour, my father had to get special permission from a higher level manager at the council to make a trip out of the city to collect myself and my brother from a family member's house in Torquay, as we were not able to use public transport due to ( I think) Mumps, which was infectious, and we had to be got back home to Exeter.

The SW2 had to be slightly modified when the M5 flyover was constructed, it was discovered after the road levels had been agreed that there was insufficient clearance under the flyover, and the mast and (I think) radar scanner had to be lowered in order to continue in service.

Looking online today, and seeing that South West water had some problems in 2013 from the Countess Wear area with bad smells, that's nothing new; there were problems back then with bad odours from the works on a regular basis, partly due to the overloading of the old works, most of those problems were resolved with the upgrade and the installation of commercial size air freshener spray systems. The upgrade in the late 50's was very advanced, they had a system (Anaerobic digestion) that generated methane gas from the treatment process, which was used to keep the process going, and the surplus gas was used to provide heating and hot water for the administration buildings.

As well as managing the waste water system, there were also times when Dad had to provide consultancy to the water treatment plant at Pynes, and he also had to manage the chlorine levels at the swimming baths in Heavitree road for a while when there was no manager there to control the system. He also was responsible for some specialised research at the RD& E hospital in Southernhay that was investigating the amount of nuclear radiation in the air after some of the tests that were carried out by various nations.

SW2 or Countess WearThe Countess Wear or SW2 in the basin.

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