Stafford Morse MA, the Secretary of the Society of Thornbury Folk, teacher and local historian, has written an account of Thornbury in 1851 which says that “the public water supply was derived from two pumps – the ‘Upper Pump,’ opposite the Beaufort Arms (now the Picture House) and the ‘Lower Pump’ on the Plain”.
The pump on The Plain might not necessarily be the pump that those who are familiar with Thornbury might imagine and which is shown above.
The photograph here on the right shows the position of a pump at the top of Castle Street that might have been on the site of an old well.
The story of the well known Pump on The Plain (which Morse referred to as the Lower Pump) is outlined on another page (click here to read more).
In February 1877 the Bristol Mercury reported that Frank Sturge a solicitor in Thornbury acting on behalf of the ratepayers was objecting to the fact that the Sanitary Authority was attempting to execute works to supply Thornbury with water taps and to contract with the Midland Railway Company to supply mains water to Thornbury. This would cost more money and ” as the town was now supplied by four public pumps it was sufficient for the wants of the inhabitants and the expenditure was not warranted.”
One of these pumps was in the High Street just below the Exchange (Knot of Rope) and seems to have been called the “Upper Pump.” This appears in photographs of the High Street, one of which is here below left. It was mentioned in a newspaper article of February 1945 when it was decided to remove the broken pump “but it was suggested that a manhole be placed there so that water might still be obtained in an emergency. It was pointed out that the water had long been condemned for drinking purposes.”
Stafford Morse also notes that 1851 was a particularly dry year, especially in the autumn “so that in December there was a great scarcity of water and a large number of wells in the town ceased to function. The two public pumps ‘yielded but a partial and scanty supply’ and almost all the rainwater tanks were were exhausted. The farmers had to haul water long distances.'” Thornbury had to find more reliable water sources.
The inside cover of the Parish Records of St Mary’s Church in Thornbury shows that one attempt at providing a solution to Thornbury’s water problems was to dig deeper wells. A 91 feet well was dug in Bullseye Lane in November 1859 at the behest of William Osborne Maclaine. We have been told that this well was contaminated when the market was opened up near the site.
The pumps remained in place long after they were supposed to be unnecessary and certainly long after they ceased to be usable. A newspaper report of January 1938 says that Mr Harker asked if the pump opposite Mr Bayliss’s house could be in order to be used for cart and car washing. Mr Riddiford was of the opinion that it was unreasonable to ask rate payers to go to this expense when most residents owned neither carts nor cars. No mention was made of the fact that if the pumps could not be used there was no point in having them. A report of a Thornbury Parish Council meeting dated 16th April 1938 mentions that a letter was to be read asking for the Parish Council to forward a request to the District Council that the three remaining pumps could be removed as they were no longer operable. The whole discussion did not even take place as there was a point of order about the areas of responsibility of the two Councils. It seems as usual that Thornbury found it easier and cheaper to do nothing.
The pump which was referred to “opposite Bayliss’s” seems to have remained in place for some time because it can still just be seen here in the photograph on the right. It is opposite the front door of the house which was modernised by Francis Hopkins around 1954. For those unfamiliar with Thornbury at that time, the pump was sited at what is now the junction of Rock Street and Bath Road. This pump was marked on the 1880 map but it is not clear when it was put in place. The 1880 map also shows a pump near the Union Workhouse, one at the School opposite the Church (which is now St Mary’s School), one near the Chantry, one at Park House, one outside the bank on The Plain and one further down Castle Street.