As the visitor walks from All Saints Square into the grounds of the Almshouses the eye is caught by an attractive square building standing in the centre of the quadrangle. Built at the same time as the Almshouses in 1840 the pump house was an essential part of daily life for the residents being the source of water for their daily needs.
Enclosed in the stone and brick building are two hand pumps, which unfortunately no longer work, and were used by the residents to draw water from the ground.
Bedworth was fortunate in being above a sloping seam of sandstone known as the Halesowen sandstone which in places was 100 ft thick and lying on top of a seam of coal. Being porous this sandstone absorbed and held water like a giant sponge and also acted as a very efficient filter and was also capable of transmitting it from one place to another. The bore hole for one of these pumps went into the sandstone ensuring a constant and clean supply of water.
The design of the Almshouses was very advanced for 1840 and would have had the approval of today’s green campaigners. A complicated system of pipes took all the rainwater from the roof of the Almshouses and drained it down into an underground tank under the pump house. The other pump went into this tank, providing the inmates with a supply of soft water suitable for washing their clothes.
The water supply at the Almshouses was the envy of the town. Whilst there were many pumps in and around the town, none of these were as deep as the Almshouse pump and as far as we know, none went into the sandstone layer.
Why the town bore holes were not very deep is unknown but it has been speculated that no one wanted to risk breaking into one of the many coal mines around the town, which in most cases were very close to the surface.
Shallow bore holes were the cause of much serious illnesses such as typhoid and scarlet fever in the town. A combination of no proper sanitation, cess pits and middens being the norm in the 19th century, which often overflowed causing serious contamination of the water. The pumps in the town usually dried up in warm weather, the usual solution to this was – off to the Almshouse pump. This was frowned upon by the governors of the Almshouses as the following item in the Parish Magazine shows.
Water at the Almshouses
From Parish Magazine July 1884
It is found to be inconvenient that persons should be coming at all times of the day, and the governors therefore decided at their Whitsuntide meeting that it should only be fetched at certain hours, and then only by those who have leave to do so.
The hours fixed upon are between 8 and 9 in the morning and 4 and 5 in the evening. An order was also given to the Clerk occasionally to have the gate locked for a whole day so to preserve the Governors right and to show that persons are only allowed to fetch water on sufferance. In no case is any soft water to be taken.
1899 saw the sinking of the 1500 foot deep Newdigate pit on the west side of the town. With water running down the incline of the sandstone it was necessary to continuously pump the pit to allow removal of the coal. But the moment that Newdigate Colliery began pumping water out of its workings, the water in the Bedworth pumps dried up.
The solution was to build the Bedworth Water Works and Tower and pump water from the pit to a tank at the top from where it could supply the town by means of gravity. The tank was fed by a 6” diameter bore hole which was 275 feet deep. The new water supply was insufficient for the town so water had to be pumped from the excess water at the Newdigate Pit.
There was another distinct advantage from this, the Newdigate Pit water being of a superior quality to that of the Bedworth bore hole water. This was because the farther the water traveled down the Halesowen sandstone layer the purer it became. Analysis and comparison of the water showed that it was far superior to the water we drink today.
The 150 foot high water tower and works, built by the new Bedworth Water Company, were completed in the summer of 1900 at a cost of £12,228, the tower being insured for £1,000.
As the population of the town grew, bigger and deeper bore holes were required before the town was completely supplied by mains water.
Eventually the water from the Almshouses pumps were replaced by a supply from the water tower with cold water taps being installed in each of the flats.
In the early 1950s the local water supply was replaced by a supply that was piped from the Welsh reservoirs.
Following a campaign by the Bedworth Society the 154 year old Pump House was restored in 1994.