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31 May 22
To celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend Affinity Water is broadcasting a new #podcast telling the story of how Folkestone in Kent has led the way since medieval times in bringing a fresh water supply to its many residents.
Archaeologist Dr Andrew Richardson, Director of Isle Heritage and Beverley Taylor, Affinity Water’s Sustainability Manager based in Folkestone, who both worked on the Heritage Lottery Funded “Finding St Eanswyth’s” project, climb to the top of Castle Hill in Folkestone to recount the history of bringing fresh water supplies to the Town over the ages.
Bones unearthed in Folkestone’s parish church in 1885 have now been confirmed as being the relics of this Anglo-Saxon Princess, who is said to have founded one of the earliest nunneries in England at Folkestone, . She was the daughter of a King of Kent. According to legend Eanswyth is credited with supplying her minster with water, and miraculously moving it uphill, in the 7th Century, although the truth is rather different. Folkestone was one of the first Town outside London to get a piped water supply in 1848.
Dr Richardson explains: “There is a very long history in Folkestone of water supply and moving water a long distance, so it’s a really great place to come and think about the importance of water to human existence and also the engineering achievements to get the water where you want it to be.”
As they walk up Castle Hill, a 12th Century fortification that overlooks Folkestone, otherwise known as Caesar’s Camp, they look down over the comb between Castle Hill and Cherry Garden Hill, which is the site of an old 19th Century waterworks which supplied fresh drinking water to the people of Folkestone.
Beverley explains: “We are standing on the chalk grasslands, and this is where our water comes from the chalk aquifers. Before us is Folkestone Town, the Channel and on a clear day you can see France as well. Below us is the Cherry Garden Upper Works, the seat of the original Folkestone Water Company from 1848. This Town had one of the first piped water supplies outside London.”
Andrew continues: “There is this myth of St Eanswyth’s that she used the power of God to make water run uphill but actually this refers to a really clever piece of engineering using the contours to deliver water to the top of the hill to the Bayle, but of course it never runs uphill it follows the contours and very gently runs to that spot. The problems of the past in getting fresh clean water to the people of Folkestone are the same today and remarkably much the same geography is being used. Climbing up this hill we can discuss the problems of transporting water.”
The water course in fact dates from the 12th Century but as Andrew explains it was “maintained right through until the 20th Century”: “It was only disconnected as a supply to the Bayle pond in 1954. And in the early 20th Century it was still the only supply of water to some poor cottages. For nearly 800 years that was the supply of water to the people of Folkestone. Water engineering wasn’t easy but that is what we see if we look at the records of Folkestone.”
In Part One Andrew and Beverley Climb Castle Hill and look down on Cherry Gardens Upper works, where historic old water works buildings are still standing and where there are three original open reservoirs named after the three men who founded the Folkestone Water company. Andrew says he would like to see it become a Heritage Site. “There is no-where else in the Country where you have these two historic stories of water. Folkestone led the way. It should be a Heritage Site.”
In Part Two they climb further up the Hill to overlook the Channel and the Parish Church and a spot where recent excavations also found relics from the stone age. Andrew explains how his excavations revealed more about the engineering achievements involved in supplying water to the Town through the ages from open ditches to piped water. “The Borough used to employ Water Leaders who were employed to keep the water supply clear. It was a major civic achievement to keep it all going,” he said.
Beverley added: “In Dover they held a banquet in the Reservoir before it was opened, water was a source of civic pride.”
Beverley explains how water company supply areas used to be based on small cohabitations and Towns and required an Act of Parliament to operate. Only relatively recently did these companies build on the economies of scale that has led to mergers, which were often challenged by locals who wanted to retain their own supplies. “We find the same things today when we look at what we are doing in terms of water resource management. We are working on regional levels now and that really did start from those first amalgamations and looking at how we can improve and work together. There used to be thousands of small water companies across the UK,” she said.
Beverley also emphasised the importance of saving water particularly on holiday weekends such as the Jubilee: “It is essential that we try and leave more water in the environment and waste less ourselves. Our campaign www.saveourstreams.co.uk has over 200,000 sign ups now. That gives bespoke information about what people can do in their own homes to waste less water. We want to encourage people to go onto our website have a look and think about how you use water. It is fundamental to all life and our public health too”.
Andrew finished by explaining the importance of this history to Folkestone and the UK: “The way water was used, and the way natural history helped to divert these streams and supply water is a crucial part of the history of Folkestone through the millennia. It’s one of the earliest water sites in the Country.”
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