In November 1732, at a meeting of the town assembly and jurats called by John Collier (1685-1760), it was agreed to build a piped water system. This was because the town’s main water supply was the Bourne stream, running between the High Street and All Saints Street, but this was also a heavily contaminated drain and sewer. A reservoir in the stream was dug in a field below where Dudley Road is now, and elm pipes with taps and stopcocks were laid down into the High Street. But only a few of the better-off households subscribed to it, and there was significant opposition from many of the people living in the town, claiming that the stream they relied on had become much less reliable and that they were having to pay for water that had been free until then. Although the system worked, it was not financially viable, and it probably went out of use in the early 1740s.
Many companies sprung up during the 19th Century to provide clean, bottled water, one of which John Martin & Co, operated in and around the Hastings area from 1895 onwards, also bottling other beverages in stoneware bottles bearing their distinctive brand with different coloured tops, presumably to denote the contents. These bottles have now become collectable in their own right. The aforementioned company operated from Caves Road, most likely obtaining their water from the reservoir at the end of St Leonards Caves.
Although most of the houses and industries within the town had wells and other water supplies within fairly easy reach, it was considered desirable during the mid 19th Century, that a system for getting clean pure water to all properties was installed, and also, a system for removal of waste-water. With this in mind, Mr. W. J. Gant was commissioned in 1850 to draw up a plan showing all properties, their water supply situations and their respective levels in order that planning for a piped water system for the town could commence. At a later meeting of the town's Commissioners on the 22nd of July 1850, it was estimated that installation of the pipework would cost between £5,000 and £7,000
In 1849 the Eversfield Waterworks Company formed. This company supplied water from springs in the Newgate and Shornden woods, said to provide water of excellent quality. It was conveyed in pipes of 6 inches diameter through the lands of the Countess of Waldegrave, who gave her permission for the laying down of pipes, which were continued under ground past St. Andrew’s terrace, across the to the St. Leonards archway, thus supplying the consumers in Norman road and other elevated districts to a hundred feet, if necessary, above the front road. Plans were also in place for construction of an additional reservoir covering seven acres of surface, with a depth of 40 feet, to be capable of supplying Hastings and St Leonards, each with 60,000 gallons of pure filtered water daily. The Waterworks company itself, however, would appear to have been short-lived; the partnership between C. G. Eversfield and Mr. Charles Clark dissolving their partnership in August, 1853. Mr. Clarke still maintained a working relationship with the company in spite of the partnership dissolution, he being recorded as answering a summons for breaking up the road surface of Gensing Road to lay water pipes without prior approval from the borough surveyor, Mr. Gant, although a previous permission had been granted the pipes had failed and Clarke believed he still had permission for the works. At the conclusion of the hearing, Mr. Clarke was fined 1s. with costs of 15s, this offence; being committed by Mr. Clarke, in fact, appearing many times in local news reports. Additional pumping equipment was installed in 1892 to meet the demands of the Maze Hill area.
During 1851, permission was gained from the Countess Waldegrave and other various trustees of the Milward Estate, that a portion of the upper-reaches of Ecclesbourne Glen would be utilised to situate a reservoir, one of the conditions being that the Waldegrave household be supplied with water free-of-charge. Contracts were given to Mr. Benjamin Richardson, to drive the heading through the East hill at 12/6 per yard; Messrs. Grizbrook & Co. to supply iron pipes (delivered), at £5 2s. 6d. per ton; Mr. George Neve to cart the same to the works at 3s. 6d a ton; and that an arrangement had been made with Mr. Putland for him to receive ten per cent. upon the outlay up to £1,200.
Western Waterworks Company
1859 brought news of the incorporation of a new company - the 'Western Waterworks Company of Hastings and St. Leonards' - or a similar derivation, this taking over the running of the Eversfield Waterworks. The company's published aims were:-
- To increase, improve, and maintain the streams, springs, and tributaries now flowing into and supplying a stream known as the Old Roar Stream, and other the springs and streams contributing to the supply of water to the several reservoirs and works now constructed or constructing in the woods and valleys known, or reputed to be known as the Olid Roar Wood, Newgate Wood, and Shorndene Wood, situate and being in the several parishes of, St. Leonards, St. Mary-in-the-Castle, Saint Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Trinity,in the county of Sussex, and being on or passing over lands belonging, or reputed to belong to George Clement, Esq., Chas. Gilbert Eversfield, Esq., the Trustees of Sir Howard Elphinstone, Bart., the Earl Cornwallis, Lady Waldegrave, and the Rev. Henry Foyster.
- Also by means of cuttings or pipe tracts or otherwise to lead away the stream, or so much thereof as may be deemed necessary for the purposes of this undertaking, together with the springs and other tributaries rising on and flowing through the parishes of and St. Leonards, intended for the supply of the reservoirs, and the works constructed or constructing on or near a farm known as the Grove Farm. in the parish of. Also for making and constructing an engine house at a place called Bopeep, in the parishes of Saint Leonards and, on property belonging to the Trustees of the late Musgrave Brisco, Esquire, and Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Esq.
- Also by means of cuttings or pipe tracts or otherwise, to lead away the Bulverhithe stream and the springs and tributaries rising and flowing through the parishes of, Crowhurst, Bexhill, and St. Leonards, for the purpose of supplying a filtering reservoir or beds, at or on the Grove Farm, situate and being on the estate of the said Charles Gilbert Eversfield; and also a tank situated on or near a farm called Adams Farm, in the parish of Crowhurst, in Sussex, being respectively on the estate of Sir Peregrine Ackland, — Papillon, Esq., George Clement, Esq., — Sloper, Esq., Musgrave Brisco, Esq., and Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Esq.
- Also for making and maintaining a reservoir near Gensing Wood on the estate of Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Esq.
- Also for Making and maintaining a reservoir near Gensing Wood, on the estate of Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Esq.; and also a reservoir at St. Leonards Green, formerly known as Gingerbread Green, also on the estate of Charles Gilbert Eversfield, Esquire.
In addition to these aims, the Company sought to install and maintain machinery and pipework to facilitate the distribution of the water and collect fees from property-holders for the supply of the water.
Concerns about Lead
Due to the initial supplies of water being sporadic and, at times, inadequate for the demands imposed by residents of the town, householders were required to install storage tanks in their premises. In privately owned houses, i.e. those of the better off, these tanks were lined with slate, whereas other buildings might have lead tanks. In addition, although the water was transported through iron pipework to the streets, individual houses were connected to the mains by lead pipe-work. This led to claims being made in late 1858, that the water in this area had 'a particular affinity to lead', that it would dissolve lead rapidly leading to the potential for lead poisoning. One medical practitioner in particular, Dr Garrett of Wellington Square, appeared to have an excessive number of patients exhibiting symptoms that could be attributed to lead poisoning. Dr. Garrett wrote the letter below to the Secretary of State for the Home Department and provided a sample to the, then Mayor, Alderman J. Rock, who took the case up with the Board of Health:-
Hastings, Nov. 16, 1858.
Permit me to call your attention to the following circumstances, and to solicit your advice on the subject.
The towns of Hastings and St. Leonards are supplied with water by the Corporation, which is carried in iron mains through the streets, but conveyed from them into the dwelling-houses by leaden pipes.
From the shortness of the supply the Corporation compelled every house-holder to provide tanks for the reception of water for their daily supply. I think I am right in saying that forty-nine out of fifty of these tanks are leaden, the slate tanks existing only in private houses.
From the many cases of colic and other disturbed states of the digestive organs I met with, I was led to classify such cases, and upon inquiry I found that in all instances where such indisposition occurred leaden tanks were in use.
I have nearly lost several cases from repeated colic and its consequent innutrition (in other words, starvation from arrested digestion), each one exhibiting manifest symptoms of LEAD POISONING.
Such persons have immediately recovered on my desiring them to send for their water from the street pumps, and keeping them on a diet made from that water under their own eyes.
I have examined many specimens of water from different lodging-houses, and have found lead in each of them; indeed in one specimen, which I have lodged with the Mayor, the water looks positively milky from the presence of Carbonate of Lead. This water is filtered for the use of the house, whereby only the thick portion is removed, the soluble part holding salt of Lead in solution being left for consumption by the inhabitants of the house — visitors as well as the occupiers themselves.
It is a notorious fact that the water supplied in these Towns has a peculiar affinity for lead, which is much increased at this time of year, when a large quantity of vegetable matter in a state of decay impregnates the water derived from the springs, and furnishes in abundance the necessary Carbon to unite with the lead in furnishing that deadliest of its salts — the Carbonate of Lead. Plumbers say that an inch leaden tank will be eaten in holes in three years.
An early reply will be most thankfully received, as the Water Committee meets on Friday next.— I am, &c.
C. B. GARRETT, M.D.
The town clerk responded in the following form:
Town Clerk’s Office, 20th Nov. 1858.
At a meeting of the Water Committee held this day, the copy of a letter addressed by you to the Secretary of State on the subject of lead cisterns was read.
The Members of the Committee present were of opinion that you could not be aware of the few houses where cisterns are used, certainly not more than half, within the Local Board District; and in many instances slate is used instead of lead. Where the latter ones are used, the same are cemented inside, which prevents the chemical action of the water upon the lead.
The Committee attribute the thickness of the water to the boring which is now going on at the Waterworks. Doubtless there are some cases where the cisterns require fresh cementing, which perhaps is the case in some of the houses alluded to in your letter.— I am, your obedient servant,
ROBERT GROWSE, Town Clerk.
The council, after meeting to discuss the issue, requested Dr. Garrett to provide further details of the properties in which he claimed the lead-poisoning incidents had arisen, however no such response was forthcoming, Dr. Garrett instead, complaining of being aggrieved that his personal integrity was being called into question. In addition, none of the other local doctors in the town reported any cases of suspected lead poisoning. However, in an attempt resolve this issue, the Board of Health commissioned tests on the water drawn from three separate lead-lined cisterns in the town, both to determine the 'affinity for lead' and any lead content. In all cases, there was found no more potential for dissolving lead into solution than many other towns and a very low, or undetectable, lead content in the samples analysed by Guy's Hospital in London
Progress in mains-laying
By 1866, it was reported that 3,277 yards of 8 inch iron water mains had been laid, with a further 3,515 yards in 6 inch, 2,516 yards of 4 inch and 150 yards of three inch pipe had been laid.
Buckshole and later reservoirs
Buckshole Reservoir construction is recorded as having started in 1852
1883 saw the opening of the Filsham Waterworks consisting of underground tanks that could store 50,000 gallons of water processed by an adjacent treatment plant, this reservoir and those of Halton and Shornden being constructed by Peter Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins passed away in 1899 before a further reservoir could be constructed by his firm.
A well had been dug at Fore Wood in Catsfield and by means of over 3,800 yards of eight inch piping, fresh spring water was brought into the borough in 1894
During the later portions of the 19th century a number of Hydraulic Ram pumps were also constructed on the to supplement the supply of water.
A waterworks was opened in nearby Brede in 1904. This consisted of water drawn from deep wells pumped to the surface by two Tangye engines with ram pumps and well pumps; these pumping water via an underground pipe to the town. They were joined in 1940 by a third pump manufactured by Worthington Simpson as part of the Darwell Reservoir Project and all three units operated until the end of steam in 1964, the machinery being replaced by electrically operated equipment. The pumping station still exists as a museum and has, over the years, extended its collection of water pumping and treatment engines.
The mid-twentieth century did not show much of an easing in the growth of the town, and corresponding demands for services. A 200 million gallon reservoir started construction in 1930 with the damming of the Powdermill Stream near the Powdermill Farm on the Great Sanders Estate, the water from this being conveyed to the waterworks at Breded; the Mountfield Reservoir near Battle started construction in 1937, but was interrupted by the breakout of WW2, finally reaching completion in November 1950, when it was opened by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. The reservoir covered over 160 acres and, when full, could hold 900 million gallons of water, contained by a dam almost a third of a mile long
An underground reservoir was completed at Baldslow in 1969 and a dam and reservoir, the Wishing Tree Reservoir, were constructed near Crowhurst in 1972.
Southern Water Storm Drain
In the late 1990s, Southern Water embarked on a large project designed to divert and store excess water resulting from storms into a large storage tank under the town which stretched from Alexandra Park to Warrior Square, this was known as the Southern Water Storm Drain and the previous link has photographs taken during the construction.
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 4 Chap. 44, pg. 21
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 3 Chap. 17 pg. 341
- British Newspaper Archive Sussex Advertiser 23 August 1853 Pg. 0008
- British Newspaper Archive Sussex Advertiser 3 May 1853 Pg. 0005
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 2 January 1892 Pg. 0006
- Brett Manuscript Histories Vol. 4 Chapt. XLVI Pg. 116
- British Newspaper Archive Sussex Advertiser 1 November 1859 Pg. 0004
- Three reports relating to the Hastings water with an appendix of letters, &c. 1859
- British Newspaper Archive Surrey Gazette 24 December 1861 Pg. 0001
- Alexandra Park, accessdate: 16 May 2020
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 3 March 1894 Pg. 0007
- History – Brede Steam Giants, accessdate: 16 May 2020
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 20 September 1930 Pg. 0016
- British Newspaper Archive The Sphere 4 November 1950 Pg. 0025