Posted 15th August 2018 by Maggie Clowes

Applebians didn't start paying water rates until 1963 because the waterworks set up in 1874 were so efficient and economical to run. But if you'd been around in 1874 you might well have wondered whether the town would ever get an effective supply of water.

Applebians didn't start paying water rates until 1963 because the waterworks set up in 1874 were so efficient and economical to run. But if you'd been around in 1874 you might well have wondered whether the town would ever get an effective supply of water.

For centuries townsfolk had relied on wells for their water. The town clerk's notes in the eighteenth century have references to wells in Doomgate, Town Head, Scattergate; in May 1757 the council was looking to establish a new well,
'Whereas a pump at the low end of the town hall would be of singular advantage to the inhabitants of Bridge Street and others near thereto.
And whereas it has this day been moved to have a well sunk and a pump fixed therein which has been offered by Thomas Wilson to be done to 30 shilling in hand paid and £1 10s a year for 7 years for sinking the well and putting in the pump and making it a good going pump for 7 years and for keeping the same in good repair and during that time And whereas George Skilbeck, Alderman has generously proposed to be at the expense of the same ORDERED that Thomas Wilson be contracted with on the above terms.' A 1754 map shows a pump in Scattergate and two in Boroughgate, one near the Shambles and the other higher up nearer to High Cross.

In 1871 the vexed question of a fire brigade for the town was debated. Admiral Elliott, Sir Henry Tufton's agent at the castle stated most emphatically that they should ensure the town had a good water supply before thinking about a fire engine.
"Twenty years ago they were in great danger from want of proper sanitary measures which if carried out would now, when the fever was amongst them, (1870-71 5 deaths from typhoid and thirty cases reported)have been a great benefit to the community. The sanitary condition of the town was such as to call for immediate measures of reform and he would challenge anyone in the room to gainsay the dangerous state parts of the town were in arising from filth. Their best water emanated from close proximity to the churchyard and if he was not mistaken the pump was erected on the site of an ancient graveyard. The whole town was but ill-supplied with pure water. They were all connected with the sanitary state of the town. They had a fever which ought to be a warning and if they knew as he did the state of some of the back slums, they would at once take immediate steps to memorialize the board of public works. The remedy was simple - they had only to make a representation to the Board and they would not trouble themselves about a fire engine, but send down a Commission of Enquiry at once and enforce his report. He proposed that a memorial should be presented to the proper authorities to have the town placed under a Board of Health at once."

We have found no record of a Commission of Enquiry such as was carried out in Penrith but the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Page submitted a report in 1874 pointing out that 132 dwellings, housing 614 people had private wells. The remaining 218 dwellings housed 965 people who depended on public wells which he stated were contaminated with organic impurities. Some properties had their own wells, the rest relied on public wells. The one at Scattergate, according to the doctor had good quality water but the supply fluctuated, the pumps at High Wiend and the Shambles were poor and Low Cross only fair. Bongate had only one water source, its "spout" on Battlebarrow, a natural overflow from a watercourse, which was again of poor quality and an unreliable source. The samples he had taken proved conclusively that the water was highly charged with organic matter and quite unfit for drinking purposes.- Dr Page added that it would be very difficult to exaggerate the defective state of the sewers.

Not only had he pointed to the defects of the current arrangements, he had gone to great trouble in indentifying a safe and convenient source of water for the town. Two springs in George Gill, three miles from Appleby, would supply ample water for many years to come. He had not felt it necessary to consider taking water from the river Eden because of its hardness, liability to sewage pollution and the heavy annual expenditure entailed by pumping works. The possibility of selling water to the developing railways was an additional attraction.

One of the Penrith Observer's readers also felt that the Eden was not particularly salubrious. A letter to the editor in July 1874 said this:

Instead of the pure, limpid stream of other times, I regret to find in my peregrinations by its meandering course, it is now impregnated with all the rubbish in the neighbourhood, and become a receptacle for the deposit of ivy leaves, joiners shavings, broken glass, pots, pans, town sewage, dogs, cats, and the cast-off garments of all the tatterdemalions in the back slums of the place R.J. Coates

The Board of Guardians, as the Sanitary Authority, were considering provision of a better water supply for Appleby and Bongate. Residents of Bongate were notoriously wary of anything involved with Appleby where there appeared to be the risk of an increase in the rates. As a result of mutterings the highway surveyor called a meeting in the Bongate schoolroom. A Mr Bell was quick to express strong feelings on the matter. "Appleby" he proclaimed was "was a miserable place, ( this man was Mayor of Appleby at the time!) they could neither afford to light nor pave the streets, and now they wanted to burden them with another rate for water. They had no need of water, for there was hardly another town in England so blessed by Providence with water. If the local landowners would put pumps into their own property (and they must remember that property had its duties as well as its privileges) they would have plenty of water." He dismissed Dr Page's report, out of hand while a Mr Bland read a petition from 106 ratepayers in Bongate which said that Dr Page had given a very favourable report of the river; this was wishful thinking as the good doctor had been quite emphatic that the present sources of water supply were dangerously impure. The first paragraph of the petition betrayed the real concerns "we almost unanimously deprecate the great and unnecessary expense that will fall upon the ratepayers" .

Mr Bell was so agin the water works that he apparently sank a well on the Sands to increase the supply of water to Bongate. This caused much amusement locally and led one local resident to express his views in the local paper.
"Who'll sink a well?
I, says John Bell;
WHY? I won't tell.
But I'll sink a well.
And at his command bricks are carted and deposited on the Sands opposite the Grapes Inn where a well is being sunk to sink the Water Works." The letter writer continued to ask why put a well by the river, "just at this point water can be drawn direct from the river; true a dead dog or cat may be floating past, and drains from water closets, privies etc are plentiful above and below it. What matters that, our mayor likes his water flavoured - witness his fondness for the Shambles pump."

To be fair, Mr Bell who was a barrister as well as being a local politician, had taken the trouble to pen a closely argued petition to the Local Government Board. He writes, he says "as Mayor of Appleby having a special duty in protecting the interests of the poorer class of ratepayers but also as the owner and occupier of property affected by the proposed scheme of Waterworks and Special Drainage districts." He complained that at a meeting held in September 1875, the Surveyor admitted that he had never previously worked on construction of public waterworks and the Inspector hadn't got details of the properties that would be affected. He cast doubt on the samples analysed by Dr Page and had suggested to him that two extra pumps placed in convenient positions would provide an ample supply of pure water.

He also supplied tables of the longevity of the two parishes of St Lawrence Appleby and Bongate 1813 - 1874 to prove that people could not live so long if they were imbibing impure water constantly. He then tackles the cost of the scheme which will impose an intolerable burthen upon the poor ratepayers who already find it difficult to pay their rates.

He compares the costs in Appleby with those in Longtown on a similar scheme, complains that the Special Drainage district is far too big and hasn't a good word to say about the composition or working of the Board of Guardians.

The Local Government Board sent an inspector to the town to look at the twin questions of cost and the area to be covered. The report of the meeting covers two pages reporting nearly everything that was said - one feels for the reporter, especially as at times there would have been more than one person speaking, or shouting. The Inspector, Lt. Col.Cox got a taste of what was to come as soon as he opened the meeting when Messrs Bell and Metcalfe both started to make their presence felt. (Mr Metcalfe owned a brewery in the town and had just spent £200 on piping water to it).

The Commissioner stated firmly that he was the representative of the Local Government Board, holding an official enquiry and in the position of chairman; "and therefore I shall ask you to be so very good as to follow the ordinary rules of public meetings" This proved to be a vain hope as though united in opposition to the scheme Messrs Bell and Metcalfe spent much of the meeting in inconsequential bickering

Mr Metcalfe You are a clever man but really you are talking nonsense.
Mr Bell I wish you wouldn't interrupt me , making a fool of yourself.
Mr Metcalfe I will make myself a gentleman
Mr Bell You are a gentleman , no doubt

At one point Admiral Elliott, the agent for Sir Henry Tufton was called as representing one fourth of the rateable value. Mr Bell tackled him, "Are you aware that there must be a preponderance of rateable value? Admiral Elliott "I am aware that there has been a preponderance of talk" The Commissioner raised the important question of whether the Sanitary Authority had the power to cary out the works or whether the town should decide. Speaking on behalf of the Vestry meeting which represented all ratepayers a Mr Whitehead said that they had unanimously approved a resolution calling for a better supply of water. He added that because of the outbreaks of typhoid fever and the investigation by a medical gentleman set down by the Local Government Board showed a widespread desire by the inhabitants for purer and more constant supply of water.

Before he closed the meeting the Commissioner commented on yet another of Mr Bell's diatribes " Mr Bell's opinion was contrary to . . . . .. the opinion of everyone but himself."

It was agreed that the water works should be set up and in 1879 the Sanitary Authority was authorised to borrow £4,620 over 50 years. One imagines that everyone in Appleby was delighted but no reactions were reported in the local newspapers. Now the Sanitary Authority would have to turn their attention to the sewers, also condemned by Dr Page.

The Town Pumps
Scattergate Pump     1754 map
Battlebarrow Spout     Seems to have been always there (still is!)
Chapel Lane Pump     referred to by Dr Page 1874
Shambles Pump     1754
Low Weind Pump     referred to by Dr Page 1874
/Low Cross Pump     1757 Town clerk's notes
High Weind Pump     1754 map
Howgatefoot pump     referred to by Dr Page but apparently not used 1874
Heelis scrapbooks
Dr Pages Reports     1874 folder. Page 63
          1875 folder Page 76.96
Opposition to scheme    1875 folder pages 5, 90