Catcleugh Reservoir sits in the upper reaches of Redesdale a few miles short of the Scottish Border. It is now dwarfed by its much larger and newer neighbour, Kielder Reservoir, but at the time of its construction during 1884-1905 it was a truly major concern.
It was built for the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company in order to feed the growing and ever-thirsty Tyneside conurbation – a series of tunnels, aqueducts and other reservoirs taking the water thus accumulated the 30-odd miles to its destination to the SE.
The River Rede feeds the sizeable body of water, but such is the remoteness of the spot in question that labour and machinery had to be brought in from far and wide to complete the mammoth task. As a consequence of this, two hutted communities grew up in the shadow of the construction site, and were christened ‘Newcastle’ and ‘Gateshead’ for obvious reasons.
A total of 40-odd huts straddled the two semi-permanent townships, housing more than 700 folk – workers, their spouses and their children. It was a tight-knit, rag-tag collection of individuals, who, nevertheless, maintained all the very basic social necessities of a village-like existence. It must have been tough, but there were dances, sports, drinking and gambling to be enjoyed, too … much of it quite illegal!
Today a single workers’ hut remains, which houses an exhibition of the history of the reservoir and its little community of yore. But, most poignantly, in nearby Byrness Church (said to be the smallest in Northumberland) can be found a commemorative plaque and splendid stained glass window – the former listing the names of the 60+ individuals who died during the construction work, and the latter featuring images of the workers themselves. It was all paid for by the community itself, the window being unique in Britain in terms of its subject matter.
An image of the church window can be found here. More info on the extraordinary Catcleugh scheme can also be found here.