How Wellgate supplied water to Rotherham

How Wellgate supplied water to Rotherham

By Gareth Dennison | 21/01/2021

How Wellgate supplied water to Rotherham


ITS name means a road of wells, so it is little surprise that Wellgate was one of the main sources of Rotherham’s water supply.

But this street — stretching out south-east from the town centre — can trace its history back to the 15th century.

In 1490, resident Thomas Webster left 3/4d in his will with the express wish of making “a road called Welgate”.

This thoroughfare was part of the “old packhorse route”, with inns, stables and blacksmiths.

Packhorses carrying all kinds of goods left Rotherham from here, heading towards Maltby and Tickhill and then further afield to the ancient port of Bawtry.

Animal-pulled traffic gave way to the trams and trolley buses of the 20th century and the route has continued to serve a similar purpose.

But the springwater emanating from Wellgate was a crucial factor in how the town modernised and developed — and the water from here was our main supply until the completion of Ulley reservoir in 1874.

Wellgate School

Before 1827, the Feoffees — Rotherham’s oldest charity — had responsibility for the town’s water supply.

Their accounts for 1569 showed well repairs came to £4, including 72 days’ work and carting materials.

By 1708, nine workers were employed — paid 8/7d for cleansing Wellgate Brook. During 1750, the stream was covered over from the bottom of High Street.

And by 1791, water was carried above ground on the west side of Wellgate in an aqueduct, which supplied spouts for public usage — as well as having the cattle troughs near the bottom of Vicarage Lane.

But improvements were needed. Magistrate and historian John Guest’s record of a 1790 Feoffees meeting said: “The Greaves consult proper persons what is the fittest to be done with the wells in Wellgate, so as to accommodate both inhabitant and the street.”

After alterations were made, horses and carriages travelled “upon a good level road whereas before they were wading through the brook, often a foot deep in water, sand and mud.”

A private company was set up with £2,000 in 1827 to provide Rotherham’s first proper water supply, using waters from the Wellgate spring.

Local historian Margaret Jackson wrote a book about Wellgate — her initial interest in the area coming because that was where her father ran a china and glass store.

She said: “The water pumped to reservoirs near Quarry Hill and The Crofts and distributed through metal pipes.

“In 1853, this company was sold to the Rotherham and Kimberworth board of Health, who took over the public supply of water.

“By 1855, efforts to improve supply saw the completion of new pumping engines erected in College fields (Frederick Street) and service reservoirs at Boston Castle and Kimberworth using water from the Wellgate spring. These replaced the ones at Quarry Hill and The Crofts.”

The Countess of Effingham regularly sent for a supply of the Wellgate water for her tea.

And when she travelled into town herself, she would usually have two stone bottles to have filled with the water and placed in her carriage.

In 1890, the Advertiser asked readers for their memories of the 1830s and 40s.

Mr W Creswick wrote of water being pumped by an engine behind the Oddfellows Arms into a reservoir in The Crofts.

He remembered landlords fixing a tap in each yard and charging tenants a penny extra per week. Some tenants left their homes rather than pay.

The water ran very slowly, he remembered, and there were a dozen buckets at a time waiting to be filled — sometimes fights broke out.

On a Sunday morning, as early as 5am, up to 50 men with two buckets each were waiting at the Wellgate pump to carry water to Masbrough.

Another reader recalled: “The grandest sight in our street was a very large water barrel, drawn on wheels by a bull from Squire Fenton’s at Car House. It travelled through Bridgegate and Jesus Gate to the Wellgate pump for water.”

In 1851 there was an inquiry into the water supply set-up around Wellgate, held by William Lee.

He found Hollowgate had no proper drainage — and gave an example of three houses situated below road level, which occasionally flooded.

There were privies above the roofs of other houses. Floors were damp. There was a constant fever in the neighbourhood. Filth percolated under cottages. Bedrooms looked out into open cesspools, with tenants complaining the stench was as bad as in the privies.

Margaret (right)?said: “Inevitably, the lack of proper drainage and the inadequate water supply caused many health issues. The population of Rotherham had increased rapidly and the cottages in the courts and yards were overcrowded.

“There was no running water, outside privies were shared and the drains consisted of little more than a hole in the ground. Livestock kept in the yards added to the problems.

“Mr Lee’s conclusions were that although a water co was established in 1827, the quantity of water supplied was not sufficient.

“Health would be much improved by a constant supply of pure water in each house, proper drainage and cleansing and removal of decomposing animal and vegetable matter.”

The springwater was abandoned in 1894 because of pollution caused by population growth.

And in 1978, Yorkshire Water sealed the tunnel that had carried the ancient spring in Wellgate for more than 200 years.

The tunnel — large enough to walk inside — was filled to prevent collapse in future years.

* Rotherham Wellgate — The Old Packhorse Route, by Margaret Jackson, is available through the Friends of Rotherham Chapel on the Bridge page on Facebook or by calling Eileen Hyland on 01709 839363.

Part of a panto performed
in Howard Street before 1898:

Of all the ancient British towns
Old Rotherham is most wealthy
It’s just spent twenty thousand pounds
To make the water healthy

And now the money is all spent
Pray is the water better
Oh yes! It sparkles like the Trent
And could not be much better

And all can have it who will pay
The water rate, but mind
That if they give a drop away
They’re certain to be fined

It is a sin to steal a pin
Much more the town’s good water
As you may learn from Mr Slinn
When he collects next quarter