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Photographs by courtesy of, Eric Fowell, Samuel Powell, Donald Pack & Rangers of Sywell Country Park.

The Rushden and Higham Ferrers Water Board
Part 1: The Search for Water

A Council water cart in Station Road, 1908.
Council Water Cart

The two most important undertakings of local authorities at the end of the 19th Century were the provision of a public water supply and a town drainage scheme.  In order to keep pace with the late-Victorian rapid expansion of Rushden the Urban District Council identified the urgent requirement of a piped water supply.  Although most houses had their own shallow wells which gave a sufficient volume for drinking purposes, many were becoming contaminated by sewage due to the poor drainage.

Exploration for a reliable source of water began in 1891 with trial wells being sunk on land belonging to Mr. Sartoris on Bedford Road.  Unfortunately this search proved fruitless.

Plans were proposed in 1892 for a system which was estimated would yield about 79,000 gallons of water per day by laying drains at or near the top of the water in the sand near Wymington, and by draining from the bottom it should be possible to increase this to about 237,000 gallons per day.  Instead, further wells were sunk in Wymington which met with success.  Tenders were put out in May 1893 for the construction of a waterworks, and in 1894 John Carrod was appointed engine driver and caretaker at the pumping station with John Sargent as the collector of the water rate and rents. 

Early in 1895 water mains were laid along Coffee Tavern Lane, Manton Road and from Park Road into Crabb Street.  Property owners were responsible for financing the laying of the water mains to their own properties.  Those who failed to comply were reported and instructed to pay.  Water rates for a house with a rateable value of £16 were 4/6d [22.5p] per quarter.  Elsewhere a certain amount of piped water was available, mainly sourced from stand pipes which either drew off the water table or from wells, as was the case in 1896 when a gas pipe was ruptured in Higgins Lane (College Street) Rushden, and a stand pipe was brought from the fire station and a volume of water was poured on the fire.  However this was not very reliable.

Despite the initial optimism, the water supply from the Wymington Wells soon proved inadequate.  More trial wells were sunk at sites on Bedford Road and the Moors (the area west of Spencer Park on the present site of Rushden School), and also at Sharnbrook, but none was successful.

Meanwhile at Higham Ferrers, the Town Council met in May 1897 to discuss a permanent water supply for the town.  Mr York, the Borough Surveyor, told the meeting that he had written to Mr Gataker, a water diviner from Bath, to let him know that a well had been sunk at the spot he had indicated, but it was insufficient.  In reply Mr Gataker proposed to send his assistant, Mr Wills, to pay a visit, and indicated that he expected the Council would pay his out of pocket expenses.  Following a discussion, the Council resolved that Mr Wills should come from Bath to inspect the site and decide whether it was worthwhile to continue with the bore hole or to abandon it.

In his Special Report on the Rushden Water Supply as required by the Local Government Board in February 1898, Dr C R Owen, Medical Officer of Health,  reported on the decrease in the water supply from Wymington.  The surface wells, which had been sunk 28 feet in sand by the Board in 1893, and initially supplied water at the rate of 100,000 gallons in ten hours pumping, had since dropped to 50,000 gallons in 24 hours pumping.  A fresh well had been sunk in the same area, producing at the beginning 15,000 gallons of water in 24 hours pumping, but this rapidly decreased necessitating the Council to seek another source.

The Council sub-committee reported with reference to the springs at the Moors that, on taking levels, they had found it would be extremely difficult to get the water into the mains.  A visit was made to the Wymington Valley where the springs there were carefully gauged and the amount of water available was found to be 34,000 gallons per day, which they suggested should be conveyed into a receiving tank capable of holding 20,000 gallons.  A steam engine would then be required on the pumps to force the water up the rising mains to the well at the pumping station, a distance of about 1,150 yards.  Tenders were accepted by the Council and boring took place through the layer of Lias Clay to about 250 feet where it was hoped an abundant supply would be found.

Unfortunately, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the provision of water from these sources failed to keep pace with the continued rise in the population of Rushden, and similar problems were being encountered at Higham Ferrers.

The most important matter before the Rushden Urban Council in April 1901 was the provision of an adequate supply of pure and wholesome water at the earliest possible moment.  After exhaustive investigations, Mr Middleton, the water expert appointed by the Council to investigate the provision of pure water at Sharnbrook, reported that trials indicated that this was an unlikely source and suggested several alternative schemes the cheapest of which would involve the expenditure of many thousands of pounds.  The Waterworks Committee reported that the trial operations at Sharnbrook had not yet been completed and felt that there was still a reasonable prospect of finding sufficient water of good quality there and something further ought to be done in that direction before the adoption of any of the schemes suggested by Mr Middleton.

In May, the Rushden Tradesmen’s Association drew the attention of the Council to the condition of the streets and the annoyance caused by the great quantity of dust on the roads.  It was pointed out that the tradesmen sustained a great amount of damage through the dust, but the Council responded that the watering of the streets was already taking place.  The Surveyor, Mr Madin, could not see what else the Council could do, beyond carting water from the Moors which was a very expensive exercise, and he regretted it was therefore only possible to water High Street from that source.

The Rushden Echo, 13th May, 1898, transcribed by Gill Hollis

The Water Crisis at Rushden
Failure of The Trial Boring - What Shall Be Done Next?
(Special to the Echo)

Unfortunately the experimental boring at the trial hole, situated near the present pumping station at Wymington, has proved to be unsuccessful, and the Urban Council of Rushden will now have to turn their attention elsewhere in order to find a permanent supply.

It will be remembered that the Council commenced operations at the trial bore about ten weeks ago, the contractors being Messrs. Timmins and Sons, of Runcorn, their representative, Mr. Jukes, being in charge of the works.

The Total Cost

of the experiment will be £400 or £500, and the boring has now been carried to a depth of 300 feet, as decided upon at a meeting of the Council. The first 22 feet consisted of valley gravel, and thence, down to a depth of 250 feet, the boring went through the upper lias. From a depth of 250 feet to 270 feet is the broken strata of marlstone and from that downwards to 300 feet is the lower lias. To the keen disappointment of all concerned, no water has been met with, and now that the lower lias has been reached it would, of course, be perfectly useless to proceed further with the experiment.

Upon the advice of Mr. Eunson, who is the consulting engineer and water expert, the Council decided to fire

A 10lb. Dynamite Shot

at a depth of 262 feet, where the marl stone was expected to be, to see what effect this would have upon the strata, which seems so dense and so close as to keep the water back if there should be any there. It appears that in several instances in the country an explosion of this sort has had the effect of making a way for water to run into a bore.

The dynamite was fired on Wednesday last at about 4.20 p.m., in the presence of Mr. John Claridge (chairman of the Urban Council), Mr. Horace Brawn, Mr. Eunson, C.E., Mr. W. B. Madin (the surveyor), Mr. John Mason, and others. The vibration was felt for many yards around, but unfortunately there was no flow of water into the boring, which has now, of course, to be abandoned.

In order to obtain

A Temporary Supply

of water a well was sunk last summer in the immediate neighbourhood of the pumping station at Wymington, but nearer the Midland Railway. The well was carried to a depth of 35 or 36 feet, into the gravel and sand. The supply here, however, is a diminishing quantity, so as to be hardly worth the cost of keeping up, though, of course, the well was sunk with the best of intentions. At first this well yielded about 15,000 or 16,000 gallons per day, but the amount per day now is only about 9,000 gallons. The gathering ground here is very limited.

A few weeks ago the Council decided to seek an additional supply of water on land occupied by Mr. Goosey, and situated on the other side of the railway. Early in March Mr. Madin, the surveyor, was instructed by the Council to gauge the springs which had been inspected by the committee with the object of

Preparing a Scheme

for utilizing this water. Mr. Madin has carried out this scheme, which includes a reservoir capable of holding about 22,000 gallons of water, and it is expected that this will fill each night. There are 1,200 yards of rising main, against a head of 36 feet. It will be worked by a steam pump and boiler. It is expected that this supply will be available by the middle of next week, and hopes are entertained that this additional supply will prove of great service to the town. The works here have been carried out by the Council, under the direction and supervision of Mr. Madin, no contract having been entered into by the Council. This naturally has thrown a great deal of

Extra Labour

upon Mr. Madin, but the work has been done very willingly, and it must be a satisfaction to the authorities to have in Mr. Madin such an excellent successor to Mr. Pare, the late surveyor. Yesterday (Thursday) the workmen were engaged in fixing the pump, which has been supplied by Mr. J. S. Clipson, and that gentleman is also supplying the engine. Mr. T. Yorke, the chief plumber under the Council, has charge of the laying of the mains, and Mr. Geo. Burgess has superintended the excavations.

Disappointed at not finding water at the trial bore, the Council are now turning their attention elsewhere. They have several things in view. One suggestion is to go to the Moors, near the Hayway, for a further temporary supply to tide over the crisis until a permanent supply is obtained. Meanwhile Mr. Eunson and Mr. Cameron, the eminent geologist, of Bedford, have been instructed by the Council to investigate the geological nature of the surrounding district and to make a report accordingly.

The Argus 27th May 1898, transcribed by Kay Collins

Local Notes
We are glad to be able to state that the supplemental water supply at Rushden has yielded a greater quantity of water than the Urban Council ever anticipated obtaining. It was conjectured that the supply would not exceed about twenty thousand gallons a day, but on one day in the present week no less than forty-two thousand gallons were pumped from this source to the reservoir, while there is now a greater depth of water in the tank than has been secured for a long time past, not excepting tho occasion when the well gave such an ample supply directly after it was sunk. The Council appear to be surmounting the difficulties with which they are surrounded, but they must not relax their efforts because the strain has been temporarily relieved. The supplemental or surface supply, although most acceptable at the present critical juncture, is not a desirable source upon which a town should have to depend for a permanent supply of water. We hope that as, a result of the geological survey which was carried out last week the Council will, at the next meeting, report upon the investigations and consider the advisability of adopting another scheme.

2 Caves' factory fire 3 Town meetings 4 Joint Board formation 5 Water turned on 6 Sywell Scheme

Water Supply Introduction

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