PRIMING THE TOWN PUMP
‘Priming the Town Pump’ is reproduced
with the permission of Dr. Terry Spencer.
Today, when the turn of a tap brings us instant running water, it is hardly
surprising that we take water supply for granted and spare little
thought for its origin.
But the history of Pontefract’s town pump in Market Place, as revealed in
extracts from Richard Holmes’s ‘Book of Entries,’ focuses thought
upon public supply and reminds of a more leisurely age when local
government depended upon the collective decisions of the local community
as expressed by a general public meeting.
Fox, the Pontefract historian, states that the pump was endowed in the reign
of Queen Elizabeth I. Work on the conduit commenced in 1571, and was
completed the following year. The supply source was a spring in Penny
Lane (the present Wakefield Road), which was known as ‘Organn Well.’
For the early decades of its 400 year history the pump adequately served the
limited population, but by the mid 17th century public concern about the
maintenance of this water supply brought a general meeting at the
Moothall, following which came an order!
a conduit in the Markett Place with lead pipes leading to water from
Organn Well to the said conduit shall bee cleansed and repayred at the
charge and contribution of severall inhabitants of the Towne and
especially by those tha fetch water from the same conduit. And avvording
to the auncient custome of the said Towne, whoe shall not beare theire p’t
of the chardge p’portionable to what water they fetch from the same at
the discretion of the Majo’ for the time being and his brethren shall
be debarred from the beneffit of the said conduit except they shall be
The meeting also resolved that water be not drawn for brewing ale at such
times as it was required for domestic purposes such as cooking and
Wells at St. Ives and Tanshelf were named as age old examples of the custom of
providing for the poor townsfolk, whilst evidence of yet another source
of water within the town is the mention of a well, known at one time as
Clarke Well. This was said to be sited in a meadow to the left of the
road between the Swillington Tower of the Castle and Monkhill, now
The disrepair which followed both over-use and neglect of the town pump
system led to periodic public meetings to ensure remedial work. In April
1674, a towns meeting ordered that:
stepps or staires down to the Towne’s conduit bee amended and repayred
with Stapleton Free Stone at the Towne’s charge."
Again in 1676, in Moothall, an agreement for services was reached with one
John Oxley. He was to receive payment for work previously executed and
undertake regular repair and maintenance of the lead pipes for seven
years, to ensure a free-flowing supply from the well to the pump.
In return, Oxley, whose occupation was described as ‘pewtherer’, was to
receive annually from the "Field
Masters of Pontefract. . . the first year Fourty shillings and the
yearly sum of twenty shillings for the six years residue od the s’d
terme of seven years."
At another public meeting in 1699, Thomas Bulmer, a plumber, assumed Oxley’s
mantle, accepting thirty shillings, then in hand and four nobles yearly
from the Corporation for seven years in return for regular servicing.
During the Mayoralty of Ald Hastings Sayle, in 1705, lead pipes between the
Market Place and the Castle were taken up in a three stage operation.
Stage one, between the Market Place and the Town Hall, was probably
executed after the demolition of the castle, for there is no mention of
the sale of lead from there. The second stage (Town Hall to Broad Lane)
and the third (Broad Lane to the Castle) were completed by 1707. Money
left from the sale of lead was used to lay out and pave Micklegate.
By this time a levy was necessary to ensure Bulmer’s "salary and
waidges." 2d per quarter being paid by every private household
and 6d per quarter by every Public House – no-one who did not use the
water being obliged to pay. This led to some dissatisfaction. A body of
townsfolk was formed to decide the issue. The outcome approved by yet
another public meeting, was the raising of £5 by assessment as the
fairest way of obtaining the money.
Vandalism, it would seem, was equally a feature of the late 17th century, for the
pipes were wilfully damaged and cut and it was observed at a public
meeting that the cost of repairing the damage would be £9. It was
accon at law bee brought against such persons as cutt. . .the s’d
Conduit pipes. . .and that the say’d accon bee brought at the Towne’s
To protect the source, the building of a little house was agreed, in Penny
Lane, at the town’s expense, "to
secure the Dozell that conveys the water to the conduit."
Regular inspection and estimation of the nature and cost of any further repairs
was covered. Between 1713 and 1830, the responsibility for the water
supply was vested in the Overseer of the Highways.
A troublesome situation arose when Mr. William Tatham, who owned the
Waterhouse site refused access to the Town’s workmen and the
Corporation had to secure the right of the public to the customary water
From 1830 the Street Commissioners oversaw water supply until displaced by
the more modern authority.
The retention of the pump to this day is a reminder of a time when the
citizens of Pontefract thought well of the towns pump. . .
Priming the Town Pump was one of several articles published as Wakefield
District Heritage, Volume II, Kate Taylor (Editor) 1979.
Also by Terry Spencer:
Darrington Hotel: Origins and Early
Willow Park Dog Track
The Hope and Anchor Inn, Pontefract
Man: Thomas J. Sides
A Very Gallant Gentleman: Percy Bentley