Colebrooke Water

I grew up listening to greybeards of the area opining that the name Colebrooke originally meant “Land of the Cool Brooks”, which Colebrooke parish has many. With that in mind, it may come as a surprise for people to learn that the village of Colebrooke suffered badly from lack of water until the 1950s. My memories of this stem from the war years and just after, as a schoolboy watching people carrying water in buckets from the Vicarage Well, a source of water which was then in the vicarage garden but now in the grounds of The Oyster… The carrying apparatus consisted of a square frame into which a yoke had been fitted with a bucket holding just over 2 gallons (c 10 litres) on either side. Women invariably carried these. Dorothy Leyman, I remember for the bakery and Post Office, Mrs Gillard at Courtlands. Bill Madge, who lived at the Bell Inn, was the school caretaker and dealt with the school needs and his own. Apart from this, most houses had large rainwater tanks to supplement their requirements. This state of affairs had not been helped initially by Crediton Sanitary Authority( later to morph into the Rural District Council) to source extra water from a spring at Walson Barton Clannaborough in the late 1880s.

The pipeline for this passed through Colebrooke parish, in front of Horwell, past Colebrooke Mill and Penstone, down through to Yeoford, and so to Crediton. Despite the upheaval it caused and pleas from the parish council, Colebrooke could not partake of this “intruder”. In 1900 the Rev Daimpre wrote to Crediton RDC complaining that, in effect, the villagers had to steal his water because, he maintained, it was a private well! Numerous letters to Crediton RDC continued to appear in the press, and “Colebrooke Water supply” was a regular item on Crediton RDC agenda. One of the more surprising suggestions came from Councillor Carter Pedlar of Zeal Monachorum. The Colebrooke Manor estate, which included the villages of Colebrooke and Coleford, had been sold in 1919. After hearing that it would cost at least £2500 to get water to Colebrooke, which Crediton RDC couldn’t afford, he suggested the council buy the three houses which were dependent on vicarage well water (known today as Bell Inn, Courtlands and Old Post office and which had made a total of just over £1000 in the sale and have them pulled down!! Apparently, the school was not the RDCs responsibility. The replies to this were not published!

Headteacher Miss Howarth in 1939 said it was disgusting that a school should have to rely on such primitive means for water. She said a fire had broken out at Colebrooke recently, and the only available water was in the fire engine and the school’s rainwater tank. The North Devon Water Board had the franchise for installing piped water to the northern part of Devon, which included the Crediton area but was pessimistic as to when it could get to Colebrooke.

Then came the war

With the start of the war, the water situation got progressively worse in Colebrooke. The North Devon Water Board had to temporarily shelve their plan to supply piped water to the northern country areas of Devon. The school, whose pupil usually totals varied around the fifty mark, had by 1941 seen them rise to over seventy with the influx of evacuees, which increased the need for water. Much to their delight, some of the senior boys were given time off from lessons to assist in the water carrying. Remember, at that time, “senior boys” would have been fourteen-year-olds. The school leaving age did not rise to fifteen until near the end of the war. Indirectly the end of the war brought matters to a head regarding Colebrooke’s lack of water.

The newly-elected Labour government’s post-war council house building programme saw Colebrooke granted permission for at least six council houses. The problem was WATER. Crediton RDC identified a few building sites, but eventually, the field known as Bell Inns Close was chosen. This field lay behind the Old Bell Inn to which apparently at one time it had been connected. Here, at last, Crediton RDC and the North Devon Water Board combined their efforts. They identified a suitable source of water known as The Kitchen Spring, which lay down a track behind the house now known as Redhill Thatch. The name Kitchen Spring seems no longer to be in everyday use, and the reason for it acquiring that name has disappeared in the mists of time. The water from this spring was tested and found to be suitable for public use. A small pump house had been built to house a petrol-driven Lister engine and pump, which pumped water from the spring up to Colebrooke to supply Youngs farm who owned the spring and the land around it. A pipeline had been laid up to Brocks Cross/where it entered the field next to Rag Lane and continued through to the next field known as Riding Close, where a reservoir had been built at the top. It was considered to have enough elevation to provide a gravitational water supply to the proposed six council houses, which were to be built at the Colebrooke end of Bell Inns Close, which became numbers 1 to 6 Bellingsgate. An arrangement was made to take a metered supply from the reservoir, which Mr Hockridge, the owner in 1951, informed the Parish Council would be 2/6 per 1000 gallons. This was all in place by the early 1950s when the council houses were completed. The pipeline was extended to the school, and a standpipe was erected on the green in Colebrooke (now the car park), enabling people in Colebrooke to at last give up the trek to the Vicarage Well.

It was some four or five years later that NDWB eventually got mains water to Colebrooke. This enabled two more houses and four bungalows to be built at Bellingsgate. Kitchen Spring still gurgles happily away, although in recent years, with careful excavation, it has become an attractive feature as a pond.

© Neville Enderson