Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - March 2016

Remembering Pembury Waterworks

Pembury Waterworks

March's Object of the Month has been chosen by John Arkell, one of our collections volunteers. John has been an integral part of the volunteers working at the museum for nearly 10 years. This photograph, taken by George Glanville, belongs to a series in the museum archive showing enlargement works being carried out on the Pembury waterworks. It clearly demonstrates the civic pride these public projects generated.

Tunbridge Wells was founded on the quality of its Chalybeate waters but they were not suitable for everyday drinking and washing. During the Victorian period the town was growing rapidly especially after the arrival of the railway in 1845. By the mid-1860s the town was equipped with a reservoir and pumping station at Pembury and by 1886 the reservoir could hold 42million gallons. In 1890 the supply needed to be enlarged to cope with increased demand.

The old plant was built in 1863 to meet the needs of the town for twenty years. The original estimate had proved accurate, and until 1883 the position remained satisfactory. The allowance was originally 20 gallons per head of the population per day, but it had to be kept down to 16 gallons per head. The pumps worked 17 hours a day. In 1870 the quantity of water used for road spraying was 58,000 gallons daily, but was 128,000 gallons by 1890. In May, 1880, 12 million gallons of water was being supplied to the town. The extension meant a saving in the consumption of coal by improved plant and working at higher pressure. The quantity of water pumped in 1889 was about 150 million gallons with a consumption of 950 tons of coal.

Two wells were bored at Pembury in 1896, and turned out to be satisfactory in every way. Two more wells 350 feet deep were completed in 1900. The pumping of a fifth well in 1902 proved that there was an inexhaustible supply of excellent water.  In 1921, the Borough Engineer (Mr. Maxwell) urged even further extensions to the waterworks. Various sites were considered, and eventually it was decided to build a second pumping station at Saint's Hill, Fordcombe. Various difficulties were overcome and finally the plant, complete with electric motive power, was installed. Between 1927 and 1928 a borewell was sunk through the Wadhurst Clay into the Ashdown Sands to a depth of 407 feet. The water proved to be of excellent quality, both chemically and bacteriologically. The Fordcombe pumping station was opened on October 5, 1931, by the Mayor (Alderman Albert Dennis.

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