Water supply in Abberley before the advent of mains connections

Further to the research that Sheena Murray has carried out into national activity to improve the rural water supply, Kate Andrew has been working hard to find out if, when and how  Abberley properties were linked to the mains…

A picture of the water supply was beginning to emerge from talking to long term residents, sales particulars and deeds of properties that were once part of the Abberley Hall estate dating between 1939 and 1956.  This research is supported by published descriptions in “Wells and Springs of Worcestershire” HMSO 1930 and Abberley Hall 1921-1961 by Gilbert Ashton, published in 1980.

The complex faulting and folding of the geology of the Abberley area provides several spring lines in different ages and types of rock.

John Joseph Jones installed a water supply in the early 1880s, utilising the distribution of springs to feed a series of water collecting tanks, two large “Fire Tanks” and an open reservoir linked together via a network of piping with valves that could be open and closed.  A steam operated pump allowed water to be pumped from the reservoir to the Fire tanks and then diverted into the usually spring-fed supply when this dried up at certain times of the year.

The system also provided for fire fighting at the Hall, the two Fire Tanks each held between 30,000 and 40,000 gallons (one brick, one cast iron).  This flowed by gravity in a 6 in pipe down to the Hall, creating enough pressure to send a jet of water right over the Hall. A simplified map of the pipe routes is known to exist but a copy has yet to be located.  Accurate plans were not available to those responsible for maintaining the system from 1921 to 1961 though.

With the sale of the hall in 1916, Abberley Hall School and its Headmaster became responsible for maintaining water supply to the village.  As demand for water increased and the spring fed supply became quickly exhausted, the school regularly had to divert water from the fire tanks.   In turn this meant “constant use of the isolated steam pump” – coal for which had to be transported by horse and cart across two large fields and up a steep hill.

In 1930, Church Farm, Hill Head Farm, Beehive Farm, Old Leasowes and the Two Beehive Cottages were described as supplied by tanks fed by the spring line in the field to the east of the school and the overflow from the open reservoir.  Possibly the supply to the Beehive council houses linked into this system too.

The central part of the village, including the rectory, was supplied from the open reservoir.  A  complaint about tainted water by the rector, recalled by Angela Thompson was linked to a dead cat getting stuck in the outflow from this reservoir.

Sales particulars and deeds of former estate property from 1939, through the 1940s and up to 1956   (for example, Rosedale, The Corner House, Hillside Cottage, Beehive Farm, Old Leasowes and the field next to the shop) all make reference to the water supply system and the right of purchases to access storage tanks and cleanse pipe work running through neighbouring property or of users of the supply access to tanks on the property (for example, the brick tank for Abberley Hall supply was on land owned by no 19, Hillside)

The fire tank system ran on a 6 inch pipe, the spring system only a 3 inch pipe and possibly down to ¾ inch pipe into individual properties, so in turn, diverting the water led to frequent leaks and loss of supply and “vociferous complaints from the owner of the Elms” (i.e. the Brooks) in particular.  The headmaster recounts “many muddy hours helping”  C.J Taylor (Jack Taylor), the maintenance engineer locate leaks usually by digging to locate the fractured pipes.

In December 1934, a chlorination plant was added to the Abberley Hall water supply.

Not all properties had access to the piped fresh water.  Churchfield Terrace, The Walshes and Stockingfield all had wells, Nurton’s Farm had right to abstract water in a spring on the other side of the stream on land belonging to the Walshes. Field Farm had a well with a pump in the paved yard

The 1939 sales particulars of no 55, 58, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65 and 66 The Common make interesting reading.

Nos 55 and 58 accessed water from a public pump approximately where Anne Edwards’ drive is located. A letter of 1954 from the Parish Council to Martley Rural District Council asks for this public pump to be repaired.

Nos 61, 62, 63 and 64 were supplied by standpipes “in the road”, which were part of the original estate water supply, although they do have P marked on the map in their gardens.  No 64 (the house behind the garage) also had a well with a pump.

No 65 and 66 (at the end of the main road end of the Common) had access to water from a draw well in the road – this would have been the well house on the other side of the road.

The four Home Farm Cottages (no 69-72) were also on the estate water  supply.

The village school had its own pump presumably supplied by the nearby spring line.

Possible the philanthropic supply of clean piped water to much of Abberley almost a century before “mains” water arrived is one reason for the low incidence of poor health in the village.

It was not until 1956 that mains water first came to the village, reaching the village school via chlorinated supply on 10th September 1956.  Great Witley did not have mains water either in March 1955.

Abberley Hall school was connected to the mains supply in about 1960, just before Ronnie Yates became headmaster in 1961 (Abberley Hall 1921-1961, Ashton, G.)

The supply was originally from a borehole at Astley, stored in the reservoir on Abberley Hill but changed to Severn-Trent water in the late 1990s.

During a period of lengthy winter power cuts in the early part of the 21st century, the village ran dry as the reservoir emptied and there was no power for the pumps to replenish it.

Even today, some houses still have a private water supply.

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