A SURVEY OF WELLS IN CHEDWORTH

Introduction

This project was inspired by seeing the well at the aptly named Doveswell Cottage (by kind permission of Venetia Champniss) and wondering how did they do that? ‘That’ being a beautifully constructed and dressed stone shaft some 60 feet deep. In due course I learnt the answer to my question from Peter Juggins, a library source and, lastly, from one of the late Fred Dibnah’s TV programmes where he constructed a similar shaft in his back garden in Bolton. The answer is that, at its simplest, the well digger used a circular wooden former  to support the courses of stone lining the shaft and, as the excavation went deeper, the former slipped down to allow more courses to be added. A detailed technical explanation of what was then called ‘steining’ is given in Swindell’s 1849 Treatise on Well Digging.

Many people helped with information, photographs and answered questionnaires, and I am indebted to all of them. Particular thanks go to Peter Juggins for his fascinating memoirs of the water supplies to the cottages of Chedworth – how lucky we are to have in our community someone with first hand knowledge of a subject that would otherwise probably have been lost for ever. My thanks go also to David Woods for a series of photographs of the well at Badger Cottage and the Collett family in the 1930’s; to Tony and Mo Floyd for an account with photographs of a well discovered at Ashwell Lodge in 1984, and also to Bryan Corrigan for details of the well on his land

Finally an apology to all who waited patiently for this project to be completed. The delays were entirely my responsibility but, in mitigation, I hope that everyone will find something of interest in this paper.

Summary findings

There are approximately 24 wells still in existence in the village, and many that have long since disappeared – a ready made hole in the ground being irresistible to builders constructing a home extension. As many will know, there are also lots of springs. The geology of Chedworth District tells us that Fullers Earth (clay) exists in strata up to 50 feet thick – and this is the source of the springs, Great Oolite and Fullers Earth up to 130 feet thick, Cotswold sand up to 27 feet thick and the Inferior Oolite and Cephalopod Bed up to 140 feet thick, and all of this geology dating from the Jurassic period.

Oolite is a sphere about 2.0 mm diameter consisting of concentric layers of calcium carbonate and created by precipitation in the supersaturated warm waters of shallow tropical seas.

All this history would have been of little interest to the well diggers who, using their simple equipment burrowed into the earth in search of water collecting in the fractured Oolite strata. Apart from the danger of a landslip the diggers sometimes encountered bad air, and Peter Juggins recalls an incident where a digger was nearly asphyxiated.
Early accounts refer to problems of wells drying up or becoming polluted. Considering the labour involved a dry well must have been a major crisis.

Pollution on the other hand could sometimes be eased if there was underlying sand to act as a natural filter. The importance of wells can be seen from the references to water rights set out in a will dating from the 1800’s.kindly supplied by Mike Tovey.

Even a little knowledge of this subject is enough to demonstrate how hard day to day village life must have been for our predecessors, in sharp contrast with life today where we expect water at the turn of a tap.
It is thought that the current mains water network came to the village in the period 1947 to 1950 but there are some six properties in the village that have no mains supply and rely instead on a spring or a well.

Any work on this subject leaves one certainty and that is that there is much still to be discovered about our wells. Perhaps someone one day will take on the task?

Researched and produced for the Chedworth Society by
David Brown, Old Oak Cottage, Chedworth.
March 2007.