A little way down Pump Lane, opposite Churton Hall in the village of Churton is a cast iron hand-activated water pump, in an alluring shade of bottle green. Its original manufacturer marking is almost illegible, but apparently reads “G. INGOLD B. STORTFORD,” referring to G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford. The modern paintwork makes this illegible today. I haven’t found any photographs of the pump prior to 2005 when it was renovated and reinstalled, but there must be plenty in local collections, so perhaps some will turn up. It looks as though it is in very good condition, at least externally, its paintwork glossy and its structure intact. Its What Three Words location is ///lance.alas.prune.
Pumps were installed from the 18th century, and began to replace wells in the latter half of the 19th Century. Wells in Churton are recorded at Churton Hall, Pump Lane, inside and out, and inside Cherry Tree Cottage on Chester Road, discovered during renovation work, the latter now sealed over. Latham says that well water was very hard in the Farndon area, and that most houses had some form of rainwater storage as a common supplement to use of the well, for washing clothes and other tasks were softer water was required.
There were two primary types of upright pump commonly installed in Britain in the mid-late 19th Century: the lift pump and the force pump. The Churton pump is probably a lift type. These are relatively simple, with two valves opening and closing as a piston is lifted and dropped with the lever. When the handle is lifted, the lower vale opens and the upper valve closes. The barrel draws the water up the downpipe, filling the barrel below the piston. When the handle is pushed down, the lower valve closes and the upper one opens, forcing water into the barrel about the piston. The next upward pull of the handle pushes the water out of the spout, with water again filling the barrel below the piston.
Pumps relied on bringing water up from local aquifers via boreholes, which were the biggest part of pump installation. A simple screw-shaped auger could be used for soft soils (I use a small one for planting daffodil bulbs), but percussion drilling was required for sinking a borehole through stone, a far more laborious and expensive process.
The first village standpipe pumps were made of wood, which inevitably rotted, and later lead. Lead was malleable and enabled smaller pumps to be made, but it was expensive and was targeted by thieves for melting down for resale, in spite of the threat of transportation, which was the standard punishment for theft of village pumps. Cast iron, a new technology in the 18th century that spread during the 19th century, replaced both. Cast iron pumps were cheap to produce and far less prone to decay. They spread rapidly into villages that had not previously been able to afford a pump, and found their way into homes, inns, farms and public institutions such as schools and hospitals.
Public pumps were not merely water sources but, much like the office water fountain today, places where people bumped into one another and where information, news and gossip were exchanged. Some activities were easier to carry out at the pump itself rather than carrying the water back to home or business, whilst some better-off residents paid for the water to be delivered to them. Comings and goings at the pump made it a social as well as a functional resource, and probably changed the dynamic of village life quite substantially once installed.
Servicing the pump was important, replacing the more vulnerable parts to ensure that it stayed functional. The pump would sometimes be out of commission during the winter months due to frozen water, and the pumps themselves might be chained up to prevent use, and wrapped against the cold to protect them from frost damage. I do much the same (wrapping, not chaining) with my high-tech hose reel and my outdoor taps.
So far a precise date for the installation of the Churton pump eludes me. Latham says that the village pump at Crewe-by-Farndon was installed by William and Mary Barnston in the 1850s, and the one in Farndon by Mary Barnston in about 1877. However the Churton pump is on the Churton-by-Aldford side of the road, inset into a field on that side of the road. This is relevant because Churton was divided at that time into two parts, Churton-by-Aldford and Churton-by-Farndon, the division between the two running down the middle of Pump Lane. Churton-by-Aldford came under the Grosvenor family’s Eaton Hall estate, and Churton-by-Farndon came under the Barnstons of Farndon, so the pump, if not paid for by public subscription, is more likely to have been donated by the Grosvenor family rather than the Barnstons of Crewe-by-Farndon. On the other hand, I can find no record of a village pump in Aldford at around the same time. Aldford, of course, was a model village, built from scratch by the 2nd Marquess of Westminster in the mid-19th Century, and the houses may have been supplied with running water. So the question of how and precisely when the Churton pump arrived remains, for the time being, unanswered, but there are clues to establishing a rough date.
G. Ingold of Bishop’s Stortford (Hertfordshire), made pumps for a variety of locations, although usually in the south, including villages in Essex and Cambridge. The company had been founded in 1851 by John Ingold for sinking wells and manufacturing pumps. He was based at Rye Street with a workshop in Apton Road in Bishops Stortford. Following the death of John Ingold, the business was taken over by his son George, but the latter was marking pumps “G. Ingold” well before his father’s death. This seems to put our pump quite late in the 19th Century. This is born out by a number of wells and pumps in Uttlesford in Essex, where the date was recorded. The earliest marked as “G. Ingold” as opposed to merely “Ingold,” was in 1873, then 1886, with a cluster of five in the 1890s.
Where images are available, all of the Ingold pumps looked very similar. As far as I can tell from the Essex and Cambridge examples posted on the web, most Ingold pumps had handles to the rear, with only some, like the Churton pump, fitted with handles at the side. The Ingold spouts often had a thorn-like feature at the top of the bend, a bucket hook, often decorated. This is absent on the Churton pump, although there is an indentation where one might have been located, visible in the photograph above left.
There are two modern signs on the walls flanking the Churton pump. One is a disclaimer notice drafted by a local solicitor, commenting on the quality of the water available from the pump, saying that it derives/derived from an artesian aquifer and warning that one drinks at one’s own risk. I did try to activate the pump, giving it a really good go after heavy rainfall when the aquifers were all filling up, but it produced nothing. Although I’ve never tried to use a village pump before, there was no feeling of resistance as you might expect of a lever raising a piston. Thanks very much to Irene Mundy and John Gallagher for the information that When the renovated pump was reinstalled it was discovered that the pipe delivering water up to the pump was deeper than expected. Half way down the pipe towards the water reservoir another, secondary pumping mechanism had been attached in the past. Although the pump initially drew water, it eventually ceased to function. It’s nice that it did work for a while, and it still looks great.
The other sign refers to the restoration. Although it says that it was a Millennium project, commemorating the arrival of the 2000s, Latham comments that the renovated pump was not actually installed until 2005. The sign records that the project was supported by both Barnston and Grosvenor estates, both with vested interests in the village, as well as the Chester City Council. The engineering and installation work was carried out by A.E. and K.E. Jones, farmers near Pant yr Ochain (Gresford), and the welding by J. Vale. Someone must have a record of the project and the installation of the pump, including photographs of the installation and official opening, which would be really good to see. The Eaton estate repaired the stone wall that encompassed the pump. If any more details come to light, I will cover the restoration project on another post.
It was super, late last summer, to see that the sandstone trough beneath the pump had been planted out, and that a very attractive display of bedding plants had replaced the straggling weeds (see also the photo at the top of this post). Many thanks to whoever took the trouble. It was great to see it looking so good. The photograph was taken in August 2021. The other photos on this post were taken in May 2021.
For more information on village pumps I recommend the short book, Village Pumps by Richard K. Williams and the Village Pumps website (details of both below), both of which provided a lot of the general information in this post and are comprehensive resources on the subject of all types of village pump.
Books and papers
Latham, F. 1981. Farndon: the History of a Cheshire Village. Farndon Local History Society
Williams, R.K. 2009. Village Pumps. Shire Library
The Recorders of Uttlesford History
Village Pumps website
Village Pumps: Churton entry
Village Pump, Widdington, Essex