Upper Windrush Local History Society
    North Cotswolds


Stone Pipe Company

For many years the general body of proprietors of the Waterworks Company and the town of Manchester and its inhabitants were, by clever trick and management, given over to the tender mercies of a small body of men, who were the owners of a quarry of oolitic sandstone in the West of England, from which they manufactured stone pipes, trading under the name of the "Stone-pipe Company."
                    - History and Description of the Manchester Waterworks 1884

The Stone Pipe Company (1806-15) was a Georgian enterprise that held contracts to supply water to Manchester and parts of London. Based on a patent granted in 1805 to Sir George Wright stone pipes were to replace the existing wooden and iron infrastructure. These were presented by the company as a cheaper option with better quality water than the wooden elm and the rusty steel pipes. Initially pipes of Portland stone were supplied to the London Bridge Waterworks and other london based companies. However there were problems sourcing the stone and their supply was discontinued in 1806. In 1809 a quarry and mill were established at Fox Hill near Guiting Power to produce the pipes using the new production process using the local Guiting limestone.

Soon up to 30 tons of pipes were leaving the works each day along the poorly maintained turnpike roads, mainly to Gloucester docks.

In 1809 the Postmaster General temporarily withdrew mail coaches from the Cheltenham to Gloucester turnpike due to its poor state of repair. In 1811, in a letter to the trustees of the new road between Staverton and Cheltenham, he threatened to do it again or to take legal action to enforce the road's repair.
This led the directors of the SPC to propose building a canal to move the stone and bring in the coal. The "Central Junction Canal" surveyed by John Rennie, the SPCs chief engineer, would join the Wilts and Berks Canal at Abingdon linking to the Avon at Stratford. Its route roughly following the course of the Windrush, Dikler, Knee Brook and Stour with a spur at Bourton to follow the Windrush and connect the SPC works at Guiting Power. However opposition by the Grand Junction Canal and the Warwick & Napton companies stopped the proposal being put forward to parliament as an Act..

Notice of Intent "Central Junction Canal"

With the demise of the canal a new scheme "The Cheltenham & Cotswold Hills Railway", to build a tramroad linking to the newly opened Gloucester & Cheltenham Railway at Leckhampton was put forward in September 1811. It was welcomed by most parties and progressed through parliament. However land owners in Charlton Kings effectively blocked the proposal at its 3rd parliamentry reading in May 1812.

Tramroads and Tollways

The whole scheme was an abject failure with the oolitic pipes and Roman (Parker’s) compound joints unable to stand a water pressure of greater than 40' and the pipes bursting under the streets.

Guiting limestone has a density of 1832kg/m3 water absorption of 11.8% compared to Portland limestone with a density of 2376kg/m3 and water absorption of 5.8% showing the weakness of the stone.
(Some pipes were also laid in Gloucester and Tewkesbury where they were supposed to be inspected by the Waterworks Company but presumably weren't.)


It is an insight into the dawn of the industrial revolution. As a result of the debacle iron pipes were made compulsory in London from 1817, later enforced by statute nationwide. The use of a private enterprise to exclusively provide a public utility was reviewed and the way that capital raised via a bond issue and its subsequent distribution and liability of shareholders inter se is case law to this day. Many of the issues encountered with the plant and new technology led to the general systemic testing of new processes and technology.

Emeritus Professor Hugh Torrens (Keele University) has researched the Stone Pipe Company for many years and has kindly donated all of his paper work, books, slides, cuttings, notes and collection of stone pipes to the UWLHS.

The collection amounts to about six boxes of material plus the pipes and is of intrinsic historical significance.

The works were about 500 meters below the old quarry near the turn off at Fox Hill. The earthen platform where the Engine house with one and possibly two 14hp Boulton Watt rotative beam engines and plant stood is still visible.

The boring process was based on a patent originally registered by John Tuite in 1734. John Elwick purchased the patent in 1743 and spent a considerable sum of money on the process obtaining an Act of Parliament to expand the patent for a further 14 years. In 1805 the process was revived under patent by Sir George Wright who established the Stone Pipe Company in 1806. It was further refined by William Murdoch in 1810 at the SPC's expense.

A contemporary description of the process

George Wright Patent William Murdoch Patent

Two extracts from the History of the Water Supply to Manchester by JFT Bateman are below.
Part 1 is the first chapter which describes the expansion of the water supply and the issues of privatised public infrastructure.
Part 2 is from the appendix including an article from the Manchester Guardian; Old Manchester - its water supply and Water for Manchester - under the Stone Pipe Company and the Waterworks Company

Part 1: History
Part 2: Appendices

Extract from The Law Journal for 1825 of a hearing before the Court of Common Pleas, 18 June 1824 regarding the conditions of a bond to discharge a second bond. This is an attempt to stop recovery of money already garnisheed by some of the directors and shareholders of the Stone Pipe Company. Others had already left the country.

Extract from Law Journal

The base of the cores that are often seen about the area clearly show the different patent processes. They were manufactured with various diameters, a price list for supply to Manchester had pipes with bores ranging from 18" (priced at 45s) to 3" (priced at 4s 11d).


Wrights original patent with a centre hole for the bolt (red) and holes for the saw blade (blue).

Murdochs patent using a trepanning blade with a square socket cut to accept a wooden male plug.