5 Chelmsford Water Supply

Chelmsford Corporation and Borough Council
In Chelmsford, it would appear that the first water sources  were the Admirals Park Springs, Burgess Well Spring  and the  Mildmay Artesian Well. Brick channels and wooden elm pipes were laid from the Burgess Well spring in 1683 to feed the high street by gravity, a drop of only some 7ft. In 1708 a public Conduit adorned with a Naiad was erected in Conduit Square or market place, now known as Tindal Square, this was replaced with another Conduit in 1814. Pipes were also laid from here to adjoining streets such as New Street. Water was distributed from the Conduit for sale by water carriers. The excess water flowed into a common sewer which ran down the centre of the High street to the River Chelmer.  A petition in 1789 signed by 15 local residents, called for the restitution of their supply which had been cut off by construction of Shire Hall. In 1852, following a cholera outbreak two years previously, a James Fenton, produced the first plans for a public water supply, and a sewage treatment plant at Kings Head Meadow. The first public drain or sewer dated from the 1300’s and ran from the Market Place (Tindal Square) along an open channel down the high street to the River Chelmer.

Burgess Well Springs

Water rising in the kitchen garden of 15 Fairfield Road was enclosed in a covered reservoir of 34,000 galls, before flowing through an iron pipe under Burgess Well Road into a tank at Harrington’s Market garden, where it was joined by water from two other springs.  These  fed watercress beds,before being  filtered using sand, gravel and charcoal, before entering the tank via earthenware pipes. The water then was transferred via iron pipes to the Mildmay Yard Reservoir , where it mixed with water from the the Artesian well.  Water from this source was hard,  and from 1853 water  from the deep boreholes soft. As a consequence these were used alternately and notices informed the Public on which days they were to receive hard or soft water.

C1 1795 to 1814 Conduit Square

A Water Carrier selling water from the Chelmsford Conduit. Photograph of picture by Philip Reinagle RA. 1795

Shire Hall with Cannon 001

Shire Hall with Cannon outside

C2  Conduit High Street 1852

The Conduit was moved in 1852 to the High Street, junction with Springfield Road, until 1940 when it was moved to its present site in Tower Gardens.

The Burgess Well spring was augmented by shallow well of approx 15ft deep and water pumped from this via a small uncovered tank, with its top at ground level, fed into the covered reservoir containing the spring water.
A reservoir was built at Burgess Well, and water pumped up to a reservoir in Wood Street from where water gravitated back into the town.
In 1903 an outbreak of Diarrhoea occurred affecting over 1000 people and resulting in 14 deaths. The cause was discovered to be horse manure from the roads spread on the garden adjacent to the uncovered tank, being washed in by the rain.
Water from the covered reservoir was also piped to Mildmay Yard Reservoir, in Hall Street, which was brick with a galvanized iron roof, and held 120,000 gallons.  The Mildmay Artesian well was sunk in 1853 to 568 ft into the chalk. Initially the water overflowed , but when a second well was dug in 1901 0f 662 ft deep, the water level was 90 ft below ground level. These wells were adjacent to the building which was the home of the original Marconi Company, and became offices for the Essex Water Company. 

Marconi Masts Chelmsford 001

Marconi Aerial Bolt 1

Marconi Aerial Bolt 2




A bolt from one of Marconi’s masts, it weighs 5 kilograms 

In later years, when there was also a public distribution system, the supply from the conduit was found to be contaminated and the Town Council indicated it was to be shut off. Following public opposition the decision was reversed, but the town surveyor discretely connected it to the mains water supply. When it was again proposed to shut down the spring supply, on not noticing any difference in the taste for a considerable time, the town’s people had no grounds on which to complain.

Similarly  at Admirals park, a reservoir of 173,000 galls, was constructed of brick with a galvanized iron roof, to contain the spring water, which flowed into it. This was later augmented in 1888 with a borehole dug down to the chalk, and pumped up, using a 12 horse-power engine driving duplicate pumps. into a tower holding 86,000 galls 90 ft above ground level. An estimated 100,000 gallons a day supplies the North ward of the town only, apart from emergencies. These works cost £10,000 in 1888.
By 1912 both Burgess Well and Admirals park were supplying 58000 and 87,000 separately into the town. In 1912 Public toilets were built next to the tower.

Mineral and Medicinal Springs. 

Springfield Spring 001

Sandford Mill Treatment Works

G2  Sandford Mill Works 6 001 (2)

Aerial  view of Sandford Mill Treatment Works

In 1923 Chelmsford Corporation obtained powers to abstract water from the River Chelmer above Brooke End Sewage works, and the resultant treatment works at Sandford Mill commenced operation in 1930 at 5.0 Million Galls per day. Treatment consisting of Excess Lime softening and purification as at Langford.
1955 saw the works reconstructed, with borehole water piped in from Burgess Well and Admirals park raising the output to 10 MGD.  Water was pumped from Sandford Mill into supply via an 18 inch and 12 inch mains and to the storage reservoir above the town, at the junction of Wood Street, and Longstomps Avenue. The Treatment works was shut down in November 1984 with Chelmsford District being supplied from the South Essex Mains and Danbury Reservoir.  All of the supply was now hard water. Sandford Mill Treatment works having stood unused for a period, Chelmsford City Council its owners have allowed the Marconi museum to be housed there, Marconi in 2017  celebrating 100 years since the first radio transmission in 1917,  from Chelmsford. My father who worked for Marconi’s, drove the fire engine for the works fire brigade.

marconi fire engine

Marconi Works Fire Engine, my father on the left of picture

As the population and town grew another larger storage reservoir was constructed in Stock road at its junction with Beehive Lane, and the original small reservoir demolished.

Chelmsford Rural District Council

Most of the villages in the Chelmer Valley had shallow gravel sources allowing shallow wells to augment spring supplies.These were easy polluted and dried up in dry weather, like those in Danbury where,  following an outbreak of sore thoats which appeared to affect mainly children.

Chelmsford Rural District Council submitted the following advice for people constructing shallow wells for new houses.                                                                                 “The water entering a well at six to twelve feet depending upon porosity of the soil should be adequately filtered, but less than this depth the water will most probably be inadequately filtered and impure. The upper six to twelve feet of the well should be water tight to prevent access by ground water, and the top of the well should be at least six inches above ground level with the well covered.” There was also a recommendation that Privies and cesspits should be sited as far away from well as possible, and not emptied adjacent to a well. However in rural areas these were seldom enforced. 

The Authorities developed the St Thomas Spring source on Danbury Common, a copious spring of good quality water, which never failed. The Spring water was collected in a concrete reservoir and pumped by a Ram pump,up to a tower on Danbury Hill which supplied parts of Danbury and Little Baddow. The remaining water gravitated down via Bicknacre to Woodham Ferrers, and via East Hanningfield to a storage reservoir at Rettendon to Battlesbridge and Wickford.

The annual volume of water supplied from this source rose from 16 million gallons in 1904 to 26 million in 1930. The Supply from Ingatestone from 6.5 Million to 15 million, at Writtle from 3.5 to 8 million and Broomfield from 4 to 10 million.

H2 Grt Baddow Tower 2 001 (3)

DNW with Grt Baddow Water Tower in background circa 1956

Great Baddow, was a wealthy compact suburb of Chelmsford. Adequately supplied from  springs that rose into a stream feeding watercress beds just off Baddow Road, opposite Beehive Lane, before flowing to the River Chelmer. The water was stored in a brick tank at ground level, prior to being pumped with a gas engine to the metal tank on top of a brick tower built in 1901. Also in 1901 a borehole of 400 ft was sunk to augment the supplies with demand from an increased population.The Tower, similar to that at Admirals Park, at the opposite end of Chelmsford, was demolished in 1960. 

Beehive Lane quarry 001

Gravel Quarry off Beehive Lane, Chelmsford

BD1 W Ferrers Supply 1891

Spring Supplies in Chelmsford Rural District 1905

During the early 1930’s especially 1932,1933 and 1934, there was a severe drought period which seriously affected the shallow wells, with many drying up. Parts of the area where families were without water had to cart it over very long distances. This prompted the Authorities to seek bulk supplies from the neighbouring water companies, and closing down the spring sources

Eventually the spring sources were closed down with all supplies coming from South Essex  Langham and Layer sources, in the 1930’s