Sunday, October 23, 2016
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
The gift of water
As the rain drizzles down in the Cotswolds, we’re apt to take for granted the regular clean water supply that we expect, in most of Europe, to be just there, at the turn of a tap. We grumble, of course, when they dig up the road to lay new water pipes, as they’re doing in my town at the moment. But our pipes have been there a while: in this town ‘the water’ was laid on in the Victorian period when the local bigwig and benefactress decided that installing piped water would be a good way to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887. Many villages, such as the one where I was born in Lincolnshire, had to wait until the 1960s.
Some places were more fortunate. The mysterious structure in my photograph is on the hill outside the Cotswold town of Chipping Campden. It looks rather like a village lock-up, but it’s actually a conduit house, built as part of a system of pipes that brought spring water to the town. It has, apparently, a water trough inside it – such structures marked the point where one or more pipes from springs converged and exit pipes carried the supply on to the users. There might also be a holding tank.
Campden’s conduit house is built, like most of the rest of the town, of Cotswold stone. The virtually windowless construction, with stone flags attached firmly to make a vaulted roof, is indeed as secure as a lock-up, and not without reason. The people who built this did not want vandals getting in, or slates blowing off so that the supply could be contaminated. So it’s built to last, and its builders of c 1612 seem to have known what they were doing. It certainly proved durable, staying in use until the early-20th century. The water supply it served was the gift of another benefactor, Campden’s generous and aqueously named Sir Baptist Hicks, to whom the town is variously and continuously thankful.