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Well Dressing by Blidworth Oaks Primary School to celebrate Queen Elizibeth II diamond jubilee on 5th June 2012

The Domesday Book includes the village of Blidworth in its chronicles. We can therefore assume that there was a supply of pure water for the inhabitants to drink. In fact Blidworth is most fortunate as sitting upon an almost endless supply of underground water that is trapped in the Bunter Sandstone that covers much of Nottinghamshire. The water table under Blidworth generally follows the lie of the land and so rather than there being a horizontal layer of water saturated sandstone the water table roughly follows the contours of the area.  

This would explain why some of the wells of Blidworth had to be excavated to almost one hundred and fifty feet and why at any time of high rainfall, springs run freely from the highest point of the village. This is still evident as you travel the road beyond the Church of St Mary’s down the road towards Fishpool. The north side of the road near Clay Bank Villas is often running with spring water from the land nearby.  

Any description of the wells and water supply of Blidworth has to include information and material previously researched by Blidworth local historians Shelia Stokes and Will Richards and grateful acknowledgement is given here for their immensely important contributions.  

Thomas Langdon’s map of 1613 shows ‘Parte of Blithe worth’ and there are two ‘High welles’ marked to the southwest of the village. The first chronicled ‘water well’ excavation was that by J.P. Briscoe in the Parish Register of 1894 and it concerned the tragic event of an Eakring* mason, John Allen, who was killed when a bucket of spoil broke from the hauling rope and landed on him. This was on the 31st March 1629 and he was buried the same day in St Mary’s Church. There is a pavior in the church inscribed with emblems of tools of a freemason’s trade, a hammer and square and this could be where John Allen is buried but it is more likely that it marks the grave of the mason who was killed in 1736 whilst digging a vault. The well could have belonged to Thomas and Mary Crammer who are recorded as living at Rockside in 1676. On October 7th 1985’ workmen were clearing the site at Rockside, close to the summit on Field Lane, where one of the oldest houses in the village had stood and discovered a well that was 114feet deep.  

Having access to pure water was vital to every inhabitant of the village and disputes over the right to draw water were inevitable. One argument had to judged in the Nottingham Midsummer Assizes. It was reported in the Nottinghamshire Guardian of 29th July 1864 that a Mr Boothroyd, the landlord of cottages near Blidworth was claiming £25 from a Mr Slaney for trespass on and damage done to a well belonging to him. ‘Betty Kirton’s well’ had been dug in 1819 by a Mr Singleton on waste land near the road but was then enclosed and tenants of the cottages had to pay for the privilege of drawing water. 
It appears from the report that witnesses were divided on whether the amount to be paid was 2s 6d or 5shillings (25p) and whether the money was for the water or for the maintenance of the well. Everyone, other than Mr Boothroyd believed they had the right to draw water whether it was paid for or not. Mr Boothroyd stopped the use of the well by having it nailed up but Mr Slaney broke off the planks of wood. This happened twice and the case was taken to court. It must have been quite an expensive case as solicitors acting for both Boothroyed and Slaney instructed lawyers to argue their points of view to the jury. Mr Boothroyed won his case but rather than the £25 he was claiming he was awarded only one shilling (5p). It is not known what happened to the well after the court case but it seems that the judge had some sympathy for the tenants by awarding only a small sum in damages.

One well that can be seen (see photo above) is at the top of Surgery Lane. This area, which once had the overnight ‘lockup’ and pinfold, is now a focal point of the village as it has the Remembrance Memorial and flower garden beautifully maintained by Aubrey Musson. In 1982 the children of the Methodist Church Sunday School dressed the well in flowers. They were inspired by the well dressings of Derbyshire. The photograph shows the children gathered for the Blessing of the well.

This well was very deep and the story goes that when workmen were filling it by tipping in rubble they were getting tired and decided to see how much further they had to go. 115ft (35m) of line was paid out before the top of the infill was reached. In conversation with Will Richards he said it was Tony Ulyett who was filling it and who measured its depth.   Sam Clarke, who fetched water from this well wrote, ‘Beautiful sparkling water! – but very hard. Whenever a new bucket or rope was needed the cost was ascertained and the amount was collected by my father and John Ashley (another shoemaker who lived across the street) from those who used the well. It was quite a feature of our end of the village for men to foregather and draw their daily water-supply, and while waiting their turn to discuss the latest news – local or news from further afield. No water was drawn on Sunday: water for use on Sunday was drawn on Saturday evening’.

Surgery Lane well
circa 1920's

All well water was hard** and many people had large tubs to catch rainwater from the roofs of their houses or outbuildings.  In a dry summer the tubs would empty and people would walk to ‘Softwater Trough’ for supplies.  This spring rarely, if ever dried up, until relatively recently.  Will Richards mother was born at Norwood Farm in 1872 and he relates that when a girl, in a dry summer, her job was to collect water from ‘Softwater Trough’.

Over the years all of the wells were filled in but many, at first, were just covered over with timber.  There was one on the boundary between 15 and 17 Main Street and in the 1980’s Albert Meakin was walking between his daughter’s house, No.15 and his own, No.17, by way of the garden path when suddenly he disappeared.  He had discovered an old well!  The wood that had covered the well and was overgrown itself, had rotted away and down he went.  Fortunately the well had been partly filled in but he was far enough down for him not to be able to climb out again.  He called to Flora, his wife but she being a little deaf didn’t hear him until she became worried as to where he had got to and went to look for him. When she did find him she wanted to know what he was ‘doing down there!’
His reply is not recorded!
She had to get a neighbour, Jeff Kirman, who let a ladder down to him so that he could climb out.  The family still laugh about it.

Once there was a piped water supply to the village, less use was made of the wells although they were needed when the local pumping engine failed.  After the Blidworth Colliery was sunk in the 1920’s the water table would have lowered and this led to many wells drying up.  People would then start to fill in their wells but it is known that one man at Mount Pleasant used to slaughter his pigs over the well at No.32 in order to drain away the blood!   

 *Clowne, according to Will Richards.

**Water that has high concentrations of minerals such as calcium and magnesium and is difficult to get to lather and therefore wash in.  

There are many recorded wells in Blidworth and these are marked on the maps shown. (To be added).

1. At Rock Farm. Thought to date from 1780.

. At Clay Bank. Sheila Stokes says it was under a pond in front of a gate leading into a field. The O.S. map shows one at the southern edge of the road.

. On Mount Haven Cottage garden, Ricket Lane. There might have been another near an outside toilet. At the time of a Mr Godfrey the ‘Well Head’ was moved to Nottingham Castle. It has since been returned to the village and now sits above the well at the top of Surgery Lane, albeit, we are told by Will Richards, at the wrong angle by 90 degrees!

At Woodstock, Ricket Lane.

. At Red Gate Farm in a field off Ricket Lane.

. St Mary’s Church, probably near the roadside.

. There were two at Hill Top Farm. One was in the house in the sitting room and one was against steps.

. ‘Top House’ had three but it is not known exactly where.

.  There was one against the Windmill off Ricket Lane.

. There were three on Ashwell Terrace. In front of No. 3 and ‘The Croft’ and at the back of No. 5. However Shelia Stokes writes that on 12th October 1991, Ron Brookes opened up a stone built well at No. 2 and found water at five feet down. The well itself being about sixteen feet deep.

. There were two at Cliff Farm, one in the kitchen and one outside the front door.

. The well in the School House was covered with one large slab of stone for many years. In 1876 the water was 15 feet from the surface.

. In Wheeldon’s Yard, near the bottom, there was a well against ‘Miss D Clay’s’ gate – this would be circa 1990.

. At The Orchards, in the garden.

. At Blidworth Farm an outside well which in 1990 had a pump over the top of it.

. At Beech Holme there were two, one under a passage floor and one outside under the porch.

. At Holme Cottage there might have been one under the pantry floor although this has also been described as a ‘brick tank’.

. At The Laurels there were two, one inside and one out.

. At Forge House outside.

. Inside ‘Miss Heath’s’ house. Probably in the front room! This house was adjacent to the White Lion which itself was next to the Red Lion.

. In front of a house in White Lion Yard.

. At Grove Farm the well was said to be ‘very, very deep’ - Shelia Stokes.

. At Surgery Lane. This can still be identified by the ‘well top’, originally from Mount Haven, on Ricket Lane.

. On Beck Lane there was a well, to the left, in what Shelia Stokes describes as ‘Doug Asbury’s garden, near the coal garage’.

. In Flears Yard. ‘Against Mr Moore’s house’, – Shelia Stokes
26. There were two on the boundary between houses 13/15 and 17 Main Street. There was some evidence of another in the garden of no.15.

. Behind No’s 1 to 11 Main Street, known as ‘Sugar Row’ during and after the second World War as the American service men living there always had plenty of sweets to give away. One was six feet (nearly two metres) across and the position was shown to us by Taff and Jane Jenkins who live at No. 9.

. Behind No 32 Mount Pleasant.

. On New Lane.

. On Mansfield Road. Perhaps called ‘Little Farm’. At Norwood Hill Farm.
This was the birthplace of Will Richards mother. There was also a large tank under the main room that collected rain water from the roof.

Blidworth HistoricalSociety - Wells

60ft well discovered when excavating to build at the top of Field Lane (now filled in)

Well shaft at top of Field Lane Blidworth

The well shaft

Besides wells, water for household use was gained from natural springs that rose near to the highest point of the village and flowed downhill. Will Richards writes:’ The water from the springs was piped into troughs and cisterns on its way through the village. I remember when the water from Ashwell Croft ran into a trough in a cave-like excavation under where No.1 Kirk’s Croft has now been built. From there it ran into a trough at the roadside………At one time spring water was piped to Beecholme, and there was a well at the point where the front porch has since been built. There was a cistern in the house now called Mabel’s Cottage. Spring water ran to the ‘Black Bull’ and into a trough called Bull Trough in the middle of the village square. Then through the ‘Red Lion’ into the cellar of the house on the corner next to the ‘White Lion’……….From there it ran to a trough close to the pinfold near the bottom of Beck Lane where stray animals were impounded.’   Will Richards tells us that when a boy and the pumped water supply failed, his job was to go across the road to Miss Heath’s house (the house on the corner next to the ‘White Lion’) and fetch spring water from the cellar under the back kitchen. This house was demolished in about 1972.

Water would continue down Main Street at the side of the road and eventually find its way down Dale Lane, possibly as far as the site of ‘The Jolly Friar’ public house. Mrs Minnie Cowdell, daughter of Pratt Brown, was born at 17 and then lived at 19 Main Street said that there was an intermittent stream that came down from Rook Wood and flowed between 15 and 17 and then into Main Street.  

The stone trough at the bottom of the picture stood on Main Street between the Church and Black Bull square and was fed by a spring.

Will Richards remembers the Dover Beck that rose near Rickett Lane and flowed down towards the ‘Little John’ public house. At Fishpool, centuries ago, it formed ponds that held fish and gave the area its name. It then crossed the road and ran towards Blidworth Bottoms, flowing behind the ‘Fox and Hounds’ public house. Its course took it through an area known as Long Wood then across the old Rufford Road (now the A614) and on to Salterford Dam. Will remembers the exceptionally cold winter of 1933 when the water in the Dam froze over and he went skating on the ice.  

By 1884 the wells and springs of Blidworth were deemed to be inadequate for the needs of the village and from June until that October the water troughs had been dry. A report was presented to the Mansfield Rural Sanitary Authority that proposed installing a piped water supply and this was agreed to. Drilling a borehole near the summit of the village was thought too expensive and at first a site on allotments close to where the present Tesco is, was considered. However this area was where much of the village sewage flowed to and water from here could become contaminated. The site that was chosen was to the west of the village near Fishpool. A six foot (almost two metre) diameter well was suggested and the Report went on to recommend ‘ a small steam engine with a vertical boiler (be) put down to work a set of three-row lift and force pumps, capable of lifting about 50,000 gallons per day of 24 hours’. As 20,000 gallons a day was thought to be sufficient for the 1000 inhabitants the pump would only need to work for three days a week. Water would be pumped up to the top of the village through 4inch (10centimetre) pipes and discharged into a round, brick built reservoir. This would hold one and a half days supply and from here 3in and 2 1/2in pipes would take water to all parts of the village as far as Mount Pleasant. The estimated cost of the work was as follows:-

Engine house, sinking well and fixing machinery                         £400

For mains, hydrants, distribution-pipes and sluices                     £650

For reservoir and fittings                                                       £200

Total, exclusive of land, legal and professional charges               £1250  

The reservoir was built between the windmill and Ricket Lane and by the middle 1880’s most village houses had a water tap. The pumps chosen were simple oil driven engines and Will Richards has written that Ern (in conversation he called him Len) Revill, from Fishpool, was employed to start the pumping and after so long would drive his motor bike (if he could get it started) up to the reservoir to check on progress. Often, he would get there to find the water overflowing, causing a six foot waterfall where Rickett Lane joined the main road! A pressurised supply was installed in the 1920’s, Severn Trent Water now has the original pumping house site and the reservoir has been imaginatively converted into a house.

The ‘new village’ had its water supply provided by a borehole in the colliery. The reservoir being opposite to where the Miner’s Welfare Hall stood until the colliery closed in 1984.  

Research is ongoing and photographs and details will be updated as they become available.

We would like to thank Shelia Stokes and Will Richards for their invaluable help but wish to include thanks to Bill Hutton, Eric Hall, Philip Jones, Tom Murray and Patrick Turk for their support.  

Additional information and/or photographs are always welcome.  

John & Dale Smallwood November 2010