Law, Frank Snr

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Frank Law 1912 (Bacup, Lancashire, UK) - 1973 (Blackpool, Lancashire, UK)


Frank Law was born on 21/01/1912 at home in Bacup, Lancashire. His education at secondary level was at Bury and Rawtenstall Grammar School, before moving to King Edward VII School, Lytham, when his parents moved to that area in 1927. His university education was at the Faculty of Technology in the University of Manchester where he graduated with a First Class Honours in Civil Engineering. He was elected AMICE IN 1938 and transferred to full Membership in 1956.

His war service was with the Royal Marine Engineers with the rank of Captain. His unit built a small concrete dam near Corpach in Scotland but his service concluded with a period in the Far East working with floating docks. In civilian life he returned to the Borough Surveyor’s Department of Blackpool Corporation which he had joined in 1935, key tasks being the design of elements of the multi-story car park over the Talbot Road bus station and the Anchorsholme Sewage Outfall pumping station; he had been largely responsible for the Main Drainage Scheme plans prior to war service.

In 1946 he secured the position of Chief Assistant Engineer at the Fylde Water Board headquarters in Blackpool. On the retirement in the 1950s of the Board Engineer, Mr Apted, he was appointed as successor, serving an area dominated by summer holiday resort water demands.

In private life he was fully involved in the St Annes Baptist Church, where he was baptised as a believer in 1929 and after his marriage there to Freda Russell in 1938 they resided in Blackpool and became members at the Baptist Tabernacle in Springfield Road where he was appointed as a deacon in 1942 before joining the RME. His son Frank Law Jr. also became an engineer and worked for many years at the Institute of Hydrology, Wallingford.

Hydrological Achievements[edit]

The Fylde Water Board became known for being forward looking in both the resources and treatment process fields. A patent was taken out for cleaning trunk water mains of iron deposits by flushing a mechanical ‘pig’ between manholes. The supplies of raw water from the Barnacre and Stocks Reservoirs were augmented by a line of high yielding bores into the Bunter Sandstone on the inland edge of the Fylde, operated conjunctively with those surface sources to optimise performance of the whole system. Meanwhile improvements were made to water treatment at Stocks Reservoir in the headwaters of the Hodder Valley using a novel freezing process to remove the peat colour. Service reservoirs which had been open to the atmosphere were covered with novel aluminium roofs to prevent contamination of raw water.

Frank Law became concerned that the post-war planting of conifer plantations was bound to have an impact on the reliable yield that could be expected from Stocks Reservoir and the Board encouraged him to pursue experimental measurements there of rainfall, evaporation and interception. He was aware of some of the literature on the subject and his concern was that this might also lead to a more important reduction in water yield. He established two experimental catchments, one upstream of the reservoir that had been planted with Sitka Spruce in 1923 (Bottoms Beck), and the other downstream of the reservoir that was still used for grazing sheep (Croasdale Beck). He also, rather remarkably for the time, constructed a lysimeter experiment with a concrete wall around a 450m2 plot that contained mature Spruce trees, with an outlet to collect surface runoff in a large tipping bucket system. Because this was a very windy upland area, to provide some accuracy on the estimates of rainfall inputs he designed a ground level raingauge using a metal grid to reduce any splash-in, a design that was later used by John Rodda in the network at the Institute of Hydrology Plynlimon catchments. Using a network of 22 gauges he produced a monthly water balance for the whole of the 37.5 km2 area draining to Stocks Reservoir for the period 1955-1965. This was later extended by Peter Walsh to the period 1929-1975.

The results of these studies were clear. The forest was producing less water yield than the grassland area. Law concluded that the monetary value of the water loss far exceeded the benefits to the Fylde Water Board from renting the land for forestry and was more important than the impact on the water quality. Reporting these results generated a lot of debate in the UK where the practice of planting trees above reservoirs had been widely practiced and where evapotranspiration was largely thought to be limited by annual radiation inputs, regardless of the type of vegetation. Even Howard Penman suggested that the results were “atypical” and suggested that more studies were required elsewhere. His work led essentially to the creation of a Hydrological Research Unit at Hydraulics Research Wallingford (at that time a research institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food). The HRU later evolved into the Natural Environment Research Council Institute of Hydrology at Wallingford and the setting up of the Plynlimon and Balquhidder research catchments to study the forest/grassland issue at other locations.

The impact of the long summer drought of 1959 led to relevant ministry to ask the Fylde Water Board to take over the Blackburn water supply system . That was done swiftly because the raw water pipelines crossed at the Trough of Bowland. That had the added bonus of protecting the Blackburn supply from the RIver Dunsop when the Wray flood on the watershed caused immense damage in August 1964.

Frank Law was appointed to the governing committee of the Lancashire River Authority at a time when the search for new resources for the North West of England was becoming critical. The eventual outcome was the Lancashire Conjunctive Use scheme that involved construction of an intake on the River Lune and a transfer tunnel to move water to the River Wyre and thence southwards. The associated treatment works for the Fylde share of the scheme was opened by the Queen in 1980. Because he had died of a sudden heart attack in early 1973 while still working that works was named after him by the North West Water Authority which had taken over responsibility.

Frank Law had been a member of the committee of government charged with reorganising the nation’s water supply management. He was a strong supporter of the move to regional management but his death meant that he was not to see its implementation in the 1974 following the 1973 Water Act.


Reference Material[edit]

The text for this entry was edited from material provided by Frank Law Jr.

Selected Publications[edit]

Law, F, 1955, Estimation of the yield for reservoired catchments, J. Instn. Water Engnrs., October 1955

Law, F., 1956, The effect of afforestation upon the yield of water catchment areas. J. Brit. Waterworks Assoc., 38, pp484-94.

Law, F., 1957, Measurement of rainfall, interception and evaporation losses in a plantation of Sitka Spruce trees. Int. Assoc. Hydrolog. Sci., Publication No. 44, pp 397-411.

Law, F., 1965, Integrated use of diverse sources. Journal of the Institution of Water Engineers, 19, pp 413–457.

See also

Walsh PD. 1977. The Practical Analysis and Operation of Multi-Source Water Supply Systems with Particular Reference to the Lancashire Conjunctive Use Scheme. Ph.D. thesis, Birmingham University: Birmingham;

Chappell, N.A. and Tych, W., 2012. Identifying step changes in single streamflow and evaporation records due to forest cover change. Hydrological Processes, 26(1), pp.100-116.