The best of Dorset in words and pictures

A short history of water – mains water to Beaminster

Paul Coggins on how mains water came to Beaminster

The mains being laid in Fleet Street. This water main is still in operation today.

Beaminster is the product of the Anglo-Saxon age; the Romans passed Beaminster by, building their settlement in Durnovaria (Dorchester) on a road that ran westward to Exeter.
It was an ideal place for a settlement as it has an abundance of water. Two comparatively small rivers rise in and around Beaminster from which both make their way to the sea. The river Axe rises in Chedington copse, a short distance North of Beaminster and meanders its way some forty miles through Somerset, and flows out to sea at Axmouth near Seaton in Devon. The smaller river Brit is a different matter, rising a mile above the town of Beaminster at Shatcombe springs on the Western slopes of Toller Down, spending its short life between Beaminster and Bridport and eventually entering the sea at West Bay.

The reservoir being constructed at Shatcombe springs. Materials were hauled by donkey and cart and all excavations would have been completed by hand, hence the number of “navvies” on both sites.

Mains water arrived in Beaminster circa 1908. Around ten years before, a concrete-constructed reservoir was built on land at Shatcombe springs. It is believed the construction company which laid the mains and built the reservoir were McDonalds from Scotland. Local labour would have been used, although larger Victorian companies used ‘navvies’ who often travelled around the country with the company. The reservoir supplied the town with a population of around 1800 people via a four-inch cast iron main. The cast iron pipes were reduced to three-inch diameter for distributing water to the homes in the narrow streets of the town. Most homes would have had a connection to the mains water supply, often consisting of  just a single bib tap over a Belfast sink and an out-side WC. When one of the first council estates was completed at Gerrard’s Green, off North St, Beaminster in 1954, more modern conveniences – a bath, basin, indoor WC, kitchen sink and some form of coal-fired back boiler, for hot water were fitted.
As the population grew, a six-inch cast-iron main was laid from the reservoir to Beaminster reinforcing the existing main. A pipe was also laid to a new reservoir in 1967, at North Warren Hill (south of Beaminster) to supply Netherbury, Waytown, Oxbridge, Melplash and West Milton. This was the first time that all these villages received mains water.
In the very early days when the reservoir and mains were commissioned the water supply would have been managed by Beaminster RDC, but the daily operation of the treatment and distribution network was operated by JWR Newman & Co a local company of plumbers and electricians who also operated the gas works at the top of St Mary’s Well Street (which eventually closed in 1982). Subsequent changes with local authorities meant that the Beaminster water supply was managed by the West Dorset Water Board, then the Dorset Water Board and now Wessex Water.

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