In October 2014, West Berkshire Council started work on widening the Bath Road (A4) from the Calcot Hotel to Royal Avenue. This meant one of the old pumps was to be removed and, following a request from the Friends of Linear Park, West Berks Council kindly moved this pump to its current location in the sensory garden next to the Beansheaf Community Centre which prompted the Friends to look into the history of the pump.
In 1826 there was a rationalisation of Turnpike Trusts around Reading and "our" section of the Bath Road came under the control of the Twyford & Theale Turnpike Trust. Almost immediately the Trust employed John Macadam's Company to renew the existing road surface with their new "macadamising" process. This built up layers of surfacing with ever decreasing sizes of rocks. The road drained well and was fast to run on but generated a lot of dust which the Stagecoach Companies, drivers and local residents complained bitterly about. The Trust decided to install roadside pumps which were used to water the road and thus keep the dust down, the Colnbrook Trust (near Slough) had already done this successfully.
In the accounts of the Twyford & Theale Turnpike Trust from October 1832 to October 1833 there is expenditure of £718
"To Surveyors xxxxxx of work executed by contract specified and the amount done and the sale of contract paid"
In previous years there is no similar entry although in the accounts for the Colnbrook Trust in 1827 they specify £759 for the purpose of digging wells, installing water pumps and buying carts to water the road.
The next written reference to the pumps is when The Twyford & Theale Turnpike Trust placed a notice of a meeting in The Reading Mercury on Monday 5th May 1834 and included the following point for discussion:
"Where the present state of the pumps and the propriety of making certain alterations and improvements therein, and of adopting some plan for their future repair, will be taken into consideration...,"
These pieces of evidence bring the likely installation date for 'our' pumps to 1832 or possibly 1833.
'Our' pumps were manufactured by a local Company, Hedges of Bucklebury. This Company had been an agricultural blacksmiths since the early 1600's and in 1820 they expanded to become a foundry. The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading have a wooden pattern for a pump which is identical in appearance and measurements to ours and which they obtained from Hedges of Bucklebury when it closed in 1986. It appears these were the only large pumps that Hedges produced suggesting that the design was given to them by the Turnpike Trust and they acted as 'contract manufacturers'.
The three remaining pumps along our stretch of the Bath Road (the one in the sensory garden, the one opposite 'The Old Post House' and the one in Theale) are all the same and likely to be from Hedges. Originally there were 15 pumps between Reading and Newbury and it's not clear if all were Hedges or if there was another manufacturer. Pumps, also similar in appearance to ours, still exist in Longford and Twyford to the east.
All these pumps had a relatively short life as the opening of the Great Western Railway in 1841 decimated traffic on the Turnpikes and severely reduced their income and, as the volume of traffic decreased, so did the need and the finance for road watering.
The next major change was the introduction of the motor car in the early 20th Century for which the addition of a tar based surface on the road eliminated the dust and effectively rendered the pumps obsolete.
If anyone has any additional information or stories of how the pumps were used during the latter half of the 19th Century and after road watering ceased, we would be pleased to hear from you! E mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks to Iain Pate for compiling this wonderful history of the Water Pumps in Holybrook.