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Abingdon's Water Supply


 Abingdon managed with very local water supplies until 1880, utilising its springs, wells and streams and the rivers Stert, Ock and Thames. By (probably) the fifteenth century the Abbey was collecting water from springs to the north of the town centre. At the end of the seventeenth century there was an attempt to pump water to the town centre from the Thames and, in the eighteenth, water from the Abbey’s original cistern was used to feed a fountain in Ock Street but, until the Borough Council constructed its original reservoir and water main in 1880, the supply in the town was generally from wells. After 1880, the council’s records tell the story of a continuous search for more and more sources of clean water to meet an ever-growing demand, a search that did not end until the 1950s when water was supplied from Oxford.

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An adequate and pure water supply is probably the basis for every human settlement and Abingdon is no exception.  As well as the rivers Thames, Ock, and Stert and the Larkhill streams flowing through the town, numerous springs used to arise to the north of the town centre, commemorated today in the names of some of the thoroughfares, such as Spring Road, Spring Gardens and Springfield Drive.

As the town’s population and industry increased through the ages, dug wells provided supplies for public use, for individual houses and for commercial premises.


Left: Filling buckets from a standpipe. This was an onerous task that mostly fell to the women. Water was also brought to those who could afford it by cart and water carriers. (Illustration taken from Reference 18 (Barty-King, Water. p. 102). We have been unable to trace a current copyright holder and invite any copyright holders to contact us.)                                Right: Carrying water. A yoke such as the one pictured can be found in the museums in Abingdon and Wallingford, both in Oxfordshire.  (Illustration taken from Reference 18 (Barty-King, Water. p. 106). We have been unable to trace a current copyright holder and invite any copyright holders to contact us.)
By the mid-nineteenth century, water-hungry industries such as tanning, malting and brewing were flourishing, and the increases in standards of public health and hygiene and standards of living during the second half of the nineteenth century further increased the demand for good quality water.

Finally it was both population pressure and a better understanding of water borne infections that pushed the authorities to find more water supplies. An estimate for the population of the town in 1600 puts it at between 2000 and 2500.[1] It had increased to about 4500 by 1800 and by 1850 it reached about 6250. It was this last increase that started to put pressure on the local water sources. The growth was slower during the second half of the nineteenth century − the population in 1900 was about 6700 – but increased again during the following fifty years to reach about 10,900 by 1950.[2]

Water used to be required for needs which are not a consideration today, such as watering the streets to lay the dust, for drinking fountains for animals and for ornamental fountains - “a continual source of undue and useless consumption”.[3]




Dustlaying cart. A cart like this could hold 270 gallons and took seven minutes to fill from the well in The Square. Before streets were tarred this was an important use of water for towns, and in Abingdon from 1906 to 1916 Akonia, a mix of chlorides of calcium and sodium, was added to reduce water consumption.

(© Image courtesy of the Museum of East Anglian Life.)

An inadequate supply of water often meant that fires caused greater damage than they need have done, but it wasn’t until 1870 that the Council decreed “a committee be appointed to make arrangements for custody and management of Fire Engines and Escape and also to inspect the public wells with power to put them in order so as to secure a sufficient supply of Water in case of fire”.[4] As late as 1879 (some eighteen months before Abingdon’s new waterworks began supplying the town) the artesian well in The Square could not provide the Volunteer Fire Brigade with enough water to fight a disastrous fire in Ock Street and twenty ‘pumpers’ had to augment the supply with buckets of water carried from other sources.[5] In 1882 a manhole was constructed in Stert Street to give access to water from the conduited River Stert for firefighting.[6]



The fire engines and the Volunteer Fire Brigade in the Old Fire Station Yard in 1900.  Note the standpipe. The area in the photograph is now the garden outside the Old Guildhall in Bridge Street where the location of the standpipe, now a fire hydrant, is shown by a yellow cover set into the grass. 

(© Courtesy of Abingdon County Hall Museum)

Until 1880, when Abingdon’s original waterworks was completed, the town relied on very local sources of water. The sketch below shows the main features of the local geology: a sandwich of impermeable clays, the Kimmeridge (9-10 feet thick, about 3 meters) on top and the Oxford (600 feet thick, about 180 meters) beneath, with a filling of the permeable, water-bearing Corallian formation (30-40 feet thick, about 11 meters) between them.


(We thank Philip Powell for providing the original sketch for this diagram.)

The Corallian formation is a sequence of sands, silts and sandstone overlain by limestones, with Coral Rag at the top; the sandy beds form a very effective bacteriological filter provided there is enough time for water to stay within them.

This layer is saturated with the rainwater that falls on an outcrop north of the town and, because there is a slight slope towards the south-east, the water can be tapped by artesian wells in Abingdon. The head of pressure in the town centre was demonstrated by the artesian well in The Square. In the late 1950s it was still possible to balance three ping‑pong balls on the fountain of water that rose above street level.[7]

 Lying above the clay sandwich, mostly in the northern part of the town, are shallow gravel deposits (8-20 feet thick, about 2.5-6 meters) laid down by the Thames during the last several thousand years.  They too can store water which is trapped by the underlying impermeable Kimmeridge Clay. Shallow wells could be sunk into the gravel and springs, now dry, once emerged where the gravel abuts the clay to the north of the town centre.[8]

There is evidence of some early schemes to manage the rivers and the water supply. Abingdon Abbey used the Stert to mark the eastern, northern and western boundaries of the Abbey precinct, and it modified or created a channel of the Thames to run its mills.[9]

The Conduit House on what is now Park Road at the eastern edge of Albert Park had belonged to the Abbey. It is not known when it was built – the fifteenth century has been suggested – but it was known to Amyce in 1554 and was on a farm owned by the Abbey.[10] It sheltered a cistern that was fed by at least one local spring.




The Conduit House in 2012

(© Michael Harrison 2012)







Though there is no trace of the original conduit today, the water must have been used in the town, probably by the Abbey but perhaps also supplied to the wealthier citizens. In his article on water management in the urban monastery, Bond comments that “Urban communities... found it especially difficult to preserve unpolluted sources of drinking water nearby, and were frequently driven to bringing in a piped supply from distant springs.”[11]

There is no record of what use was made of water from the Conduit House from the dissolution of the Abbey in 1538 until 1719 when, with the support of the Corporation, Richard Ely, a leading townsman, erected a new fountain in Ock Street which was fed by water from the Conduit House cistern. The Carswell, as it is known, is a semi-circular recessed niche in brickwork that originally held a tin‑coated copper basin. It was in use until 1874 when the construction of the new main drainage scheme for the town dried up the streams that fed the cistern. In 1947 the fountain was moved from Ock Street to Conduit Road where it can still be seen set into the wall of Tomkins’ Almshouses.[12] 



The Carswell in its original position in Ock Street in 1941. It was subsequently moved to the wall of Tomkins Almshouses in Conduit Road and is no longer connected to a water supply.

(© With thanks to the Berkshire Archaeological Society. A E Preston, ‘The Carswell (or Castlewell), Ock Street, Abingdon’, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 45 part 1 (1941), pp. 37-44)

There are references in documents from the mid-thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries to boundaries along a watercourse called Carswell to the north of Ock Street (‘carse’ is an obsolete name for cress). The stream must have been a well-known landmark, and water from springs in what is now Albert Park would have been used in that part of town for a long time.[13]

Another early scheme to boost the water supply was made by Thomas Piccard, a goldsmith, who leased ground in Stert Street from the Borough Corporation in 1696 to build a “fair cistern, fountaine or conduit from thence to convey water by pipes in all the principal streets and lanes of the said Borough to the end that the inhabitants might at easy rates be furnished with river water in their houses on all occasions and might be supplied with a present remedy in case of any accidental or calamitous fire...” the water to be taken from the Thames.[14]  Thomas Knapp took first a half- share and, later the whole lease, in the enterprise. In 1697, Christ’s Hospital granted Knapp and Piccard a new lease for twenty-one years of what is now Nag’s Head Island by Abingdon Bridge, where they built an engine house that acted as a pumping station. They were also given “liberty to lay water pipes upon or through the Bridge for the water to run and pass from the engine house into the Borough”.[15] Little is known about the success of the scheme, although the lease continued until 1819 when the bridge was widened. The engine-house was last recorded in 1837, but may not by then have been supplying the town.[16]

Wells were important until water was universally available through a mains supply and were still in use into the twentieth century. A number of the wells in use in the town in the 1870s, by then fitted with pumps, are shown by the scattering of ‘P’ symbols in the first edition 25‑inch OS map.








Left: Town water pump at Twickenham House in the private passage at the side of the house. (© Ruth Weinberg) 2014.   

Right:  Advertisement for a similar pump in 1859. (With thanks to Grace's Guide to British Industrial History  accessed 17 February 2018)

A few wells have survived into recent times and were known in houses at 3 Stert Street, 13-15 Bath Street and 48 West St Helen Street; in the basement of 4 East St Helen Street, there is a stone-lined well which still contains water. Wells often narrowed towards the bottom to prevent damage to the buckets on the way up or down.


Well at 3 Stert Street.

This photo was taken during the excavation of this well in 1970, prior to its being filled in and covered by an extension to the house. The description reads "A covered well under the garden was 11ft deep  [about 3.4 m] and built of local stone on an open square box of four timbers, 3ft long [about 0.9 m] and 6 ins [about 15 cm] square in section.”

(© From AAAHS photograph collection. Copyright owner unidentified.)


These wells, like many others in the town, were quite shallow, being sunk, “into the gravel beds overlying the Kimmeridge clay, the water being of very fair quality. Others, which were sunk in the Kimmeridge clay which outcropped in the town, were of very doubtful purity.”[17]

The poor suffered real difficulties getting water. For example, the inmates of the neighbouring almshouses used the slipway to the Thames at the end of East St Helen Street as a ‘watering place’. This was also the place where elephants were taken to drink when the circus came to town.[18]

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, scientific discoveries were changing many aspects of people’s lives and making them safer. Water was a particular example: the link between polluted water and cholera, for instance, had been discovered by John Snow’s work looking at the incidence of the disease in the East End of London in 1855. [19]   Consequently there was a greater awareness of the health hazards posed by contaminated water. Between 1873 and 1879, fifty-one water samples from Abingdon were sent for testing to the newly-appointed Medical Officer of Health and forty-seven were found to be “unfit for domestic use”.[20] The contaminated wells were closed, causing problems for the affected households.

A decade later, in 1885, the routine bacteriological examination of water was introduced in London after Theodore Escherisch had identified the bacilli that were named Escherichia coli and which can cause a range of diseases. Testing for these bacilli became a criterion by which routine water samples could be judged.

The MG works and the Pavlova Leather Works, both to the north of Marcham Road, had wells in their grounds and there were six wells in the area to the south of Ock Street that housed the Morland Brewery. There is also an artesian well beneath The Square by the war memorial that becomes very important later in this story. It is known that the Morland wells and the well in The Square were drilled into the Coralian formation and were about 20 m deep.[21]

Public health became a national issue from the mid-nineteenth century and key public health acts were passed in 1848, 1866, 1872 and 1875.[22]  The 1848 act was permissive only, but the subsequent acts imposed duties on local councils. Under the 1866 Sanitary Act, Abingdon Borough Council was obliged to take on the responsibility for water supply together with other duties that included dealing with hazards to health (nuisances), street cleaning, and providing sewers. It was given the duties of a sanitary authority under the 1872 act and became part of the Berkshire Combined Sanitary District which employed its first Medical Officer of Health (MoH) in 1873. The 1875 act consolidated the earlier public health acts. Details of how the Council carried out all these new duties are contained in its minute books and other records.

Following the 1866 act the Council’s immediate public health priority was providing a sewage system, but in 1874 it started to plan for a water supply that would meet the needs of the growing town. Four years later, it decided on the construction of a waterworks some three miles north of the town in the neighbouring parish of Wootton.[23] This opened in 1880 at a cost of £9000 but it provided sufficient water for only ten years.

The long series of summer droughts that began in 1890 also saw the start of a continuing hunt for ever more water until the Oxford Water Company ran a main to the town in the 1950s.[24] The droughts also led to a drop in the quality of the water that fed Abingdon’s springs and wells because the water was not always adequately filtered and purified in the sands and gravels that held it.

The need for water became so acute that, in March 1897, the Borough Council considered "a motion for the employment of a Waterfinder with the aid of a divining rod, before proceeding further with the Water Works at Wootton".[25] Only two councillors voted for this and the work to enlarge the underground reservoir at Wootton went ahead.

The needs for water increased. As well as for drinking and the flushing of the sewers and of the new toilets, which often leaked water continuously, many Victorian middle-class houses were now being built with baths.[26] By 1882, it was possible for E. Bailey-Denton, an eminent water engineer whose firm was involved in the building of the water works, to write "It is now generally acknowledged that a dwelling cannot be considered as complete without a bathroom and that its adoption should not be limited to the superior mansions of the wealthy, but that all classes of the population should have it within their power to benefit by the comfort, cleanliness and healthfulness afforded by both hot and cold baths".[27] It wasn’t long before these were considered to be essential and the boarding schools in Abingdon, built with baths, complained bitterly when their pupils were unable to bathe because the water supply was inadequate.

Meters had been installed to help prevent wastage, and the then borough surveyor, George Winship, presented a paper at the district meeting in Nottingham of the Association of Municipal & Sanitary Engineers & Surveyors detailing how these had worked to date.[28] It appears that not all the participants agreed with his assessment, but Winship maintained that the meters enabled the detection of water leakages that would otherwise have gone unrecorded. He also cited the difficulty of assessing costs for water if it was to be paid for through the rates when some households used only mains water while others still used well water for many purposes. He had also found that “consumers of water by meter take care to have better fittings”.

He had earlier reported “In some instances, meters are purchased and fixed at considerable expense, diagrams are obtained at stated periods, whilst few steps are taken to rectify the defects which the meters are constantly indicating. The meter system is then condemned as useless; whereas, in most of the cases, the men in charge are really to blame, and they endeavour to hide their shortcomings under a condemnation of the system”.[29]




A Tylor & Son water meter advertised in 1880

These were the meters of choice when the Council first installed meters. They were enclosed in a metal box just outside a consumer’s premises.

(With thanks to Grace's Guide to British Industrial History:   accessed 17 February 2018)



From September 1880, water was supplied by the Council to both domestic and trade customers. Consumers had to apply to be connected and the supply was by meter only, with the express purpose of preventing waste. Originally, the price charged was one shilling per thousand gallons (about 4.5 cubic meters); after a year, this was raised by fifty percent for consumers outside the borough limits who paid an extra sixpence. Payments were collected on the traditional quarter days, Lady Day, Midsummer Day, Michaelmas and Christmas Day.

All this had necessitated the building of water mains and the Borough Surveyor’s Report Book details many of them.[30] The water main in the High Street was laid in 1902.[31] The meters were supplied by J. Tylor & Sons, hydraulic and sanitary engineers who also supplied other specialised equipment used in providing mains water in Abingdon. They were in cast iron boxes with moveable covers “near to the confines of the properties of consumers” and connected to the mains with a lead piping. The meters were tested from time to time.[32] There was a sliding scale of charges for renting the meters, depending on the capacity. The “authority laid the service-pipe to within 1 foot of the confines of the private property without charge; and all meters were fixed under the public highways and were, therefore, always accessible”.[33]

In order to be connected to the mains water supply, potential customers had to complete an application form, obtained from and returned to the borough surveyor’s office. There were quite a lot of restrictions regarding the types of piping to be used, the use of cisterns, water closets and urinals and their construction and the use of leakage-proof taps in public water troughs and fountains.

Two regulations bear full quotation:

“14. No communicating or other pipe shall be laid through or into any sewer, ashpit, sink, manure hole or any other place where the water conveyed by such pipe might be liable to draw in foul air through a faulty joint or open tap.”[34]

“20. All parties applying for a supply of water, having complied with these requirements, will nevertheless understand that the authority hold themselves free from any liability for damages that may in any way arise in houses or premises by the bursting of pipes or the overflowing of cisterns by reason of frost or any other cause.”[35]

Finally, the purchaser promised not to hold the sanitary authority responsible for not keeping the pipes fully charged with water. Caveat emptor!

In 1891, a time when water engineers increasingly considered that their work included protecting the sources of their water supplies from pollution, George Winship was able to report on the benefits of creating  a supply of clean water.[36] In Abingdon’s case, “in the seven years prior to the establishment of the waterworks, the average death rate was 21.43 per 1,000 from all causes, and from the chief zymotic [infectious] diseases, 2.71 per 1,000. Taking the seven years after the establishment of the waterworks, the average death rate from all causes was 17.7 and 1.5 from zymotic diseases.”[37] Quite a dramatic improvement!

There are many references in the borough minutes to wells being closed on the orders of Dr Woodforde, the Medical Officer of Health. In September 1898, the Council ordered that "a notice be issued cautioning persons against using well water until it has first been boiled”.[38] The Abingdon Herald commented that "Dr Woodforde fears 'Death in the pump' but good use of household pumps would alleviate waste".[39] After yet another four years of inadequate summer rainfall, the same paper asked why the Council didn’t ask householders to "Stick to your pumps for all purposes except drinking and flushing".[40]

In 1901 Dr Woodforde had recommended that private wells on light soils should be abandoned: "impurities percolate with such rapidity that a sample found to be satisfactory one day might on analysis be condemned a short time afterwards."[41]  This was not a popular option as municipal water had to be paid for.

The Borough Surveyor's Report Books give a monthly account of the level of water in the Wootton reservoir.  By 1901, it was clear that more water was required and in October, at the suggestion of the mayor, a small committee was set up to "consider the question of the Water Supply for the Borough." [42] In January 1902, the borough surveyor presented a report to the Council on the current situation with the water supply. He considered the artesian well in The Square, sometimes referred to as “The Boring”, to be a potentially important source of water.   Running piping from The Square under the High Street to a pumping station in the basement of the County Hall in the Market Place would be (at £246) the cheapest way to use the well in The Square to increase the water supply to the town, and it was "unanimously resolved to adopt the County Hall scheme."[43]

By 1902, domestic and commercial annual consumption was estimated to be 14½ million gallons (about 66,000 cubic meters) and to have risen by 2½ million gallons (about 11,400 cubic meters) since 1897, in addition to which the Council used “ten or eleven million gallons a year (say about 50,000 cubic meters) or for public purposes” including flushing sewers  and dust laying.[44] The rise in water usage continued in the following years. According to the meter measurements in August 1903, people in metered households were using only 4 gallons per head per day, about 18 litres, and this was considered too low to be sanitary. In 1892 it was being suggested that a reasonable consumption would be 10 to 25 gallons per head per day (about 45 to 110 litres) depending on the individual circumstances, with less being needed in rural areas than in towns.[45]  (According to Thames Water, average national water usage per head per day in 2014 was 35 gallons or 163 litres.[46])

The supplemental supply from The Square was not used continuously, which caused problems: "complaints as to the quality of the water have been received from the houses at the Bath Street end of Park Road. I am inclined to think it arises from the stagnation of the water at this point after pumping ceases at the County Hall about 11pm. I propose to flush the pipes for a week in the early morning and record the difference in the samples”.[47] In May 1909 St. Helen's School complained about the meagre supply. In response they were assured “Arrangements in the pumping at County Hall that have been made will it is anticipated prevent any further complaint”.[48]




Location of the well or boring in The Square, just south of the War Memorial. 

(© Ruth Weinberg 2013)








During the First World War a continual water supply to the town was considered so important that E G McIntyre, who worked for the Town Council, was exempted from war service so that he could check the water level at the reservoir. He cycled the three miles each way each day to the waterworks and received 1s 6d for every visit.[49]

Demand kept increasing and in 1914, 1929 and again in the 1930s, the waterworks were further extended. On 6 November 1919, the Wotton reservoir was reported empty "with the result that schools and houses in the upper part of the Town [were] without water.”[50] The surveyor was instructed to acquire a 10 h.p. engine for permanent use at the waterworks. Instructions were given “to pump all and every night from the Boring in The Square into the main leading to the higher level main in the Town and to make immediate arrangements to pump from the new Shaft at Wootton”.[51] This new shaft had been sunk at Wootton especially to meet an emergency of this sort but sand in the pipes was a continual problem and the waterworks engine was not powerful enough to pump a water and sand mix through into the reservoir.

The Reverend E.C. Spicer of New College, Oxford, the consultant geologist who advised the Council on the question of the water supply, "strongly advised" that an attempt be made to obtain an auxiliary supply from the greensand at Foxcombe Hill and, in July 1923, a water main was extended along Radley Road. The sum of £186 10s (£186.50) was allocated for an auxiliary supply from the boring of Cox & Co. with an agreement to take all the water they could spare for five years at an annual cost of £25. [52]

However, the complaints kept coming: "…suggested that the water mains have not been recently flushed and complaint is made more especially to the water round the Park. ...With regard to this matter, I would point out that since the Michaelmas Fair, it has not been possible on account of the diminished supply to mix the water from the Wootton supply with that from the boring at the Square and the greater quantity of iron contained in the latter water is I consider chiefly responsible for the deposit, discolouration and flavour complained of”.[53]

By 1926, the water supply was deemed "ample to meet the needs of the Borough”.[54] However, in 1928, two new boreholes were sunk at Wootton, at a cost of £500-£600 and another at Lashford Lane, about a mile west of Wootton, the Lashford Lane bore hole being considered so urgent that work went ahead without approval from the Ministry of Health for the necessary loan.[55]

There was another scare in 1928, when the Air Ministry wanted water to be supplied to the two new aerodromes being built at Abingdon and Harwell, but they finally sunk boreholes on the sites themselves.[56]  The Council must have breathed a huge sigh of relief on receiving that news!

No respite. In 1933, with still more water being required, the Council purchased a further 4.55 acres at Lashford Lane from a reluctant Merton College,  and a tank containing 100,000 gallons (about 450 cubic meters) was constructed there.[57]

On 19 July 1939 it was reported that the pumps under the County Hall had been repaired.[58] They were needed, intermittently, throughout the 1939-45 war. A survey was carried out in 1940 to record any wells on private premises in the town for possible use in an emergency.[59] The public was to be told by loudspeaker vans how water would be distributed and what steps to take to avoid contamination in the event of any such emergency.[60]

During the Second World War it was George McIntyre (a nephew of the E G McIntyre who had carried out the same duty during the First World War) who used to cycle the three miles to the waterworks every day to ensure that the syphon from the reservoir to the main supply to the town was charged and functioning.[61]

In 1943, even with the outcome of the war still in the balance, the Town & Planning Committee were already debating the site of post-war housing with the resulting need to find further sources of water supply and to include possible softening and pressure improvement.[62]

Demand for water continued to increase. By October 1946, Abingdon was receiving 55,000 gallons (about 250 cubic meters) per day from Oxford City Council in addition to the 120,000 gallons (about 550 cubic meters) per day from Lashford Lane and Wootton. In February 1948 the Council tried giving up the struggle for water altogether. It asked for bulk water supplies from Oxford City Council and was negotiating with them for the complete transfer of the whole water undertaking as soon as possible.[63]

By the early 1950s the supply was being supplemented via a new water main to Abingdon laid by Oxford City Council. [64] Oxford already had a number of reservoirs on the higher ground just outside the city; the first stage of its biggest reservoir at Farmoor would be completed in 1962.[65] Many miles of mains were laid from these reservoirs to distributor mains in Abingdon that were also used for the borough’s own water supply.  In the eighty or so years since the opening of Abingdon’s waterworks in 1880 the annual demand for water had tripled from around 50 million gallons a year to around 160 million (about 225,000 to 700,000 cubic meters).

Although the well on the Square was re-opened in 1958-59 because of drought, and ping‑pong balls could still be balanced on the resulting surge, plans were underway for an Oxfordshire Water Board. [66] Attached to the proposals were sets of statistics about the areas to be included. [67]The figures for Abingdon in 1958-59 make interesting reading: produced in own works 73,000,000 gallons (about 330,000 cubic meters); purchased 85,519,000 gallons (about 390,000 cubic meters); total consumption 158,519,000 gallons (about 720,000 cubic meters).

The cost of the supply from Oxford was of concern. In 1959: "We are pleased to report that the booster bore-hole supply on The Square was brought into operation on the 7th September and is producing a minimum of 80,000 gallons of water per day”.[68] Prior to re-opening, however, the bore-hole had been standing for some years and as a consequence, fine sand had collected; although pumping at The Square continued at least until September 1962 at the rate of 50,000 gallons (about 225 cubic meters) a day maximum amounts could not be raised because of the problem of the raising of sand at higher pumping rates. [69]




The capped wellhead in a cavity under The Square, now gently rusting.

(©Ruth Weinberg 2013 and with thanks to Abingdon Borough Council.)








The Oxfordshire and District Water Board, amalgamating all the local undertakings including Abingdon’s, finally came into being in 1967. It later merged into Southern Water and then Thames Water. Although Thames Water initially took over the site of the waterworks at Wootton that had been used in the past to supply Abingdon, the company never used it, and sold it in 1995.[70]

There was however one final distinction for Abingdon: it was almost the last town in England still charging for water by domestic meters. With the amalgamation in 1967 this was discontinued and the story of Abingdon's water supply became a tributary of the larger picture of the water supply of Southern England.

Related resources: Roger Amyce; County Hall; Abingdon's Gas Engines; Abingdon's Waterworks; George Winship; William Thomas Garrett Woodforde


We thank Philip Powell for helpful comments on the description of the geology and for suggesting the geology diagram for this article.


In the endnotes ACTA is the abbreviation for Abingdon Town Council Archives.

[1] Janey Cumber, ‘Tudor Abingdon, the experience of change and renewal in a sixteenth century town’, unpublished Oxford University D.Phil thesis, (2010), p. 312.

[2] William Page (ed.), Victoria Count History for Berkshire vol.2 (1907), p.243; John Hooke Abingdon Who’s Who and Directory, 1951 p.9.

[3] George Winship, ‘The Prevention and detection of waste of water’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers  vol. 117 pt. 3 (1894), p. 150.

[4]  Bromley Challenor (ed.), Selections from the Municipal Records of the Borough of Abingdon, (Abingdon, 1898), p. 304.

[5] The Abingdon and Reading Herald,15  March 1879.

[6] Challenor, Selections, p. 328.

[7] The archives of St Helen’s Church, Abingdon, the Mieneke Cox archive. From Mieneke Cox’s taped interview with Mr Rathbone, Abingdon Borough Surveyor, in November 1973.

[8] Personal communication, Philip Powell; W J Arkell, The Geology of Oxford, (1947), pp. 85 & 184.

[9] John Steane, ‘The Abingdon Monk’s Map’, Oxoniensia, vol. 73 (2008), p. 20 & fold-out map between pp. 24 & 25; or on line at ; Mieneke Cox, The Story of Abingdon, part one, (Abingdon, 1986), p.114.

[10] A E Preston, ‘The Carswell (or Castlewell), Ock Street, Abingdon’, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, vol. 45 part 1 (1941), pp. 37-44; Agnes C Baker, Historic Abingdon: Fifty-six articles (Abingdon, 1963), pp.100-102.

[11] C J Bond, ‘Water management in the urban monastery’, BAR British Series vol. 227 (1993), p. 43.

[12] Baker, Historic Abingdon, p. 106.

[13] Baker, Historic Abingdon, p. 100.

[14] Baker, Historic Abingdon, p. 107

[15] Baker, Historic Abingdon p. 108

[16] Baker, Historic Abingdon, pp.107-9; W J H & M J H Liversidge, Abingdon Essays: Studies in Local History (Abingdon, 1989), pp. 20-21; Jill Hind, ‘The historical archaeology of post-medieval water supply in Oxfordshire’, Oxford University D.Phil. thesis, (2014), p. 246.

[17] George Winship, ‘Discussion on sale of water by meter’, Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, vol. 107 part 1 (1891-92), p.238. This article includes information on the rateable values of houses, the numbers of inhabitants and of water closets, and  the daily consumption of water per head.

[18] Mieneke Cox, Abingdon, an 18th Century Country Town. The Story of Abingdon  Part IV, (Abingdon1999), p.16.

[19] Hugh Barty-King, Water: The Book,  an illustrated history of water supply and wastewater in the United Kingdom. (Quiller Press, 1992),   p. 98.

[20] Winship,‘Discussion on sale of water by meter’, p. 238. 

[21] ATCA, Borough Surveyor's Report Book  February 1879 

[22] Marjie Bloy, The Victorian Web, (accessed 30 April 2018); George Rosen, A History of Public Health,  Revised Expanded Edition, 2015, pp. 63-65 & 116-131.

[23] Challenor, Selections, pp. 315-333.

[24] The Times,19 September 2014, p. 65.

[25] Challenor, Selections, p. 391.

[26] Personal communication , Mr C A Nutman, Clerk to the Governors of Christ's Hospital, Abingdon.

[27] E. Bailey-Denton, A Handbook of House Sanitation (1882) quoted in Barty-King, Water, p. 135.

[28] George Winship, ‘Some advantages and results of the supply of water by meter for domestic consumption’. Proceedings of the Association of Municipal & Sanitary Engineers and Surveyors vol. 11 (1884-5), pp. 154‑171.

[29] George Winship, ‘The Prevention and detection of waste of water’, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers  vol. 117 pt. 3 (1894), p. 151

[30] ATCA Borough Surveyor’s Report Book 1904-1908 see 21 December 1905and October 24 1906 as examples

[31] The Abingdon Herald 1 November 1902,  p. 5.

[32] George Winship. ‘Abingdon Water Supply’ in Proceedings of the Association of Municipal & Sanitary Engineers & Surveyors vol. 9 (1882-83), p. 180.

[33]  George Winship. ‘Discussion on Sale of Water by Meter’  in Minutes of the Proceedings of the Association of Municipal & Sanitary Engineers & Surveyors vol. 107 (1891-92) Pt.1, p. 240.

[34] Winship, ‘Abingdon Water Supply’, p. 184.

[35] Winship. ‘Abingdon Water Supply’, p. 185.

[36] Barty-King, Water, p. 140

[37] Winship, ‘Discussion on sale of water by meter’, p. 240

[38] W J H Liversidge (ed.), ‘Selections from the Municipal Records of the Borough of Abingdon 1898-1931’, unpublished typescript (1986) Abingdon Library, Local Studies Collection, ref: 942.57, p.2.

[39] Abingdon Herald 4 October 1902 p. 8.

[40] Abingdon Herald 14 October 1902 p.5

[41] Abingdon Herald 19 October 1901 p4.

[42] ATCA, Finance & General Purposes Committee Minutes 24 October 1901,  p. 73

[43] ATCA, Finance & General Purposes Committee Minutes 3 July 1902,  p. 138.

[44] ATCA, Borough Surveyor’s Report Book 5, April 1906.

[45] We are grateful to Jennifer Phillips-Bacher of the Welcome Foundation Library for supplying this information from Volume 1 of A Treatise on Hygiene and Public Health edited by Thomas Stevenson and Shirley Forster Murphey, published in 1892.

[46] Personal communication, a phone call to Thames Water. 

[47] ATCA, Borough Surveyor's Report Book 1908-191, 10 February 1909.

[48] ATCA, Borough Surveyor's Report Book 1908-191, 27 May 1909.

[49] ATCA, Borough Surveyor’s Report Book  8 March 1916

[50] Liversidge, ‘Selections’ 1898-1931,  p. 70.

[51] ATCA, Sewers & Waterworks Committee  Minutes vol. 1, 22 October 1919, pp. 215-216; Liversidge, ‘Selections’ 1898-1931,  p. 78.

[52] ATCA, Finance Committee Minutes vol.1, August 1923,  pp. 230-344, 380, 407d, 390-408; Liversidge  ‘Selections’ 1898-1931, p.78; ATCA Waterworks Committee Minutes ff. 238-248

[53] ATCA, Sewers & Waterworks Committee Minutes vol.1, 20 November 1923, pp. 293-294.

[54] ATCA, Sewers & Waterworks Committee  Minutes vol.1, 1926.

[55] Liversidge ‘Selections’ 1898-1931,  pp. 89 & 91.

[56] Liversidge, ‘Selections’ 1898-1931, p. 92 & p. 104.

[57] ATCA, Council Minutes 26 September 1930, 31 October 1931, 1 February 1933; Liversidge (ed), ‘Selections’ 1898-1931,  pp. 98, 100.   

[58] Liversidge, ‘Selections’ 1932-1951,  p. 37.   

[59] ATCA, Council Minutes 24 July 1940.

[60] ATCA, Council Minutes 5 February 1941.

[61] Personal communication, Phil McIntyre, George’s grandson.

[62] ATCA, Town & Planning Committee Minutes 20 January 1943.

[63] Liversidge,‘Selections’ 1898-1931,  pp. 62 & 69.

[64] Ernest Nicholson (ed.), Road to the Seventies. Two decades of achievement in Abingdon & District. (Abingdon Corporation undated),  p. 15

[65]Simon Townley (ed.), Victoria County History of Oxfordshire vol. 14 (2004), online at (accessed 25 February 2018).

[66] The archives of St Helen’s Church, Abingdon, Mieneke Cox archive, From Mieneke Cox’s taped interview with Mr Rathbone, Abingdon Borough Surveyor in November 1973.

[67] Oxford City Council. Regrouping of Water Undertakings, Jan 1960, Appendix A and Table 3. Oxfordshire

    Studies Pamphlet ref: 352.6

[68] ATCA, Report of the Public Health, Highways & Civil Defence Committee, Council Minutes 30 September 1959.

[69] ATCA, Report of the Public Health, Highways & Civil Defence Committee in the Abingdon Borough Council Minute Book 1962-63,  p. 218

[70] Thames Water. Personal Communication 8 March 2018.

© AAAHS and contributors 2018


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