It was a civil engineering feat like no other – and one that would truly put a burgeoning Victorian Birmingham on the map.
The city water supply, rife with waterborne diseases so common in the 1800s, had to be modernised – and one man had the vision: Joseph Chamberlain, the great city mayor.
The water supply was a serious hazard to public health as half the city’s population was dependent on wells, many of which were polluted by sewage.
Shocked by the rising toll from contagious disease, Chamberlain in 1876 forcibly purchased Birmingham’s waterworks, creating Birmingham Corporation Water Department.
In 1892, the government passed the Birmingham Corporation Water Act, allowing the council to compulsorily purchase the Elan Valley in the heart of Wales, 70 miles away.
And these never before published pictures detail what happened next.
The fascinating images were discovered in an attic of a Powys woman whose grandfather had originally worked on the gigantic project all those years ago.
She donated them to Severn Trent Water just as the supplier embarks on a £100 million project to maintain the 73-mile-long aqueduct between Elan and Birmingham that was the result of all that effort a century ago.
The company is to echo the great achievements of its Victorian and Edwardian forebears by building three bypass pipes for the aqueduct at Bleddfa, Nantmel and Knighton, in Powys, as well as a secondary pipe from the River Severn in Lickhill, near Stourport, in Worcestershire.
This, like the Elan Valley Aqueduct will flow into Frankley Treatment Works on the south west edge of Birmingham.
When the Elan and Claerwen rivers were dammed by Birmingham Corporation in the 1890s they created four gigantic lakes: Craig Goch, Pen-y-garreg, Garreg-ddu, and Caban-coch.
The area itself had been chosen for several reasons: It had high annual rainfall, narrow downstream valleys and impermeable bedrock , which stopped the water seeping away.
Most importantly, it was higher than Birmingham by 52 metres, enabling the water to flow 73 miles by gravity along the entire route at a gradient of 1 in 2,300 without needing to be pumped.
When the government passed the Act, it also gave Birmingham the power to move more than 100 people living in the valleys, but only landowners received any compensation. Many of the buildings were demolished, including three manor houses, a church and a school. They did, however, build the valley folk the new Nantgwyllt Church besides one of the dams, which can still be seen today.
Work on the reservoirs themselves began in 1893 overseen by James Mansergh.
Thousands of navvies and their families were brought in and lived in the purpose-built Elan Village.
The four lower Elan Valley dams were to be built first along with the aqueduct, the first section of which was started in June 1896.
After nearly a decade of toil and backbreaking work, on July 21,1904 King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra opened the dams and water finally started flowing along the two 42-inch pipes to Birmingham.
The whole scheme had cost £6 million and employed 50,000 men – but it wasn’t finished.
Originally planned – but not started due to two world wars – the mighty Claerwen dam was not finished until 1952, creating a fifth gigantic reservoir. It was opened by Elizabeth II in one of her first official engagements as Queen.
Severn Trent Water’s Noel Hughes, who now manages the company’s assets in Wales, said: “The community are extremely proud of the achievements of the Elan Valley Aqueduct and I am very passionate about being a guardian over it.
“I have been here for 32 years and my father worked here. My grandfather was in the home guard looking after the dams in the war.
“There were 35 dwellings, a school and a church that had to be demolished to make way for the dams, but Birmingham City Council worked with the community – there was no arrogance.
“Six or seven tenant farms were built to compensate the ones taken out and the church was rebuilt with its original bell.”
He added: “The community of Bleddfa is right behind the new bypass scheme and they are pleased to be part of the legacy and its continuing journey. We are honoured to have these photos that were donated to us by a community member who is so proud of her grandfather’s work on the Elan Valley Aqueduct .”