To prevent a water famine in the harsh winter of 1890-91, six Cradley wells - which had previously been closed by order of the local authorities as unfit for drinking purposes - were re-opened for use.
In the harsh winter of 1890-91, Cradley suffered a severe water shortage. The local authority had acted, on public health grounds, to stop the use of many of the wells and springs from which the people of Cradley had drawn drinking water from since time immemorial.
This article reproduces a County Express newspaper report of a public meeting held in January 1891 to protest the dire lack of water. The controversy was such that the "water famine" even featured in the editorial. Two Gates was particularly badly affected.
To digress for a moment, it is worth noting the fundamental importance which water has had for Cradley and its inhabitants for a thousand years.
Firstly there is of course the Stour, which is set down as one of Cradley's boundaries when these were first defined in a charter made by King Eadred, King of the West Saxons, in the year 950. A thousand years later, Norman Bird wrote:
The River Stour and its tributary mark out Cradley's boundary on three sides, and as one would expect, their water power has had a great influence on the economy of the Manor, and later, on the development of its industries. At first the water mills were used solely for grinding corn into flour. Later they ground flour following the harvest and then turned to forging the rest of the year. Finally, they were used solely for forging, rolling and slitting iron.
For more information, see "The Mills on the Stour" and Peter Barnsley's "Two Old Cradley Mills" on this site.
In our era, the availability of water for domestic consumption, cooking and cleaning is (at least for those of us fortunate enough to live in the Western world) so commonplace that we give it no thought at all. Alas, this was not always the case for our ancestors.
Much of the river, spring and well water of the nineteenth century Black Country was polluted by sewage and industrial processes; inevitably, typhoid and cholera epidemics took a grim toll, with a particularly severe outbreak in the late 1840s. In this article you will read of a case of typhoid fever at Halesowen, made more poignant and shocking by the relatively late date (1891) and the brevity with it is mentioned.
Wilfred Williams ("Old Cradley", Bugle Annual 1982, p. 6) mentions Richard Stevens (who is, or at least was, remembered by a small pathway in Windmill Hill, known still to some older Cradley residents as "Dick's Hill"):
... we find a Richard Stevens as Landlord of the Windmill Inn, Colley Gate. Apart from being mine host, Richard was a well sinker and he sank many pitshafts in the district. Before the coming of the water mains the only water supply was from wells and local springs.
Cradley Spa, which was actually just outside Cradley, and was also known variously as "Lady Ward's Saline Spa", "Lady Wood's Spa", "Lady's Well", "Pensnett Spa" and "Saltwell's Spa" was
"... highly esteemed on account of its medicinal qualities, and in summer it is very much frequented";
... but any "medicinal qualities" were probably due to the fact that any relatively clean and unpolluted water was better than anything else on offer.
The South Staffordshire Waterworks Company was formed in 1853 by the Earl of Dudley. Following the 1989 Water Act it was privatised, and is now South Staffordshire Water PLC.
At this time, Cradley Links does not know exactly when the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company first brought mains water to Cradley, but the company first appears in our transcription of the 1872 Post Office directory.
But we know from this County Express article that even by 1891, the piped water supply was patchy and not at all reliable.
In his book "When I was a boy", Clifford Willetts gives an excellent account of life in Cradley at the turn of the century (1900). Cliff, who was born in Two Gates in 1896, tells us that none of the dwellings had a bathroom, and water was obtained from wells and pumps.
In "Alfred Westwood - An Early Cradley Radical" on this site, Alf Clift and Susan Westwood record that as a young boy at the same period, their grandfather, Alfred Westwood J.P. remembered that:
the only water supply for Cradley came from two hand pumps situated at the top of Cradley High Street, opposite the Baptist Chapel. He recalled that regular fights took place amongst the women and children over who got their water first.
In fact, we know that even in the late 1920s the people of Two Gates were still drawing their drinking water from springs in the fields behind Tanhouse Lane. As young children at this time, Winnie Pearce and her cousin Dennis Taylor were severely told off by their mothers for mending a puncture in Dennis's bicycle tyre in one of these springs, "because people draw their drinking water from it". Major Fellows was one of those people who walked down the hill with his jug to fill from the spring.
As recently as the 1950s, there was a spring in today's Furlong Lane - still more commonly known at that time as Spring Lane. Winnie Pearce's son Nigel Brown recalls:
It was very close to Hodgetts' butchers shop. I used to stop to drink from it with cupped hands almost every time I went past. It was considered to have almost medicinal properties and was used by my mother to bathe sore eyes and grazed arms and legs when I was young. Today's equivalent would be the bottled water that we have to pay for by the litre. The spring was later stopped up as a public health hazard, which may or may not be true, but it did me no harm.
Nine years after the meeting which is the subject of this article, there was another article in the County Express (from Cradley Then and Now) -
The County Express Saturday 13th. January 1900.
"Cradley Parish Council. Mr. Cutler presented a report of the committee looking into the supply of water at the Furlong Lane Spring. It stated that necessary work had been done and it was hoped in the future there would be little or no cause for complaint. The intermittent supply of water in the past had been on account of the number of new houses which had been erected near the source of the spring."
It seems that the South Staffordshire Water Works Company took a very long time indeed to respond to the requests made in January 1891.
STOURBRIDGE, BRIERLEY HILL, AND COUNTY EXPRESS, SATURDAY, JANUARY 31, 1891
A WATER FAMINE IN CRADLEY.
A meeting was held on Wednesday evening in the Wesleyan New Connexion Schools, Colley Gate, to consider what steps should be taken with regard to the complaints heard on all sides as to the scarcity of water supplied by the South Staffordshire Water Works Company. It would seem that 90 houses at the top of Windmill Hill have had no water for six or seven weeks, and altogether about 120 houses have been partially or wholly without water. To prevent a water famine, six wells - which had been closed by order of the local authorities as unfit for drinking purposes - have been re-opened and the water used. Some people declare that the water is much better than it was before the wells were closed, but this of course counts for nothing without analysis. The water supply has for the past two years been irregular, and now that the water has been in some cases entirely cut off for as much as three days in one week, things have reached a climax. It was resolved to call a parishioners' and ratepayers' meeting to consider what steps should be taken to remedy the state of affairs, and this led to the gathering on Wednesday night. Mr. S. Hingley, C.C., was voted to the chair, and he was supported by Mr. B. Hingley, M.P.; Messrs. Joseph Hingley, T. Lloyd, T. Price, William Hunter, Frank Oliver, J. Fellows, Stewart, J. Tate, Harris, Harbach, Paton, and others. Dr. Turner (medical officer), Mr. T. Wall (clerk to the Guardians Sanitary Authority), and Mr. B. Thompson (sanitary inspector), were also present.
The Chairman said a fellow-feeling made them wondrous kind. He had suffered as much as anyone in regard to water supply, and had done all he could to remedy the matter. In the first place he wrote to the secretary of the Water Works Company and explained the matter to him as strongly as he possibly could. In reply the secretary said that his board regretted very much they were not having a good water supply, but it was on account of the severe frost which had been experienced. That was on the 8th of January. But things had not been remedied, and he had had to draw water which cost him £1 a day. He wrote again last Sunday, and he was assured that their desire was to comply with their request, and that the letter would be laid before the directors, who were to meet the following (Thursday) night. That was poor comfort, and that (Wednesday) afternoon he had been to the company's offices, but could only see the engineer, who told him the difficulties they now had to contend with were greater than ever. The pipes were frozen and bursting all over the place, but he promised the water should be laid on that (Wednesday) afternoon or night. If it was not it would be from some unforeseen circumstances. The County Council had no authority, as he had telegraphed to the clerk to see if anything could be done in that direction; but the reply was that they could only write to the company. He (Mr. Hingley) had done all he could to put an end to this state of affairs, and if, after the assurances he had, they did not have a supply that night it would be another breach of faith or an inability to do what was requisite.
Mr. Price asked if Cradley was included in the company's Act?
The Chairman replied that it must be. Some had been talking about not paying the water rate, but he was afraid if they took that course the company would say "You shan't have it at all."
Mr. Joseph Hingley asked if the cause of all this was the breaking of the mains and pipes?
The Chairman said that was mainly so.
Mr. Thomas Lloyd: We must have water from some source or other.
Mr. Wall said Mr. Thompson had written to the secretary of the company saying there was a likelihood of there being a water famine, and that disused wells had had to be opened. This sort of thing had gone on for a number of years, and he had been searching up some correspondence between himself and the secretary of the company with regard to it. On the 27th of March, 1888, in reply to a letter as to the proposed extension of the mains from Windmill Hill to the Two Gates, Mr. Haselden (secretary to the South Staffordshire Company) wrote that their inspector had reported that he was unable to identify houses, and asking for a list of houses, owners, and occupiers. Mr. Thompson, the sanitary inspector, wrote, enclosing a list, and also explained that the inhabitants were frequently making applications for him to report the matter, as there was likely to be a water famine. In January, 1889, Mr. Haselden wrote again, in reply to a complaint, "that unfortunately these people are on the top of a hill, and if we were to lay the main they would not have the proper supply." Mr. Wall said, according to that, they practically admitted that they could not supply the water. Following that letter a communication was opened with the Stourbridge Water Works Company with a view of getting them to supply water, and in reply Mr. E.B. Marten, the engineer, wrote: "The height of the land upon which the houses stand which you wish supplied at Two Gates is 560 feet above sea, and you ought to allow at least 40 feet more for the tops of the houses. Our high pressure reservoirs are only 530 feet above sea, and for so small a supply we can hardly be expected to make special pumping arrangement, and I do not expect the South Staffordshire Company would allow us to go without heavy payment to them. I think they are in a position to supply the houses, because they have the pressure, but reduce it in Cradley. They would only have to run a special main to where their high pressure is with no further trouble about pumping." Mr. Wall said on the 15th of February he received a further letter from Mr. Marten, who, with Mr. W.B. Collis (chairman), had called on the secretary and engineer of the South Staffordshire Water Works Company, and they found it was only a question of outlay to supply the houses. Other letters passed between him and the company, and in reply to another he received the following from the secretary of the South Staffordshire Water Works Company:-
"29th November, 1889.
"Dear Sir,-Your letter of the 23rd inst., as to the supply of Two Gates, Cradley, was read at our meeting of directors yesterday, and I am instructed to inform you that the Board are willing to enter into any reasonable arrangement with the Stourbridge Water Company for a supply by them, if their pumping powers enable them to give the supply. With regard to the complaint of intermittance of pressure, &c., the directors had before them a report from our engineer, in which he stated that to say generally that the water was off two or three days in a week would be a great exaggeration, and he believes you were led to say this by the fact of our having recently had a burst on the main, which stopped the supply between Saturday and Monday. But the engineer acknowledged that in consequence of the high level it was true that interuptions take place by the draw off in adjacent low levels, which the directors much regret, and as to which they will give anxious attention.-Yours faithfully,
"H. HASELDEN, Secretary."
Finding that they got no redress, the Sanitary Authority requested him (Mr. Wall) to communicate with the member of Parliament for the district, and Mr. B. Hingley replied as follows:-
"March 11th, 1890.
"Dear Sir,-I duly received your communication respecting the supply of water to the Two Gates, Cradley, and also your subsequent letter enclosing a note from Mr. Brooke Robinson. It is simply impossible to get any alteration in the South Staffordshire Water Works Company's private Act, unless they go to Parliament for further powers; but what I will do is to bring any personal influence which I may possess to bear upon the company to induce them, if possible, to comply with the wish of the Sanitary Authority. I will see the chairman, and failing any result, I shall be quite ready to ask the ... [the next line or two is illegible - Cradley Links] ... answer that the secretary to the Local Government Board can give is that he has no compulsory powers in the matter. Still it will show that the local authority desires to do their duty in the matter, especially as so much of an exaggerated nature has been said with regard to Cradley.-Yours very truly, B. HINGLEY."
Mr. Wall said he could assure the meeting the Sanitary Authority were most anxious to help them. (Hear, hear).
Mr. B. Hingley, M.P., said they all knew that water was one of the prime necessities of life. The question of supplying Two Gates by the Stourbridge Water Works Company was, in his opinion, altogether out of range. The South Staffordshire Water Works Company had the only power, and not only the power, but it was their duty to do it. If they continued to neglect their duty they must bring them to a sense of their duty. (Hear, hear). He should not like to say a single harsh word about the difficulties owing to the frost. They must not press upon them their recent difficulties, but the difficulties of a long time past. They could excuse the last two months, but they could not excuse the intermittent supply which they had received for a long time past. As a matter of fact, there had scarcely been a day when the water had not been taken off. On Saturday, when it was most wanted, it had been cut off. He had enquired what means they could take, and had written a letter to the company, but he had since been led to understand by a legal friend that the consumers were compelled to pay. They must pay, but they could summon the company for damages before the magistrates, and, upon conviction, they could be fined forty shillings a day so long as the water supply was not right. When companies obtained an Act of Parliament there were obligations placed upon them, but there were provisions as to exceptional places. Kate's Hill, Dudley, was an excepted place, on account of its elevated position. He asked Mr. Wall if Windmill Hill was excepted on account of being above the ordinary level.
Mr. Wall: I don't think so, sir.
Mr. Hingley, proceeding, said then the company must give them a good supply, and they were entitled to call upon them to supply the highest rooms in any of the houses. Making all allowances, he thought the time had come when they must take stringent measures. In a reply to a letter he sent, the company said they were most anxious attention should be given to the question. If the company did attend to their requirements they must let bygones be bygones, but if they did not attend to the matter, then they must take steps to enforce their obligation. He thought the company were to blame in not having a man in the locality representing them. If the consumers wanted a man they had to go three or four miles away. They were imposing on one man more than he could do. Somewhere within easy reach there ought to be a man, so that in case anything took place they could easily send for him and have the thing rectified. (Hear, hear.)
Mr. Thomas Lloyd said no one had been round to see if they had any water or not. If there had been only a moderate supply they would not complain, but they had none for three or four days at a time.
Mr. J. Fellows said the only step to take was to open the wells again.
Dr. Turner said the Sanitary Authority were most anxious to serve them by improving their dwellings and giving them pure and wholesome water. One of the greatest necessaries for the community was a wholesome water, and he had not closed a single well unless it was absolutely necessary. In referring to the scarcity of water, Dr. Turner said at Two Gates the people had been getting water from a pond out of which cattle drank. He sincerely hope this meeting would be the means of causing the South Staffordshire Water Works Company to push the matter forward, and that a plentiful supply of water may be soon obtained. He was called to a case of typhoid fever at Halesowen the other day, and on going there he found the premises in a most wretched condition. As fever was caused by impure water or foul gases, he enquired about the water, and found the water there had not been put on owing to the frost, and they had to borrow water from a neighbour. On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday last they had no water at Halesowen. That was a most serious thing.
Mr. Price queried whether Cradley was included in the Act of Parliament of the company. He suggested that Two Gates be included in any resolution adopted. The state of things there was certainly shocking.
Mr. Hingley said he would undertake to press upon the company the necessity of supplying Two Gates.
Mr. Lloyd then moved the following resolution:
"That this meeting of ratepayers of Windmill Hill, Cradley, complains in the strongest manner of the want of a proper supply of water to this locality by the South Staffordshire Water Works Company. The complaint is not only in respect to the entire absence of supply during the recent frost, but still more because of an insufficient and very irregular supply for at least two years past. It was resolved that the Water Works Company be now called upon to furnish a continuous supply at a sufficient pressure, and, failing that, a further meeeting be called for the purpose of taking stringent measures to compel the Water Works Company to do its duty in the matter."
Mr. John Fellows seconded the resolution, which was carried unanimously.
A vote of thanks to the chairman, to Mr. B. Hingley, M.P., and to Mr. Lloyd, for the steps they had taken in the matter, brought the proceedings to a close.
In replying, Mr. Lloyd said even the milksellers were complaining of the want of water. (Laughter)
NOTES, LOCAL AND GENERAL
The water supply of Cradley has been so unsatisfactory and intermittent that the inhabitants of that district are unable to stand it any longer, and they assembled in public meeting on Wednesday night to give vent to their dissatisfaction. From the report in another column it will be seen that there is strong ground for complaining of the supply, or rather non-supply, from the mains of the company who profess to meet the wants of the district. Having regard to the population of the Halesowen and Cradley district, there is almost room for an independent water works company. The high ground near Halesowen would appear to afford an admirable site for a reservior, and considering the immense district the South Staffordshire Water Works Company cover, we should think they would not be sorry to come to an arrangement of supplying that part of the district which would come legitimately within the scope of such an undertaking as we refer to.