How the water came to Child Okeford

On August 29th 1913 a meeting was held of the Sturminster Newton Rural District Council. There were two topics on the agenda, the first was the shortage of affordable housing in the local villages and the second was the state of the sanitation in the same villages. It was noted that in Child Okeford there was a specific nuisance “caused by the outfall of crude sewage matter into the stream crossing the public road [at Millbrook in the hollow] and passing through private property at Child Okeford.”

More generally in the villages there was a problem of contamination of the water supply from “Dairies, Cow sheds and milk shops” and the waste from slaughterhouses. Almost every village had its own slaughterhouse and in the days when many people kept a pig it was often killed at home adding to the problem.

Dr Mivart, the Local Government Board inspector, recommended that efforts should be made to obtain expert advice on the provision of public water supplies for Stalbridge, Marnhull, Child Okeford and Kings Stag and also to the introduction of a service to remove “house refuse: such public scavenging should include the emptying of closet pails and privies”.

In reply Mr F Baverstock from Child Okeford gave an answer that resonates down the centuries “the parishes could not afford to pay, They had not got the people or the money”. Until the 1930’s the villagers depended on wells for their water supply and the 6 inch Ordnance Survey map from the early 20th century shows their position and many houses still have them in their gardens today [at least ours does!] The wells are marked with a [W] and there were in addition many pumps [P] scattered throughout the village which were often shared between the houses , the villagers having to carry the water back home using buckets supported on yokes.

The manor house had its own windmill to pump water and on the 1911 OS map there is a curiously named “Tank hydraulic ram” , the purpose of which is to pump water from a low level to a higher one. It is near a field known as “watering pieces” on the tithe map and was presumably the site of a constantly running spring. Where the tank pumped water to is not known. 

In 1920 The Honorable Mrs A W Heber Percy, the owner of the Manor House agreed to allow a pipe to be laid from the manor house [where there were three pumps and one open well] to the school on the proviso that it should be used for domestic purposes only and not for the purposes of trade, watering cattle or cleansing carriages with a hose. Presumably the children were free to cleanse their carriages with a bucket and sponge! The rent for this supply was £2 per annum and it is clear that although the agreement refers to the pipe as a water “main” it was in fact no more than a pipe from a pump on the estate. This arrangement appears to have lasted until at least 1939 when the solicitors to the new owner [Mr Glasbrook] wrote to the school managers stating that they could not undertake to guarantee the quality of the water the manor supplied.

Nothing more is heard about the water supply to the village between 1913 and 1933 when there was a proposal to pipe water from a spring at Belchalwell to the neighbouring villages including parts of Child Okeford.This was a proposal by the estate of Lord Rivers to supply water to “existing customers with an extension to the malthouses, Abergavenny and Okeford Common”. The implication is that some villagers at least were already being supplied with running water from this spring under a private arrangement.

Again little came of it, according to the Millennium book the Parish council decided that “there was no need at all for Child Okeford to be included in the water scheme which has been suggested. The village is supplied with excellent wells which have never failed.” This was not quite case however as was proved in 1935 when there was a very dry summer and  the matter came to the fore again with another meeting of the Sturminster Rural District Council. By this time most of the villages had a public water supply and there was a proposal by the council to extend this to Child Okeford and Hanford. At the time the number of houses in the village was 183 with a population of 626 and most of the houses had access either to their own or a shared well. 160 house would be able to access the new water supply [at their own expense however] and it was not clear what these homes would do.

The cost was to be met by a loan from the Ministry of Health of £3994.

The village was divided; at a meeting called by the parish council 38 villagers attended and a vote was taken. 19 supported the proposal and 19 were opposed. A subsequent canvas of the house holds in the village showed that whilst 23% were in favour 59.2% were opposed with the remainder having no opinion on the matter.

As it happened the summer of 1935 was exceptionally dry and according to Mr T Oliver, the villages’ representative to the council, many of the wells in the village had run dry, a claim that Captain H G S Bower who represented the objectors said applied  to only two houses in the village who had had no water that summer.

Given the summer we have just had the thought of having no water doesn’t bear thinking about but they were clearly hardier souls in those days.

The matter, as in 1913 revolved around money and the burden that would fall on the rate payers. Captain Bower said that “for a water scheme to be taken to a village they [the council] must show an urgent need from the majority of people concerned” and that the result of the village survey did not show such a need. The cost of the scheme would mean the rates would go up and that since what came into the village had to also go out a sewage scheme would also have to be introduced.

The only people to benefit would be the dairy farmers, he said, who would be able to get their “Grade A Milk Certificate.”

The proposal was supported by the local Medical Officer for health who argued that the wells were shallow, liable to contamination, as well as drying out. He was supported by the village doctor Dr Richardson who stated that “from a purely medical point of view it was most important that the village should have a constant supply of water.”

In the event the Sturminster council carried the day and water eventually arrived in 1936. It had a long journey. The spring [Cookswell] was near Okeford Fitzpaine from where it was pumped up to the Okeford Hill reservoir and thence distributed via gravity to Manston, Fontmell Parva, Child Okeford and Hanford. The plan estimated that the village would require a staggering 98,000 gallons a day. It is hard to imagine that the  villagers drew an equivalent amount out of the wells.

The Millenium book records the response of one villager “look ‘ere, the Almighty give us that water and now they be puttin’ in pipes us ‘ull have to pay for it”. He was said to be very angry.

Sources : The Millennium Book, Western Gazette

Comments are closed.