Water is an essential to life. Without water we die. It is said that we can go for
three weeks without food, but three days is the human limit without water.
And not just any old water - we have to have clean supplies. Some of the most virulent
diseases are water borne, and impure supplies will very quickly infect large numbers
of people. Contaminated water can look perfectly clean, so a failure in water quality
might not be evident. Until the disease kicks in, that is. Untreated water, whichever
way it is delivered, is dangerous to the consumer, and quite possibly fatal.
Work in London by a Dr Snow in 1854 had established that an impure water supply was
a prime carrier of infectious diseases.
He traced the source of a cholera outbreak to a public water pump in Soho, London.
The well which the pump drew from was contaminated, so the pump handle was removed
to stop any use, and people were directed to other pumps which were not affected.
We need lots of water. The usage rate for the average household has expanded massively
in the last century as we surround ourselves with the trappings of modern living.
Dishwashers, washing machines, cars which need washing, and gardens which need watering,
all place extra demands on the supply. Flushing toilets alone account for about 30%
of usage. And we are cleaner ourselves. Gone are the days when, famously, Queen
Elizabeth 1 claimed to have a bath every year "whether she needed it or not".
The UK is not a place where water is generally in short supply. We get rain, and
certainly enough to supply all our needs. Problems arise in getting the water from
where it arrives to where it is needed, and holding it in store to override dry seasons.
The provision of water has changed over the last 100 years largely from a "serve
yourselves" position to "we will supply you" arrangement.
As people progressively left the land and moved into towns and cities, it became
no longer feasible to use only local wells and fresh water springs, and households
consequently came to rely on piped supplies, at least in urban areas. But these demographic
changes left a lot of people still in rural areas, living in small communities, and
still reliant on local water resources. Huge infrastructure developments were needed
to bring piped water to many rural areas, and generally villages were at the back
of the queue in getting such improvements.
So it will not surprise you to hear that East Haddon has shared in all the problems
experienced by other villages in getting reliable, plentiful, and clean water supplies.
But it will surprise you to learn the extent of the difficulties, and the long delays
this village endured before achieving our present position.
HOW MUCH WATER?
It is worthwhile at this point to look at just how much water is in demand per head
1830 4 gallons per day
1930 28 gallons
2008 33 gallons
For our village population (2001 census) 651, demand at 33 gallons each is approximately
21,500 gallons per day, or almost 8 million gallons per year. That is for household
use only, and excludes any agricultural or industrial use.
Besides the supply of water there is the related problem of sewage disposal. The
other end of the problem we might say. Suffice to say that inadequate water supply
will result in unsatisfactory sewerage arrangements. There are, in old Parish Council
records, plenty of complaints about the offences caused by roadside open ditches
draining sewage into adjacent fields. At some point new drains were laid, consisting
of closed pipework leading to open ditch drains along main roads; they smelt foul.
A modern sewerage system with a sewage farm to the north of Holdenby Road was not
constructed until 1954
We can only speculate on the offence caused by the earlier arrangements, especially
in the hotter months of the year. But let us not dwell on this aspect......
THE SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
We can start in 1577, when Sir Christopher Hatton formed an agreement with others
regarding water supplies in East Haddon. The document, available at the County Records
Office and largely indecipherable, talks about "laying of pypes of lead......". The
outcome is not recorded, but clearly there was a recognition of a problem that needed
Moving on to the 19th Century, we can trace a series of epidemics in the village.
In 1885, the Sanitation Authority reported on an outbreak of diphtheria in East Haddon.
It was widely believed that the poor water supply was the cause, although there were
others who considered overcrowding, and the poor condition of many houses to be equally
Other outbreaks included "Scarletina" 1876, Diphtheria (again) 1889, Scarlet Fever
1899, and German Measles 1905. These cannot be pinned on water shortages or contamination,
but certainly in a village where water supplies were limited, hygiene was difficult,
and would certainly contribute to the incidence of disease, and add to the difficulties
in maintaining good health afterwards.
Increasing population in the village would have strained the water supplies still
further. Following the sale of land by Henry Sawbridge in 1881, the Rugby to Northampton
railway line was under construction, and a number of Navvies lived in East Haddon.
Our population swelled to 752 in the 1880's. Earlier, and later, the population was
The serious outbreak of Diphtheria which occurred in East Haddon in 1889 had some
major consequences. The school was used as a temporary hospital, and of the 134 cases
reported, 17 deaths were recorded. There was some belief that the Churchyard was
connected to this outbreak, and it was closed shortly afterwards, and the new cemetery
opened in 1891.
OUR PROBLEMS ARE NOTICED AT WESTMINSTER
The health issues here did not go unnoticed among our politicians. The problem of
water in East Haddon was discussed in the House of Lords in May 1890, when Earl Spencer
raised the matter. He referred to the outbreak in August 1889 in which "between
26 and 30 people died in a three month period". The Local Government Board, following
this outbreak, in September sent one of their inspectors to East Haddon. He stayed
for 2 weeks, and produced a detailed report, which was only published some 3 months
later. The Rural Sanitation Authority then proposed to drain the village, but it
seems this never came about because of strong local opposition.
The Rural Sanitation Authority determined to give a water supply to the village,
and application had already been made to the Local Government Board for the necessary
authority to obtain a loan for carrying out the project and erecting the new water-works
(water tower?). That application was made on the 20th January 1890
In May 1890 a fresh outbreak of diphtheria occurred, and Earl Spencer in the House
of Lords referred to a telegram he had received from the Vicar, reporting 3 further
By this time, the matter had largely degenerated into a "blame game". Lord Stanley
of Alderly, in the Lords debate, commented on the delays which plagued the matter
of finding a solution for East Haddon. He criticised the arrangements employed by
the local Sanitation Authority: (Hansard):"Instead of employing proper Inspectors
and a proper medical officer they every now and then had an inquiry by a sub-committee,
which was not as effective, not having the experience and know ledge required. This
Report says that the Medical Officer of Health is appointed for the whole area, comprising
about 60,000 acres, and a population of about 13,000 inhabitants. He receives a salary
of £5 per annum, and he is under no obligation to make inspections at all unless
he receives notice from the Sanitation Authority, and for each report he produces
he receives a guinea. I think your Lordships will agree it is impossible to get good
work out of a man for £5 a year. "
In November 1894, a fatal outbreak of typhoid at Holdenby was blamed on the poor
water supply, and a scheme was looked at to draw supplies either from local higher
ground, or from East Haddon who had, in the words of Lord Clifden, "a good supply
of good water". This view was commented on by Mr Churchouse, Medical Officer of Health,
who referred to expert analysis in East Haddon, which said that the supply there
was "pale yellow, but suitable for drinking". A Mr Thomas Amos disagreed, saying
that even horses and donkeys would not drink East Haddon water.
In all this time, people in this village, in common with most other villages in the
area, relied on wells and springs to serve their needs. In some cases houses had
their own well - Hall Farm has a well inside the house. My own house, built in 1901,
does not have a well, but it has a cistern under the courtyard paving. This is built
like a well, and rainwater is fed into it from gutters and downspouts. The water
is unsuitable for drinking, but it was OK for things like the laundry.
THINGS GET BETTER
In 1890 the East Haddon water tower was built. This held water tanks, which were
supplied by ram pumps positioned in the brook on the Ravensthorpe Road. A Mr Hunt
oversaw the work here, and the ram pumps were supplied by a Mr Blake, at a cost of
£457. A ram pump is an ingenious device, which requires no power input, yet pumps
water uphill - in our case about 120 feet uphill. These pumps continued in use until
the early 1930's.
Around the early 1900's a proposal was considered to install a pipe to take water
from an existing line which supplied Long Buckby from a small reservoir behind Covert
Farm. The proposed pipe route into East Haddon is shown as a dotted line on a plan
marked up by Thomas Hennell the County Engineer, and labelled "if desired". It
was never installed as far as I can find.
So for many people in the village, their water came from the water tower. Water was
gravity fed from its two tanks, which had, according to Pigs Pubs & People, a combined
capacity of 10,000 gallons. This figure is questionable. 10,000 gallons would have
needed tanks of 6 feet diameter, totally filling the diameter of the tower, and some
57 feet high, which is at least double the height of the tower. An article in the
Northampton Mercury (12th November 1954) suggested the tower held "two tanks which
hold a total of 5000 gallons". The tower could not accommodate tanks of this size
The tower is actually big enough for tanks of 6 feet diameter maximum, but these
would allow no access space at all. It is likely that rectangular tanks were used,
and the space available would suggest 2 tanks each of 500 gallons. Jonathan Smith
remembers there being two tanks, mounted on a raised framework, with an access ladder
also inside the tower. The available space inside the tower would suggest around
1000 gallons tank capacity.
A capacity of 1000 gallons would have allowed approximately two gallons per day per
person in the village. That is half the average daily usage rate at that time.
The tower continued in use certainly into the 1950's: Phillip Blacklee tells me that
when he and Sylvia came to the village in 1949, the water tower was their main source,
although this supply was only available for about 4 hours per day before the tanks
ran dry. In their garden they also had a well as a "back-up" supply.
Other wells and springs around the village were used by inhabitants as an alternative
supply point. Not all the houses in the village enjoyed water from the tower. Ken
Craddock remembered (PP&P) that when his father took over the bakery in 1925, they
had no mains water and all their water had to be collected from the pump opposite
their house. They also had a well in the garden, but its water was not drinkable
and could only be used on the garden.
But whatever the storage capacity of the water tower, the overriding factor was the
rate at which the ram pumps could deliver water. In dry periods , or when the water
flow was obstructed by debris, that would be reduced.
By 1928, the quantity of water delivered by the ram pumps had declined to a poor
At that time there was in the village a Mr Page, who was paid 3 shillings (15p) per
week to maintain the primitive sewerage arrangements. This was increased to 5 shillings
p.w. (25p) so he could look after the ram pumps as well. Mr Page is reputed to have
enjoyed alcohol, and some afternoons, when he was overwhelmed by the excess, he would
sleep, often resulting in failure of the pumps and the water supply. The ram pumps
were replaced by electric units in 1932 so presumably Mr Page was obliged to find
another source of income to fund his drinking habits.
East Haddon Hall had its own water supply, presumably sourced from its own springs.
In 1896 Mr Thomas Hennell, the County Engineer, was engaged to produce a report and
proposals to improve the water supply to the Hall. He looked at a variety of options,
mostly based on using a choice of springs. He discarded an option of using springs
in the kitchen garden, worked by a "pump and horse run", because he thought there
was not enough water there, and also because its quality was questionable. The so
called "Bath Pit " spring, located to the North of the hall and producing about 2000
gallons per day, was also considered, and could be pumped by an oil engine, but this
would need to run 24/7. Other options based on combining the output of various springs
was looked at, but Mr Hennell eventually raised the option of building a scheme to
supply the Hall and the whole village in a single scheme. This proposed using oil
engines driving pumps at various wells around the village, and bring the supplies
into a tank located near Covert Farm, which would give sufficient "head" of water
to supply the Hall and also the water tower. This scheme could give about 20,000
gallons per day, equivalent to 3 days total demand. Mr Hennell considered the existing
arrangements unsatisfactory because of "frequent interruptions" to the supply. His
scheme was not adopted, presumably because of the major expense required to implement
Interestingly, John Beynon has a well in the garden close to the back of the church,
and this supply is used to water the garden.
THE FIRST RESERVOIR
In 1884, land had been acquired in Ravensthorpe, on which was built the reservoir,
and later on, the water treatment works. Completed in 1904, the opening of the reservoir
was a major event, attended by the great and the good, with a large marquee erected
to house the extensive lunch. Ravensthorpe was the first reservoir to be built in
Northamptonshire, and its 100 acre water holds around 414 million gallons. The water
from this reservoir was used to supply Northampton town, (and not East Haddon!),
and in the early days the absence of any water treatment at the reservoir enabled
the odd tadpole to make it all the way into town. Coffee with tadpole additive, anybody?
Hollowell reservoir was built in the 1930's, and water from there is fed through
a tunnel into Ravensthorpe reservoir.
MEANWHILE, BACK AT EAST HADDON
The supply from the water tower was not sufficient for the village, and this had
been a cause of complaint for years. By May 1928 Brixworth Rural District Council
were proposing a scheme to borrow £350 to fund improvements to the pumping arrangements
for East Haddon. In December of the same year, while East Haddon Parish Council were
in favour of the £350 scheme, the Ministry of Works stepped in and vetoed the plan,
as "it had been turned down years ago, as the proposed source was too close to the
village and might become contaminated by local sewerage pollution". The Ministry
favoured a more ambitious scheme, costing £1500. Our Parish Council were offended
by this idea, and claimed it would "saddle the village with a 9 pence rate for 40
years". The Clerk to the Parish Council was instructed to tell the Ministry that
if the £350 scheme was not allowed, then the village would raise money and get it
done themselves, and also to tell the Ministry to "leave East Haddon alone!".
Mr Frank Tomlinson, the Water Engineer to Northampton Corporation, was called in
to look at the matter, with assurances that the ministry had no wish to inflict a
big scheme on East Haddon if the cheaper alternative would do the job.
The outcome was that East Haddon were forced to get a tender for the larger scheme,
from Messrs Billing & Leatherland, from Ravensthorpe. And the Ministry forced this
The quarrel about upgrading the water supply had lasted for years. It was finally
resolved, and work started on 3rd June 1929.
Quite what this improvement was is not at all clear, but possibly it was the installation
of electric pumps at the spring on Richard Spencer's land. This scheme is believed
to have replaced the ram pumps at the Washbrook. The scheme, completed in 1932, still
only fed water to the tower.
So the underlying reality at this stage was that there was still no mains pressure
water in East Haddon. Those houses connected to the tower had only a gravity feed
arrangement, and limited daily quantity.
By October 1948, at a meeting of our Parish Council, it was reported that "a good
many houses were not getting more than one hour's water supply per day ". Mr Russell,
from Brixworth Rural District Council, outlined a "new scheme" which was planned,
and due to come into effect in two years. (Could this be the scheme that became Pitsford
Reservoir?). Meanwhile Brixworth RDC had posted notices on all the hand pumps stating
that the water was unfit for drinking. The meeting resolved that Mr Mitchison, MP
for Kettering, be requested to raise the matter with the Ministry of Health to ask
that they send a representative to hear grievances, "with a view to getting a better
water supply at a very early date".
ACTION AT LAST
As early as 1946, the Mr Mitchison had been pressing Aneurin Bevan, the Minister
of Health, about the absence of piped water supplies in many parishes in Northamptonshire.
The Minister replied then that "no improvements have been made since the matter was
last raised", but he referred to a scheme on land at Pitsford, saying "I am hoping
that such a scheme will prove practicable".
In 1950, in a House of Commons debate on Public Health, Mr Mitchison was on his feet
Mr. Mitchison asked the Minister of Health for which parishes in the Kettering and
Brixworth rural districts have proposals for piped water supplies been submitted
since July, 1945; which proposals have been approved; which are in course of execution;
which have been completed and when; and at what cost.
Mr. Bevan replied:
The following table gives the list of parishes for which schemes have been submitted.
All the schemes have been finally authorised and have commenced except that for the
parish of Marston Trussell, which has been approved in principle, and that for Grafton
Underwood, which is under consideration. I am unable to say which schemes have been
KETTERING RURAL DISTRICT
Parishes served by scheme Approximate cost of scheme
Harrington, Orton and Loddington 6,000
Little Oakley, Great Oakley, Cottingham, East Carlton, Great Weldon, Middleton, Newton,
Geddington and Stanion 16,000
Grafton Underwood 3,000
BRIXWORTH RURAL DISTRICT
East Haddon 120
Arthingworth, Lamport, Draughton, Maid well and Kilmarsh 24,000
Clipston, Sulby, East Farndon, Welford, Sibbertoft and Great Oxendon 27,000
Hannington, Scaldwell, Holcot, Walgrave and Old Naseby 24,000
Hollowell, Great Creaton, Ravensthorpe, Spratton, East Hadden, Holdenby, Guildsborough,
Cold Ashby, Thornby, Naseby and Haselbeech 93,000
Marston Trussell 2,000
Within this overall scheme, the £93,000 item covered the connection of several villages
to the then planned reservoir at Pitsford. This facility came on stream fully in
ROLL THE CREDITS!
The astonishing fact is that mains pressure piped water did not come to East Haddon
until 1956, when Pitsford Reservoir became fully operational. Up till then, it was
still a matter of using water from the tower, or a well, or one of the village hand
pumps. Or in some cases water stored in a cistern.
Clearly, back in 1890 there was recognition that the arrangements in the village
were unsatisfactory, as they were in many other villages. Certainly the problems
were evident before that time, but 1890 was when some positive action was taken,
in our case producing the water tower. From then, until 1956, despite the continuing
problems associated with inadequate water supplies, it took 66 years to get the matter
Players in the game included:
The Parish Council
The District Council
The County Council
The Local Government Board
The Sanitation Board
The Ministry of Works
The Ministry of Health
various Engineers producing copious reports on the matter
Mr Mitchison, the MP for Kettering
The local Medical Officer of Health.
Despite this undoubted wealth of professional care and expertise, it still took 66
If nothing else, the story of water supplies in East Haddon is a tale of fortitude
and endurance. The time taken to resolve the matter speaks volumes about the bureaucracy
of the day. While all the various bodies recognised the problem, it took a very long
time indeed to come up with a solution.
So, we should celebrate every time we turn on the tap. And be quietly thankful that
the water that comes out is clean and safe to drink.