The Day The Wells Ran Dry

Benfleet in 1899

Nowadays in this country we take it for granted that to obtain water you just turn a tap on. However it was not always that simple.  In 1899 the last well (at the  Hoy) failed, causing a major problem for Benfleet  residents.

The Parish Council approached the Tilbury and Southend Railway for help, who duly supplied a converted oil tank.  This was topped up twice a week by water brought by rail from Stanford le Hope and was distributed locally by horse and cart.

In addition a new well was sunk at Hopes Green, but alas this too failed after a while.  However, in 1903 mains were laid in Benfleet and the problem was resolved. The Benfleet experience of a safe drinking-water supply was fairly typical of the national situation.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, larger settlements were supplied with water by the many local companies piping water to houses and industry. Rural areas, though were still mainly reliant on wells, springs, streams and even the collection of rainwater.

In 1914 80% of boroughs and urban districts had piped supplies…whereas in rural areas 62% of rural districts had no proper water supply. The water companies were reluctant to supply the rural areas due to the high capital outlay required, compared to the little revenue they could expect in return.

The government had to step in and following interwar legislation, including the Rural Water Supplies Act of 1934, £1million pounds worth of schemes were carried out before the outbreak of war.

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  • Living in Castle Road West, Hadleigh in the late 1920s the only water we had was from a well just outside the backdoor, it was also used as a fridge in hot weather by suspending on a rope a bucket in the well containing our butter and milk. I visited the house recently and the well is still there. When we moved to Thundersley sixty years ago there was a well in our neighbours garden which had recently been filled in.

    By Ian Hawks. (31/08/2012)

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