Village history: Kidlington’s water and wells

Kidlington, like most villages in the past, depended on wells and rainwater for its water supplies. Lack of fresh water plus open ditches along the roads, many of which contained sewage, caused many health problems. To help to prevent these problems, in the early 1800s many of these ditches were then piped. It is interesting to read in Thirty Nine Years in an Oxfordshire Parish* that in 1890 the Vicar fell ill with typhoid due to the insanitary condition of the drains in the vicarage.

Regarding fresh water supplies in the village of Kidlington before 1900, little is recorded. The only public wells found mentioned was one near the junction of Kidlington Green Road (High Street) with the Oxford Banbury Road and a second one near the end of Town Green Road (Mill Street). Most houses had their own wells and these were in use until mains water supplies came in the late thirties. My father bought a ‘modern bungalow’ in 1928 and I remember the well outside the back door and the pump in what was at first a scullery but later the kitchen. We had a tank in the roof space and the water was pumped to it from the well. This supplied the taps in the bathroom and the toilet. There were also taps in the kitchen.

A member of the History Society informed me about one elderly lady living near the church, who when the graveyard was extended ceased to use her well. Perhaps there was a public well somewhere nearby in Church Street.

With no mains water in the village, the managers of the old church school reported in 1928 that “there are several defects in the school which need urgent action.” These included the wells and the use of buckets in the toilets. The cloakrooms had bowls and jugs of water for washing hands.

Gosford Hill School opened in 1932 and mains water did not come to the school until 3 years later. In spite of this, school meals were available. Like houses in the village water was obtained from wells. It is recorded that there were several occasions when the wells ran dry, especially in the very dry summer of 1933 when the gardening classes were reporting that many of their young plants were wilting. In 1934 the canteen staff, having “no water at all, begged enough to cook the first course” available at 12.15 with pupils waiting until afternoon break for their puddings.

Water Tower at Bunkers Hill, near Shipton

The row of houses to the north of Shipton-on-Cherwell, named Bunkers Hill, were built in 1927/8 for the workers at the cement works. They face the former quarry and with the exception of the manager’s house which is detached, they are semi-detached houses. There is a water tower near the manager’s house built of concrete that stands on legs.

Talking to Miss Joan Airey, the daughter of the former manager, she told how she lived in the Manager’s house until a few years ago. She said that when the houses were built there was no water supply available and the cement company found an underground spring and erected the water tower, the water being pumped up by means of sails. However, when there was no wind, the water in the tank would run out and so later the sails were replaced by a mechanical pump. This was used until the 1980s when a pipe from the village of Shipton-on-Cherwell brought mains water to the houses. The tower was then disconnected. Unfortunately the pipe from Shipton was too small and when the residents in the village used a lot of water the Bunkers Hill houses’ supply ran dry. To solve the problem, the mains water was then piped up into the tank which was brought back into use. It seems that the tank continues to be used in this way.

John Amor

* Thirty Nine Years in an Oxfordshire Parish, covering the period 1887–1925, is published by Kidlington & District Historical Society.