Ormskirk At The Forefront Of Public Works
Ormskirk has a great history of being an early adopter of schemes of public works. Outside of major cities the town has been amongst the first in the country to develop a means of clean water supply and gas lighting.
The Victorian water tower still dominates the skyline of the town today and has done since it first came into operation in 1853.
Built to save the town from disease and deterioration, caused in part by the rapid building of cramped court housing around ten years earlier, the tower had a massive impact on the health of everyone in the town from the day it went into operation.
In the 1840s the death rate in Ormskirk had been comparable to that of the most crowded areas of Britain’s major cities, but a reverse in fortune started by the development of the water tower to supply clean water and ultimately completed by the removal of the court housing through the 1920s and 30s, led to the town gaining a reputation as being an inviting, healthy place to live.
The water tower would serve the town for over 100 years and was given Grade II listed status in 1976.
In 1832 the Ormskirk Gas Light Company was established.
Ormskirk Gas Works began construction in Aughton Street in early 1834, after one company, Messrs Fawcett & Co. of Liverpool, pulled out of the contract, Messrs Calloway, Bowan & Co. of Glasgow and Manchester carried on the construction.
On the 10th November 1834, the Earl of Derby’s Court Leet in Ormskirk elected a new Constable, local Brewer George Harriott, Thomas Howard was elected Deputy Constable.
A new gas lit obelisk had been erected at the site of the old Market Cross and the jubilant crowd lit a huge bonfire adjacent to it as part of their festivities.
In November 1837 there was a mini crime wave in Ormskirk, the result of opportunist thieves taking advantage of a temporary switch off of the gas street lights.
The Gas Company charged the town a set amount per lamp for the year and did not intend to profit from this arrangement. They did however not expect to make a loss, which, if the lights had not been turned off over the summer months they would have done. When the 3 year contract came up for renewal, the town could not decide on the new rates and there was a period in which they were turned off, before an agreement could be reached in November of 1837.
After this brief upset the town seems to have fallen in love with its gas lighting, indeed the Urban District Council found it difficult to obtain enough subscribers to cover the cost of installing electrical wiring and a power generator in the town, even after many other areas had done so and Ormskirk became one of the later adopters of mains electricity.