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EAST HADDON HISTORY SOCIETY Northamptonshire, England

The Tangled History of Water Supply to East Haddon

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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.


It is worthwhile at this point to look at just how much water is in demand per head of population:

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......


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 a solution.

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 to blame.

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 around 500.

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.


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 deaths.

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.


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 Messrs John Blake of Accrington, Lancashire, 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. Information supplied by a Mr Ian Taylor, a historian researching the use of ram pumps, says the water from our pumps was “fed to an iron tank (presumably in the water tower), and from there to the hall, rectory, six farm houses, two dairies and 24 wall fountains for the villagers use.”
 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 either.

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 rate.

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 it.

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.


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.


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 through.

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".


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 again:

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 completed.


Parishes served by scheme Approximate cost of scheme


Cransley 6,500

Gretton 14,000

Harrington, Orton and Loddington 6,000

Little Oakley, Great Oakley, Cottingham, East Carlton, Great Weldon, Middleton, Newton, Geddington and Stanion 16,000

Weldon 4,000

Grafton Underwood 3,000




Boughton 2,000

East Haddon 120

Moulton 4,500

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 1956.


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 fully resolved.

Players in the game included:

The Parish Council

The District Council

The County Council

The Local Government Board

Northampton Corporation

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 years!

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.