Thornbury and District Museum June 2018
It may be more of a traffic island than a vital source of clean drinking water nowadays, but the pump in Thornbury has become one of the defining images of the town.It’s also been the subject of controversy over the last two and a half centuries.
There had been an older pump which was part of the old White Hart pub near The Plain at the bottom of the High Street for centuries. This older pump was probably the one referred to in the Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions Order Book at Michaelmas 1725.
“Inhabitants of Thornbury indicted for not repairing their Town or common pump. Fined £10 to be levied and raised..….to be expended on the reparation of the said town or Common Pump“.
When the White Hart pub was demolished to become a bank in 1857 it was agreed that the original well could stay near its wall, but the bank also paid for something rather more conspicuous to be built outside their premises.
The parish records of St Mary’s Church show that the new well was dug at The Plain in November 1859. A pump was also installed.
Although once the pump was a daily necessity for Thornbury residents, from Victorian times onwards it became the subject of fierce debate and controversy, mainly over whether it should stay.
A newspaper report in 1924 said the idea of removing the pump was first mooted when it was suggested it be replaced with a memorial to Queen Victoria. This idea was vetoed.
However in 1919 the possibility of removing it was again introduced – this time to replace it with a memorial to those who fell in First World War.
It was in the 1920’s when the pump became a real bone of contention.
In 1923 the issue of road safety was the subject of a local newspaper report. It recommended caution when “rounding the dangerous corner at The Plain.” Apparently a touring car had come to grief through not taking a “wide enough sweep.”
The article went on to say “Presumably sentiment counts a lot in this Town when the obsolete pump there is allowed to remain a source of danger to residents and visitors alike. Possibly a fatal accident may stir somebody to action.”
In 1924 the Rural District Council decided that it was an obstruction removed the pump on Monday September 15th.
One hundred and thirty two ratepayers signed a letter to the District Council demanding the return of the Pump. One person wrote and asked how much longer he would have to wait before he could wash his trap.
The pump was brought back on a wagon by an excited crowd with a placard on it saying “This pump belongs to the ratepayers of Thornbury.” The police feared a riot.
On October 4th a protest meeting of “the electors of the special drainage district of Thornbury” was called. At the meeting Charles Symes argued strongly that the road was 36 feet wide, that there was enough room for five cars to pass abreast, that the pump had been there for generations and was a public well and that no accidents had ever happened as a result of the pump being in the road.
A resolution stated that the pump should not have been removed without the consent of the ratepayers and ordered for it to be returned and reinstated and there was a discussion about whether the councillors concerned with removing it should pay for its replacement and that of the two gas lamps that had been on it.
The Council took legal opinion and decided that the pump had been installed illegally on the highway where it was an obstruction and should there be an accident the Rural District Council would be liable. The pump was once again removed.
The saga of the Pump was brought full circle in 1984 when a replica was installed on The Plain near the site of the original.
Avon County Council had determined that the site was suitable for a traffic island as a traffic calming measure.
A local group “Concern for Thornbury” drew up plans to have the pump placed on the traffic island.
Thus the final irony in the story of the pump is that its restoration was part of a traffic safety measure.
The new pump is now part of the image of Thornbury and is a beautiful addition to the town’s entry into the Britain in Bloom competition. The canopy around it was designed by a local architect, John Webster, and based on the original design. The work was completed by craftsmen at Almondsbury Forge.
The pump itself was an original Thornbury pump from a different site near the old market. It was donated by Lyndon Hawkins who had rescued it from the junction of Bath Road and Rock Street when it was removed as a health hazard, after its water source had become polluted.
It was never officially determined what had happened to the old one. Some people say it had been hidden down a well or in the quarry and others feared that it had been melted down to prevent another unofficial attempt to restore it.
Information and pictures supplied by members of the research group at Thornbury and District Museum.