Over the next couple of months writer, broadcaster and map addict, Mike Parker chooses his favourite maps from the Library’s collection as part of the #LoveMaps campaign.
“Outside planners look at sparsely – but intimately – populated mid Wales and see only an empty drawing board for their grand plans, from military ranges to forestry, waste dumps to wind farms. Reservoirs too, of course. To water the growing cities, the late Victorian age saw Liverpool building Lake Vyrnwy and Birmingham’s ambitious Elan Valley scheme. London too decided that it wanted a share of Welsh water.
This largely forgotten scheme, intricately detailed in these lovely maps, would have radically altered mid Wales forever. Numerous reservoirs around the region were planned, to be connected by aqueducts and re-routed roads and railways. Page upon page of detailed maps show the farms, villages and even whole towns that would be forcibly cleared. Poor old Llangurig, whose own mini-railway age had already ended in dismal failure, would have been lost at the top end of a reservoir that was to snake its way down the Wye, almost as far as Rhayader. Even more startling, the bustling Breconshire spa towns of Llangammarch Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells would have been substantially sacrificed.
When the scheme was debated in the House of Commons, both the Conservative & Unionist government and Liberal opposition supported the principle of the scheme. The only doubts were that, with a review into London’s water supply going on, any decision might be premature. All the same, there was a Klondikesque rush for Welsh water going on. As the Conservative MP for Chelsea put it: “without doubt, there will be a race between all the great populations of England to secure for themselves an ample supply in the future, and it will be well that London should not be behindhand in that competition”.
A small number of Welsh Liberal MPs spoke in the debate. Their only objection was that as many farmers were tenants, even if their families had farmed the land for generations they would have no guarantee of compensation. If this was sorted, they had no problem with the idea. As Arthur Humphreys-Owen, the member for Montgomeryshire, put it “the Bill is of far too great importance to the metropolis of London for us to obstruct it and oppose it. Indeed, we shall be, for many reasons, glad to welcome the London County Council in Wales.” It was only doubts over the timing that killed the idea.”
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