The Foxearth and District Local History Society
Glemsford's Water Supply

By Andrew Clarke

Glemsford's waterworks was the greatest and most visible project of the Glemsford Urban District Council. Glemsford managed, in 1896, to break away from the yoke of the Melford Rural District (created in 1894). it survived as a separate organisation until 1935. Despite its various problems, the new water supply became a life-saver for the residents of Glemsford.

Glemsford Water Tower
The Glemsford Waterworks are remembered affectionately by older residents, especially  its picturesque Water Tower. Even though things didn't always go well with the project, and the water was brown, and tasted odd, there is no doubting the benefits.  Before we go into the details, here is a plot of the annual deaths in Glemsford over the period when the water supply to Glemsford was planned and implemented.
Plot of death rate
If you look at the trend-line, you'll see that it came into operation in 1904-1905. Before then the death rate was static at 35 a year and it thereafter declined into the mid to low twenties.

In 1897, we get the first hint of a project for a new water supply for Glemsford, mentioned in a report from the local Medical Officer of Health for Glemsford Urban District Council. 
There are five public supplies in the district, viz., at Skates Hill, the Greyhound Inn, the Angel Inn, the Tye Green and at the Crown Inn. 
The supply to these is delivered from land springs, and all have been constant and sufficient during the year, except the spring which supplies the well and pump at the Angel Inn, owing to the very dry autumn this year, the spring failed in November which it had never done before, this it is hoped will recover after the winter rains.
A water supply is much required on Hunt’s Hill, a well was sunk in this popular part of the district in 1873, and water was found at a depth of 126ft. and pumped up for several years, then it failed. This was first due to the pump always getting out of order and always being repaired, until at last it was abandoned as hopeless. Lately the well has been examined and was found to be so defective that repairing it would cost nearly as much as making a new well, therefore steps are now being taken either to sink a new well for this locality, or to utilize the old one, adding an artesian boring for 50 feet, which would reach a depth about 25 feet below the valley of the Stour river, and be certain to secure an ample supply of water.

'25 feet below the Valley'? One day this statement would haunt him. The dry year of 1898 highlighted the problems of the existing water supply. Something must be done, but what? The Annual Report mentioned the project in more detail.
Water Supply. The long drought of the spring and summer, along with a short rainfall the preceeding year, taxed to the utmost the supply of water in the various public wells. All failed occasionally, only yielding an intermittent supply at a time, but recovering after a few days rain. One however failed to do this, and has had to be abandoned, viz., the Angel Inn well. In place thereof the Council took over an old well near the Cock Inn, which was deepened and repaired, a new pump erected and a good supply of water has since been available for this part of the district.
The Skates hill pump has been improved, the well being cleaned out and repaired.
During the year the deep well at Hunts Hill has been thoroughly taken in hand. This important well 126 feet deep, was presented to the parish in 1873, after being in use for several years it failed entirely, and various attempts to recover the water were unsuccessful. A careful examination was made and the brickwork for 118 feet was found to be in excellent condition. An artesian bore of 6 inches diameter was sunk an 100 feet deep, mostly into the chalk, the upper 40 feet being lined with steel tubing. A good supply of water was obtained with a permanent stand at 114 feet from the surface. The supply of water has been tested by steam pumping, and shows that a minimum of 20 gallons per head per day for the whole population is available from this source. This being both the central and highest part of the parish the feasibility of a reservoir and water works becomes only a matter of money outlay

We pick up the narrative four years later. The project for the waterworks and tower is approved and drilling starts. The water wasn't 25 feet down at all. The workers sank the well down 120 feet, and still no sign of the promised water supply. They hadn't understood the Geology. Glemsford is on the bottom edge of a huge plate of chalk tilted up towards Cambridge. The water percolated through the chalk towards Glemsford. It had forty ponds that never dried , a running brook, and a water-powered silk-mill. The valley was a complex mess of glacial debris, gravel, peat and clay. 

Water Supply , A constant supply of water was maintained during the year from the five public pumps. The scheme for providing the district with a general supply from Water works, was further advanced by a Local Government Board enquiry which resulted in a loan being granted to enable a boring to be made. The site selected and approved was in the lowest lying part of the district near the railway station, and a contract was made to sink an 8 inch bore hole into the underlying chalk. It was expected that the chalk would be reached at a depth of 80 or 90 feet, but this has not been realized; as up to the present time a depth of 120 feet has been bored, yet has not penetrated the overlying boulder clay ; still it cannot be far off doing so. One analysis of water from a private well was made, the quality of the sample was not very satisfactory.

Still such optimism. The water would be soon reached. After all, even up at Hunts Hill it was only 126 feet down. Sadly, hopes were dashed. The drilling had to be extended to 520 feet, but the Medical Officer of Health made the best of an embarassing project.

Water Supply. The five public pumps have yielded a constant supply during the year. Substantial progress has been made in the scheme for providing the district with a general supply from Water Works. The boring which was in operation at the time of my last annual report, has after unusual difficulties reached a most abundant supply of good water. It was expected, judging from the depths of neighbouring wells, that the water bearing chalk strata would be reached at a depth of about 120 feet, instead of which a boring of 471 feet had to be sunk through drift before chalk was touched. This was a most extraordinary and unexpected difficulty : the boring having evidently penetrated into a huge hollow or valley in the chalk, filled with the sands clay and gravels of the Glacial drift. Mr. W. Whitaker F.G.S. who advised this site for the boring, reports to me that it is the greatest thickness of drift deposit as yet recorded at least in Southern England.
The boring was extended to a depth of 520 feet, when the water rose 18 inches above the ground level. Four feet below this surface there now issues an overflow at the rate of 60,700 gallons per day. The scheme for distribution of this supply is now waiting the sanction of the Local Government Board.

Success at last. The Waterworks could be completed.  The water-tower was enormous, The top water level was 30ft higher than the Glemsford church tower. 24 fire hydrants are placed at various parts of the village. The cost of the scheme was £3000, not including the cost of the land, engine and the expenses of the engineers. The engineer was J.Eayrs of Birmingham, contractors for engine house and tower was E.Tabor of Cambridge, suppliers of water mains, Holywell Iron Company, mains were laid by A.Appleby of Leyton

Water Supply. The public pumps have yielded a constant supply during the year, with the exception of the one at Angel Lane, which was dry all the summer.
One sample of water from a private well was analysed and found to be impure.
The new water works are now completed and connections are being made. The district has acquired a most excellent and abundant supply of pure water and are to be congratulated with the Council, on this pleasing and beneficial result. The works have been carefully and economically carried out to completion, and show very good value for the outlay entailed.
The following particulars of the Waterworks are now recorded by the Surveyor in his report :
The Council are now in a position to supply pure water from the new waterworks, which have been carried to a successful conclusion during the year. There have been laid 1828 yards of 3in. main, 500 yards of 4in. main, 2465 yards of 3in. main, and 66 yards of 1 1/4 in. galvanized steam tubing. The cost of supplying the pipes, fixing and laying them, together with the hydrants, sluice valves, and other special pipes was approximately £1160. The water which naturally rises in a 520 ft. bore tube to some 12 to 15 inches above the engine house floor, is pumped into a tank on a brick tower against an average static head of 200 feet The motive power is an oil engine developing 11 B.H.P. when running at normal speed. The pumps are of the three-throw vertical ram type, capable of delivering 6,400 gallons per hour when running at 40 revolutions per minute. When pumping at the normal rate the water in the bore tube is lowered some 12 to 15 feet. The total cost of the engine and pumps was £400 and the Pumping Station nearly £200 . The length of the rising main (which is also used as a distributing main) from the pumps to the tank is 1766 yards. The tower on which the tank is placed is a circular structure built in white brick, strengthened with six buttresses and is 45 feet high. The buttresses, bands, window arches and cornice are faced with Leicestershire red bricks. The interior of the tower, in which at present there are three floors with provision for a fourth, will be utilized by the Council for store rooms and offices The cost of the Tower was approximately £400. It is surmounted by a circular steel tank 20ft. 3in. diameter, having a capacity of 30,000 gallons. It is covered by a domed roof to the top of which is fixed a flagstaff. The cost of the tank was £266 

What else could go wrong? Suddenly, in 1906, we get the first mention of a problem that the water that came up from 500ft down below the valley floor was brown in colouration. More to the point, it didn't make good tea. Far from being grateful, the residents of Glemsford were beginning to complain. The'd been used to better water. They started to go back to making tea from the water in the brook.

Water Supply. Three of the public pumps have continued to yield a constant water supply. The well on Tye Green not being satisfactory, a sample of the water was sent me for analysis, and proved to be contaminated with traces of sewage. I therefore advised the Council to close the well, which was done, and the pump removed. The Angel Lane pump which for some years has been condemned, was also closed and the pump removed.
The Surveyor gives the following report on the new water works :
Continued progress has been made in the adoption of the water from the new Waterworks. At the present time there are 291 houses connected with the mains. Notices will shortly be served on owners of dwelling houses, who have not a proper supply of water, to provide such within a specified time. The Council have obtained powers from the Local Government Board, as the result of a local enquiry held in September last, to compel owners to provide their houses with water ; the Board having decided that the charges for water levied by the Council are under the circumstances fair and reasonable. There is a little difficulty with water lying for some hours in the mains, it gets slightly coloured, owing to the presence of iron in the water, there is nothing really harmful in this and may be beneficial, nor is the discolouration always observable. Much is being made of this fact by those who opposed the Waterwork’s scheme, and who think that water like air should be had for nothing. On the other hand there is an increasing majority of persons who are very well satisfied with the water supply. There is no doubt, as experienced in other places, that as the water is more freely used, in time, the trace of iron and also the hardness of the water will gradually diminish.
The average consumption per head, based on the number of houses connected and the average number of occupants is about 5 1/2 gallons.

The report of 1907 tries to argue that there is nothing wrong. However, it was still running brown at the taps. The good people of Glemsford were happy to use the water supply for washing and sanitation but it wasn't considered to be good drinking water. 

Water Supply. The waterworks maintain an abundant supply from the deep boring. Though the quality of the water is one of great organic purity, the presence of a trace of iron in suspension, causes at times some discoloration, and hence complaints ; yet at the same time though objectionable, this trace of iron is not at all harmful, nor impairs the good quality of the water. With the view of trying to eliminate the iron altogether, the Council have consulted Mr J. T. Eayrs, the engineer of the waterworks He has submitted a sample to the Birmingham Analyst, who reports that there is only a quarter grain of iron to the gallon, which is less than it was two years ago, when the regular pumping commenced, so that the iron is diminishing ; and I have no doubt that in a few more years it will have disappeared. Mr. Eayrs makes report that if a process of compressed air pressure and filtration were adopted, the iron could be entirely removed at once. His report is at present under consideration.
The following is the Report of the Surveyor and Sanitary Inspector, Mr. H. L. Taylor.
Since the beginning of April all the old public pumps have been out of use.
Number of houses connected with the new Water supply, 345. Daily average consumption per head, about 5 gallons

Alas, the problem didn't go away as expected

Water Supply. The public water supply has been efficiently maintained. A sample of the water was submitted to analysis, when it was found that the quantity of iron contained in it was more than 4 1/2 times greater than in 1907. This result was very disappointing. The Council now have the question of filtering the water under consideration. There are now 341 houses and premises connected with the mains.

It didn't improve, sadly. Also, they discovered that the water retrieved from the depths of the valley was corroding the tank of the water tower. This was tackled by painting the inside and outside of the tank with an aluminium paint that, for months afterwards, gave the water a rather disgusting flavour. 

 The council took over the rooms in the tower. They had a surveyors office, used by Mr Taylor who collected the rents. It was also used as a council chamber. The pump was tended by a villager appointed to the task. Maintenance was a full-time job. When the pump was working, it could be heard all over the village, and blew the occasional smoke-ring as it puffed away, to the delight of passing children.

Unfortunately, the water won over all attempts to prevent corrosion of the tank. Finally, the corrosion made the tank unsafe and impossible to repair. Basically, the tank dissolved slowly into the brownish corrosive water retrieved from 560 feet below the valley floor and was consumed by the good people of Glemsford. The tower was demolished in 1962, just after the parish council, successor to the Glemsford Urban District Council, made its final payment to clear its overdraft to pay for the edifice. A video exists of the tower being demolished. Unfortunately some of the records of the old Urban District Council were still in place and were lost to posterity.