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Stow Wells by Tim Norris
There are 2 wells situated on the East side of Stow, but the term “The Wells” usually refers to the top well. There used to be a 3rd well but its position is unknown. They are fed by springs emanating from the limestone rock on which Stow is perched and were for many years the main source of water for Stow. Their proximity to the site of the Iron Age fort, the earliest evidence of a settlement, suggests that they would have been used from prehistoric times.
They are sometimes referred to as the “Roman Wells”, but there is no evidence that the Romans were in Stow, preferring to stay down in Bourton on the Water. However it is likely that they would have used the old fortifications as an outpost and to guard the Fosse Way, so they may indeed have made use of this apparently endless water supply.
The current stone tank is of some antiquity. We can be sure that for centuries, the residents would have had to obtain their water from these wells and carry it home, probably in buckets on yokes, or purchase it from carts in the town for a farthing a bucket. There were bitter arguments with the residents of Broadwell who considered they had prior rights to the water supply, it being in their parish. The richer residents of Stow would have preferred to pay a carrier with a horse and cart to collect water from Lower Swell.
Considering that the waste disposal system in Stow over the years consisted of the “swillies”, which discharged waste water and sewage directly into the limestone rock to soak away in the fissures, water sourced from above the level of the community would have been preferable!
Over time the wells have been used for less appropriate purposes, and at one point they became contaminated by the washing of pigs’ intestines! Various unsuccessful attempts were made to provide a pumped supply of water to the town until 1871 when Joseph Chamberlayne-Chamberlayne, the Lord of the Manor of Maugersbury, provided £2000 for a borehole. This generous act is commemorated on a plaque on the base of the market cross in the Square. The town was eventually connected to the mains water supply in 1937.
Town Plan Proposal
The first picture shows the Upper Well around the turn of the 19th Century. Though an apron existed for carts to pull in adjacent to the well, this has been replaced in recent years with modern asphalt which presents a very different appearance to the more “rural” setting of 1900. The 2nd photograph shows the Well as it is today from the same angle, showing the asphalt apron. This is the only passing place on the section of Well Lane that continues down to “Top Lodge”, but is also an invitation for vehicles to park and obscure the view of the Well in its natural setting. For most visitors having just one opportunity to see the ancient well, this can be a great disappointment.
Our aim is to re-locate the lay-by on the opposite side of the road, remove the current asphalt apron and create a more appropriate setting. Some tidying up of the undergrowth on the bank and replacement by more attractive ground covering plants, with the addition of a few more shade tolerant shrubs, would, we feel, enhance the appeal of this attraction without destroying its natural setting.
The Friends are grateful to Tim for this article and hope to support the project. Further information can be obtained from Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleaning the Wells
A visit to the Wells should be more pleasant at the moment as they have received a late spring clean. Instigated by Brig Clive Beckett a team of volunteers assembled on the 4th July to pump out the upper well (having diverted the inflow) and removed 10 years of accumulated sludge and other items deposited by visitors. In the process a sum of money amounting to over £8.00 was collected, including a 1918 Penny. This has been banked and added to Civic Society funds – we hope the aspirations of the donors has been realised – especially the owners of the 3 £1 coins!
Although the sides were steam cleaned we could not fully make out the inscription on the rear face which is normally below the water line, but which was probably added subsequently, and no further clues as to its antiquity were revealed. The basic construction looked to be in very good order, and the broken, exposed, inlet pipe was repaired and covered. The water level recovered to normal overnight and it all looked crystal clear.
The Town Clerk, Roger Crouch, suggested that this operation should be carried out every two years to ensure the condition of the wells is not allowed to deteriorate so much. The lower well was also given some attention – clearing some of the encroaching weeds and emptying the sludge and rubbish.
Thanks are due to all the volunteers and particularly to Colin Smalley who generously provided the pump, pressure washer and generator as well as some sweat and toil!
A scheme is being prepared to improve the environment of the upper well and to replace the asphalt approach apron with something more attractive, but low maintenance. But before this can be implemented we may need to address the water leakage to the right hand side of the well. This does not appear to be coming from the well itself but further back, possibly from the small sump that supplies the well feed. The ground to the side of the well has become very wet and impassable. Further investigation is required before an improvement scheme can be implemented and may involve some significant excavation before the source of the leak can be identified and controlled.