Discovery Channel

After fifty-five weeks, four failed attempts and roping in several members of my family I finally found the medieval conduit head up at Pipe Hall Farm in Burntwood. You know though, you wait all year for a conduit head & then two turn up…..

A little background first. From 1160 until 1969 water was carried one and a half miles from springs in the Pipe area of Burntwood to the Cathedral Close via a conduit. At the source, a cistern was cut into the rock and a small brick building was erected over the source to keep the water clean and healthy. (2) This medieval conduit-head was in use for the majority of the time, but was temporarily replaced by a brick conduit between 1780 and 1821*. After an incredible 809 years, it was decided that it should carry water no more as it was constantly being damaged by ploughing and having to be fixed by Bridgeman’s employees (hope you appreciate the irony of this Vickie Sutton!) (3)

This pump outside the Cathedral replaced the Close’s conduit head in 1786

As water pipes go, this one had a pretty eventful life. Although the conduit itself was later known as Moses, it’s thought it gave the name ‘Pipe’ to the whole area.(4) It was vandalised by Lord & Lady Stanley, until King Henry VII stepped in in 1489 and told them to behave. In the early 16th century, washerwomen drawing water at the Cathedral end were said to be scandalising residents of the Close and during the Civil War it was inevitably stripped of lead by soldiers.(5)

In December 2010, around the same time I started this blog, I made it my mission to find the Medieval Conduit Head.  I went to the wrong woods twice. Then I went to the correct woods twice but looked in the wrong place. This time, I gathered a team of explorers aka my family and at the noticeboard in the Pipe Hall Farm car park I gave them their orders. ‘This’, I said pointing to a helpful map & photo, ‘is what we are looking for and we are not leaving here until we find it’. After an initial search proved fruitless we split up. Mr G spotted some bricks and on closer inspection we were sure we’d found the 18th century replacement brick conduit head.

Not medieval but still a conduit head!Close up there’s a visible date. 1755?

Cheered by this discovery, we went to find the others. My Mum wasn’t far away and told us a little further on she had spotted steps leading down to something and had sent my Dad to investigate. This had to be it.  I called to ask him if he’d found anything. ‘There’s this. I wasn’t sure if this was it or not?’ he said deadly serious, whilst stood next to a small building identical to the one in the photo.  ‘Yes Dad’, I said ‘Yes it is’. We celebrated with a cup of tea, enjoying the views of Lichfield from the hill.

The Medieval Conduit Head. As found by my Dad.

 

The channel making its way to the Close

 

…..to here.

Footnotes:

It seems ridiculous to say but both Conduit Heads are actually really easy to find. They are actually just off a main path running alongside the Jubilee Wood. You can even see the medieval one from this path.  => I was almost looking too hard. And I can’t read maps.

The Medieval Conduit Head was included on the 2008 English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register where its condition was said to be ‘poor’ but was removed from the list in 2010 after its restoration.

Pipe Hall Farm was recently included in the Guardian’s 10 best woods & forests for wheelchairs & buggies.

The date on the brick conduit head appears to be 1755, could this mean this conduit was in use for longer than previously thought?

I understand that the water that went to the other city wells & pumps (such as the Crucifix Conduit outside the Library and Records Office) came from a different source i.e. Aldershawe

Sources:
(1)Lichfield: Public services’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 95-109. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42348

(2)Water Technology in the Middle Ages: Cities, Monasteries & Waterworks after the Roman Empire by Roberta J Magnusson

(3) Annals of a Century: Bridgeman’s of Lichfield, 1878-1978 by Owen Keyte

(4) Notes on Staffordshire Placenames WH Duignan

(5) English Heritage at Risk Register 2008 and 2009

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