Explore the Historic Spring Hill Reservoirs

Photo credit: CC BY-SA 4.0/Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons

The Spring Hill Reservoirs in Wickham Terrace are definitely amongst the suburb’s most important hidden gems as they continue to serve the community for almost 150 years.

In Queensland, the service reservoirs are the first of a series of inground reservoirs. Moreover, they totally stand out as these are the only ones known to have been built of brick with arched baffle walls rather than concrete.

From being a part of Brisbane’s vital water reservoir, the heritage-listed structures now serve as great and unique performance space and live venue.

Spring Hill Reservoirs’ History

Photo credit: CC BY-SA 4.0/Kgbo/Wikimedia Commons

The Wickham Terrace service reservoirs are particularly significant in demonstrating the demographic growth as well as improvement in living standards and local politics in Brisbane during the years of early self-government.

The construction of the reservoirs is particularly a response to the growing population in Brisbane in the 1870s. When residents started to complain about mains not servicing higher areas, the Board of Waterworks decided to construct a smaller Service Reservoir near the observatory on Wickham Terrace.

The First Service Reservoir

Tenders for the construction of a reservoir in either concrete or brick were called in 1870.

Tower Ad

The Board accepted a tender from Henry Holmes specifying the use of concrete. However, Holmes requested to change the walls to brick after preliminary excavations and the identification of cracks in concrete samples. Subsequently, he offered to withdraw his contract.

The Board of Waterworks then decided to complete the contract under its own Clerk of Works. Interestingly, 69,000 locally produced bricks were purchased to complete the reservoir.

The first reservoir was finally completed and filled with water on 24 February 1871.

Meeting Growing Demands in Brisbane

The Reservoir was an 18-metre by 9-metre open-air structure. It held 570,000 Litres or 126,000 gallons of water which came to a depth of 4.15 metres. The reservoir was filled for 10 hours every night to keep up with water demand for the following day.

The first reservoir had a significant effect on the standard of living in Brisbane as it helped in lowering water charges in the area.

In December 1872, a further 60 cm was added to the walls of the reservoir to increase its capacity and by 1876, an additional main from Enoggera Dam was laid to allow water to be reticulated to higher parts of town.

Read:A Trip Down Memory Lane at the Petrie Terrace Heritage Trail

Improvements to the Water Supply

Service Reservoirs (2009). Photo credit: Heritage Branch staff/Queensland Heritage Register

Brisbane’s population surge in the late 1870s saw the need to construct an additional reservoir. W Innes and Son built the second and much larger reservoir in 1882.  

Just a few years after the addition of the new reservoir, the Board of Waterworks also made other improvements in Brisbane’s water supply system to keep up with the population boom of the 1880s. These include the construction of the Gold Creek dam in 1885-1886, and the Highgate Hill service reservoir, which was of mass concrete rather than arched brick walls, in 1889.

The Board of Waterworks also considered roofing both reservoirs to prevent animals from falling into the water. However, these additions did not take place at the time since the Board was more concerned about the leaking condition of the reservoirs.

Furthermore, due to the declining gravity water supply, the service reservoirs only supply water to the lower parts of the city. The larger reservoir, on the other hand, retained water in case of emergency. Both reservoirs were removed from use between 1898 and 1906.

Read: The Most Interesting Sites To Visit on the Rosalie Heritage Trail

Decommissioning of the Service Reservoirs

Spring Hill Reservoirs (interior). Photo credit: CC BY-SA 4.0/Reubot/Wikimedia Commons

Several improvements were made in the Spring Hill Reservoirs in the 1900s. They were again brought back into service to support the increasing needs of the growing city. Both reservoirs were roofed and the internal walls of the smaller reservoir were cement rendered to prevent leaking.

The service reservoirs remained to be an integral part of the Brisbane water supply system until 3 September 1962 when the water main from Enoggera Dam collapsed. The reservoirs were shut down since due to their comparatively small capacity and low elevation, they were unable to serve the new high-rise buildings within the inner city.

Read: Discover the Rich History of The Barracks in Paddington

Spring Hill Reservoirs Now

Service Reservoirs from SE (2016) Photo credit: Vic Bushing/Queensland Heritage Register

Brisbane City Council received several suggestions for the redevelopment of the Wickham Terrace service reservoirs in the 1980s. These include included converting the area into an art gallery, bus exchange, restaurant, and theatre in the round.

Unfortunately, poor access, fire risk, and ventilation issues delayed the redevelopment of the structure.

As part of Queensland’s 150th-anniversary celebrations, the service reservoirs had restoration works including the replacement of the roof. The revitalisation of the reservoirs increased the potential for public access.

In 2014, following a two-year negotiation with the Brisbane City Council, the Brisbane based Underground Opera Company completed a $150,000 temporary fit-out to allow the staging of a series of opera performances within the large reservoir. This was the first time that the public has been able to access the space.

Opera in the Reservoirs 2014. Photo credit: Underground Opera Company/Facebook

With the successful redevelopment of the space, the Spring Hill Reservoir now serves as a unique venue for various performances. Several events are now being scheduled in the venue including the popular Opera in the Reservoir.

Apart from providing an excellent space for live performances, the Spring Hill Reservoirs continue to be a reminder of the importance of having a reliable, accessible, and clean water supply. The structures also help in illustrating the technical advancements in the early development of Brisbane and Queensland.