The light show - Fantastic photography at the Service Reservoir, Clayton-le-Woods

Andrew Harrison

Andrew Harrison - Credit: Archant

A kitchen egg whisk, a length of wire wool, a shoelace and some matches helped to create this incredible pyrotechnic display captured by photographer Andrew Harrison

We are always looking for interesting and unusual places to use as backdrops for creative photography but this hidden gem in Clayton-le-Woods, near Leyland, proved to be exceptional. A remarkable pyrotechnic display illuminated a piece of Lancashire history before it was lost forever under another housing scheme.

The Service Reservoir is hidden underground and has been maintained even though it was decommissioned many years back. Attempts to raise £400,000 to preserve it failed and English Heritage twice rejected appeals to have it listed.

Yet, this structure is responsible for saving the lives of our forebears. Resembling an underground cathedral, it wouldn’t look out of place as the set of a Harry Potter movie.

Hundreds of thousands of Accrington bricks form a series of chambers with majestic archways and smooth, tactile walls. It is precision crafted with skill and pride and solved a public health crisis of the 1880s.

Built at a time when the Industrial Revolution saw the population of towns and cities swell to near bursting point, the Service Reservoir was a vital weapon in the fight against several lethal water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Previously, the rivers and wells that supplied homes were polluted with waste dumped directly from the region’s factories along with human sewage from primitive toilet facilities.

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The Government was slow to tackle this but, with the support of some of the great industrialists, improvement plans were initiated.

In Leyland, one of the major changes was the building of the Old Pumping Station and Service Reservoir which began in 1883. This project wasn’t without complications. Not only did it exceed the budget but it also attracted compensation claims from members of the public who were suffering injuries in the many ditches and trenches that had to be dug into the Leyland landscape to accommodate this remarkable structure.

However, when it was finished it had a major impact on the health of the surrounding communities.

One hundred and thirty years later, with insufficient funding to guarantee its preservation, the underground Service Reservoir is set to be replaced with housing.

It ceased to be used in the 1940s but it was maintained as a back-up facility until the 1980s. Owners United Utilities sold it to Kingswood Homes and they opened it for three weeks so local people, especially groups of schoolchildren, could appreciate its beauty and understand its historic importance.

The day of our visit saw us arriving before the official opening time to avoid the many interested visitors and school parties which had been filling the reservoir with the echo of voices.

Missing the throb of the crowds enabled us to set up in relatively empty chambers for one last - and quite spectacular - photo-shoot.

About the photographer

Andrew Harrison has taken photography seriously since the age of 15 when he acquired a Minolta SLR and various lenses. Initially concentrating on military aviation and air show photography, he attended Preston’s Cardinal Newman College in 1980s where black and white photography and darkroom developing increased his passion for imagery.

He spent three years in southern Spain as a diving instructor before refocusing his photographic skills on landscapes, architecture and fauna, with shoots in Bulgaria, Portugal Cyprus and Spain. In more recent times he has shot in a wide variety of places from California to the Trough of Bowland. He has developed into several genres including the use of wire wool and lasers. His next assignment is to Iceland to photograph the Northern Lights.

Andrew, 44, is a member of Preston Photographic Society and is applying for membership of the Royal Photographic Society.

If you want to contact Andrew or purchase prints go to or phone 07588 557822

How we did it

Aside from cameras, our equipment consisted of a list of items that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Just William prank. A metal balloon whisk out of the kitchen draw, a shoe lace, some matches and a big hank of wire wool. The wire wool is stuffed inside the balloon whisk and pulled out through the holes. The shoe lace is tied to the eyelet on the whisk handle.

The shot is set up in advance by focusing on a hand held torch light at the desired distance away from the camera. Once the focal point is fixed the camera is set to manual focus, the torch is exchanged for the whisk and the wire wool set alight. Using a 20 second shutter speed at aperture F11 the whisk is spun around by the shoe lace at arms length, creating sparks which are captured as a continuing stream of fire, deflected and reflected off the Service Reservoir walls creating some unusual, abstract art.