Pump House and Clock Tower
The Pump House and Clock Tower (which has become the symbol of the village) was built in 1873. The building houses a pump
above a well which for many years was the main source of water in the village. Geoff White wrote the following article for “The Villager” which was published in March 2016 and with his kind permission we reproduce it here:
It was lovely to see the Pump House on the Green decorated and lit up for Christmas. It will be 143 years old this year (2016) and deserves to be treated with respect. One year it suffered the indignity of having a chamber pot placed on the weather vane!
In the nineteenth century some villagers had a well in their garden but many had to walk to the one situated at the junction of Heath Road and Shenley Hill Road. That area was known as “Duck End” and there was a cluster of small thatched cottages. The well in the middle of the road was close to the pond and was not very deep. The water was contaminated by the pond and there were plans to sink a new well on the grassy plot nearby, but it was thought to be too dangerous a place with the traffic at the junction. Also Mr Bushell, the owner of the land, was not willing to give up his freehold of the land where villagers would have a right of way to get to the well. So it was decided to repair the old well and it was deepened to have nine feet of water, with a new pump replacing the windlass.
In 1859, before the formation of a Parish Council, the affairs of the village were organised by two Church Wardens. They proposed that the piece of land owned by the Parish and known as Heath Green, occupied by Joseph Hinds, should be sold for the purpose of sinking a well on the green for the benefit of the parishioners. In 1859 a well was sunk one hundred feet deep and water was drawn up by a windlass and bucket.
By 1873, Mr W. Abraham, a gentleman who “loved the village where he had lived all his life” had worked tirelessly with a committee to get a shelter built over the well to protect villagers against the inclement weather, and to add a clock tower for the public to see. To help fund raising, he had made a model of the building which he submitted to various people for their approval, and this resulted in him collecting the whole cost of the clock with £20 over to build the structure to house it.
On the afternoon of Monday May 12th 1873, the laying of the principal stone took place before a large assembly. The Vicar, the Revd. J.O.Stallard, opened proceedings by asking Mr Abraham to lay the foundation stone. He placed on it a £5 note in the name of Mr J.D.Bassett and gold coins were laid by Mr Lawford and Capt. Stallard. Mr Abraham made a speech in which he said his interest as an old villager was to provide a well of pure water with a shelter over it to protect the users from bad weather. As a boy, he remembered he walked to the old well, waited half an hour to get water, and then was punished when he returned home for being gone so long. At the ceremony, a second stone was laid by Capt. Stallard to commemorate Mr Brantom’s gift of the pump. This was made of brass and cost £50. Another inscription on the North side included the following wording, ‘The cost of the clock was given by Baroness Burdett-Coutts and Baroness M.de Rothschild. May 1873’
I have always wondered why these ladies became involved. Angela Burdett-Coutts was widely known as “the richest heiress in England” having inherited her grandfather’s fortune of around £1.8 million following the death of her step grandmother. She was an unusual lady, having proposed to, and been turned down by, the Duke of Wellington as he considered he was too old for her. She had also inherited a country house at Holly House Estate in Highgate, and became a notable benefactor of the Church of England, building two churches and endowing schools. She worked all her life to improve the lot of the poor and built houses for them, mainly in London.
She did, however, put drinking fountains in Victoria Park to provide fresh water, so perhaps through her friend Baroness Rothschild she was informed of the Heath and Reach project and decided to help. The Rothschilds did have a house in the Leighton Buzzard area so maybe Mr Abraham or the Rev. Stallard contacted them.
When Baroness Burdett-Coutts died at her home on Stratton Street, Piccadilly, she had given more than £3 million to good causes and she was buried on January 5th 1907 in Westminster Abbey.
In his speech Mr Abraham said “He trusted God might make this well of pure water a blessing to the parishioners as a means of increasing their comforts and promoting their health”
No Anglian Water in those days or Health and Safety rules but some folk managed to live long lives. Perhaps their allotment herbs and vegetables did them good.