Water diviner 'Cough John' called in to settle problem

Weston had water supply problems for centuries. One can imagine that when the Ancient Britons decided to settle on Worlebury one of the chiefs stroked his beard and pondered

Weston had water supply problems for centuries. One can imagine that when the Ancient Britons decided to settle on Worlebury one of the chiefs stroked his beard and pondered: "Nice spot, but where do we get water?" And where did they get it? There are no springs on the western end of Worlebury.A pioneer in laying a piped water supply at Weston was a lady who was no lady - but one hastens to add in justice to her reputation that her morals were not in question. She was known as 'Lady' Rooke because of her bountiful ways and dignified bearing, but really had no title. It has been said that in an emergency between 7,000 and 10,000 people could have been packed within its ramparts of the great stone fortress of Worlebury. Until modern times there were wells along the southern foot of Worlebury, but the western part of the hill is absolutely dry. The nearest supply for the Worlebury tribes was down the steep slope on the northern side to the spring at Spring Cove, near the entrance to today's toll road.Spring Cove, which is still known as such, provided the oldest known Weston water supply. Here was the famous Dripping Well Cave that was described as "A solemn place, high vaulted, with water, pure, and cold, dripping from the roof into a crystal pool below". This supply was said never to fail in drought or frost, and authorities have suggested that it was the supply used by the inhabitants of Worlebury Camp centuries ago.Tradition claims that in 1854 a dog was put down a hole in the hilltop and was later heard barking on the beach below. Of course, what may have happened is that the dog was let out into the small cave on the northern ramparts of Worlebury Camp. It runs only a short distance before opening out on to the hillside. It was Worlebury's secret entrance. The dog, of course, would only have gone a few yards underground and would then have emerged to scamper off down to the beach.Another dog said to have been put in a cave at Manor Road (now blocked up) also surfaced at Spring Cove - but without a hair on its body!Unfortunately the Dripping Well Cave was destroyed on February 21st, 1861, when after heavy rain and wild weather, there was a considerable landslide at Spring Cove.There is no record that Weston ever had anything in the nature of a holy well, but it certainly had wells that were regarded a miraculous because they filled with fresh water when the tide went out, and emptied as it came in.In Visitors' Handbook, Jackson comments: "Formerly this circumstance was thought a miraculous event, but modern science has explained the marvel. The well is connected with gradually narrowing rock-fissure open to the pressure of the tide which produces a retarding effect upon the spring".There was a miracle well in the grounds of Cairo Lodge, later the Cairo Hotel. Another was in the grounds of Glentworth Hall, and yet another was said to exist near Grove House in Grove Park.For some years the only water supply available to householders in Weston was from wells. At one of the first auctions of land for building in the town an advertisement stated that there was "excellent spring water to be found on each lot at a depth of 15 feet".Many of the houses on the hill were built before there was a piped supply in that area, and it was necessary to go very much deeper up there to find water. A few years ago a well uncovered in the Shrubbery was found to have a depth of nearly 100 feet.Albert Rossiter, a plumber's apprentice to David Gill, a former chairman of the town commissioners, once told how he had been down wells in Southside, Royal Crescent, Park Place, Raglan Circus and South Road. Some of them had elaborate pumps. There was a well at Charleston House, Madeira Road, 95 feet deep, and at Sutton House nearby one 105 feet deep.Mr Rossiter also commented: "The older generation used to say there was an underground channel flowing from Worle through Milton and Ashcombe to the Old Pier, but I fancy this stream was covered over by the Promenade when it was built."Years later, when they were building the Winter Gardens Pavilion they came upon underground streams, and it was necessary to put the building on special foundations, which greatly added to the cost. Similar streams were found when constructing the Swimming Pool. In the 1840s a rather formidable lady, Lady Rooke, lived on the hill. She gave the Shrubbery district its interesting exclusive character, and served houses from her own private water supply. Lady Rooke lived at Villa Rosa, a fine house which she had built about 1847, and which was demolished a few years ago.The grounds of Villa Rosa were attractively laid out and it became the showplace of the neighbourhood. It was said of her: "She made it almost the one object of her life to sing Weston's praises and induced strangers to reside here".She is said to have held despotic sway over local affairs for nearly 40 years. Tradespeople, town commissioners, were all careful not to offend her. She was extremely generous; but when she got an idea into her head she pursued it doggedly and would brook no opposition.It was said she was used to overcoming obstacles because in her youth she was a famous cross country rider noted for topping five barred gates like a bird!More houses were built in the Shrubbery district, but Weston's modest water supply scheme did not serve the area. Lady Rooke decided to sink her own well, and soon had a fine supply of water which was of the same content as that of the Ashcombe springs, which were then Weston's only source of supply.She had pumping machinery installed and built a tower for a reservoir. This tower still stands in Tower Walk. In 1890 the Weston Waterworks Company bought the well, tower, and plant, and in later years the local authority continued to use the reservoir in their service to the Shrubbery district.Then the tower was converted into living accommodation, and later it became Mrs Peggy Nisbet's doll factory,The spring developed as a public supply for Weston was that at Ashcombe Park. Ernest Baker made the following note: "Nearby opposite the present waterworks' pumping station in Milton Road, and on the left hand side of the road when coming into town, there may be seen about 200 yards to the south, a patch of land or mound slightly raised above the level of the surrounding ground."In old days when the waters of the Channel flowed over the low-lying Marsh up to the feet of the Mendips, this mound was above the sea level, and was connected by a stone causeway with the slope of the hill above high water mark."In the centre of this mound was a well which was called the Well in the Sea, and to this day the name has survived, for the mound, now planted with orchard trees, is called Wellsea Orchard, and the rhyne adjoining is Wellsea Rhyne."Some few years ago, we, in conjunction with the late Mr Hans Price excavated a little on the site and traced the Causeway, but we found only a few sea shells and water-worn pebbles; and nothing more; the situation of the well we identified by a slight depression, but we did not attempt to open it up."Wellsea orchard and the land around it has now disappeared under building development. The Welsea rhyne, I imagine, has been piped. The name of Wellsea does survive, though, in Wellsea Grove, a cul-de-sac off Locking Road. It probably gets its name from the one time nearby Wellsea Rhyne since, of course, it is some distance from the site of Weston's curious Well in the Sea.Under the Weston Waterworks Act a company was formed in 1953 to provide a public supply. It acquired the spring on or near the pumping station site and inaugurated a supply for the population of 5,000. The supply was augmented by sinking a shallow well close to the spring.The Town Commissioners had the chance to buy out this undertaking in 1871 for £32,000, but after a stormy meeting of townspeople they decided not to do so. A local character named John Hodge worked his way to the front amid cries of "Speak Up, John". The Mercury reported his speech: "Gentlemen, I become here wi truth and honesty on me side, so fur as me knowledge goes, and I baint afeerd to face the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Exchequer ... (Loud laughter) .... You do know as well as I that this here Water Works have been in use this 18 or 19 years and how the engines and pipes have been wored for that time. We be gwain to buy a second-hand thing, what's a'wored out, for £32,000."There's a purty thing for we poor ratepayers to look at! Gentlemen mid be able to pay the rates, but I tell what 'tis, the little shopkeepers and the workmin int. Dree and sixpence is as much as we can pay .... Keep yer eyes open and don't be gulled by these sharp-shooters" (Loud laughter and applause).The upshot of the meeting was that the Weston Commissioners did not buy the Weston water undertaking for £32,000. They waited another seven years and then in 1878 bought it for £65,000!The Ashcombe spring provides a supply of 750,000 gallons a day, but this was not enough for growing Weston. There was a further move to acquire Banwell's Bana's Well - the spring that lay beneath Banwell's village pond. It was a pity that Banwell's pretty pond with its swans, and whose waters had turned the wheels of the adjoining mill for centuries should have to go. But Weston's water needs were great. The flow of the Banwell spring is substantial. It gives fairly hard water, and under Statute a minimum of 500,000 gallons a day has to be released down the Banwell River to maintain the river's flow and serve the needs of agriculture.

You may also want to watch:

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter