Castle Carrock was certainly a different place from the village we see today.

On Sunday March 31st, the date of the 1901 census, there were 285 people living in the 71 houses in the parish of Castle Carrock. That figure included a 60 year old man called Edward Ridley, whose occupation was put down as “tramp”, and 11 people living in the Gairs, the big derelict house in the middle of Geltsdale familiar to walkers, which was abandoned in 1936. Interestingly, the figures for the 2001 census a hundred years on show some similarities and some remarkable differences. There were 303 people living in the parish, an increase of just 18, but there were 118 houses—a huge increase of 66%.

The records for the parish church, St Peters, for the period are also interesting. Between June 1907 and May 1909, 23 babies were baptised. 16 of them had fathers who were involved in building the waterworks, ranging from a ganger to an engine driver to a simple labourer. There were four marriages at the church between May 1907 and January 1909. Three of them involved men from the waterworks, the other was a farmer. It would seem that the construction site and its inhabitants were having a huge impact on the village. The Watson Institute had been open for about a decade – it was built in 1897. The school had opened in 1874, and its headteacher was John Edward Shipman, who had been at the helm since 1896 (his son, Jack, was to live and work at Waterworks House in Geltsdale for the best part of 40 years a little later on). There were 73 children going to school in the summer of 1906.

By the summer of 1909, when the reservoir itself was finally finished, the number of children at Castle Carrock school had dipped to 60. However, on the day of the grand opening, July 22nd, there was to be no day off because school had already broken up for the summer holidays on July 2nd.

From a directory of Cumberland published in 1905, it is possible to see what jobs people who lived in Castle Carrock held. There are 17 men listed as farmers, a tailor (James Bird), a blacksmith (Thomas Calvert), two bootmakers (Thomas Couch and Robert Waugh), two beer retailers (William Green and John Little), two grocers (William Blake and James Hind), a dressmaker (Rachael Moscrop), two joiners (Thomas Moscrop and Jonathan Ridley), a shopkeeper (John Richardson), a butcher (Edward Thompson), James Stobbart ran the Weary Sportsman and the Duke of Cumberland was run by Rachael Bouch. The postmaster Thomas Wilson doubled as a felt hat maker – letters were despatched at 8.30am, and arrived at 3.15pm. And a constable kept order – his name was John Wright.

The new reservoir was on Tottergill land. Six fields were lost. The whole area was transformed as the army of navvies moved into a temporary camp around the site while the construction work continued. For those looking down from the farm the view was transformed, as a swathe of green fields became a vast excavation site, filled with building work. Headteacher Mr Shipman was also the organist at the church, and he used to take a piano up to the navvies’ huts so that they could have a Sunday service. He also helped those who were illiterate, with letters that came from home.

We also know that not everyone was enjoying the impact that the construction work was having. On December 4th 1905, Carlisle Corporation received a strong complaint from Brampton Rural District Council of damage to their roads “caused by the heavy traction engines employed trailing individual loads of excessive weight, ranging frequently from 30 to 35 tons each journey….a very thick covering of metal is required, which will need to be consolidated by steam rolling”. Elsewhere in Britain, which had hosted the Olympic Games for the first time in London in 1908, life expectancy in 1909 was 54 years for women and 50 for a man (hence it was remarkable that there was a 60 year old tramp living in Castle Carrock). The average family had 2.8 children, and just over 5% of children aged 10 to 14 were already in gainful employment. The richest 1% of the population held approximately 70% of the nation’s wealth, electricity was available through a patchwork of small supply networks, the London Underground got its first electric escalators and the UK was connected via a series of local telephone networks.