Godalming Museum

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The Frith Hill, Godalming and Farncombe Waterworks Company

The Frith Hill Reservoir and Water Tower were opened on August 3rd, 1880 by Lord Midleton of Peper Harow. The chairman of the Frith Hill Water Company was Rev. Dr William Haig-Brown, the headmaster of Charterhouse School, the secretary was John Debenham of Queen Street and the manager was John Ede of 4 Charterhouse Villas, Charterhouse Road.

A constant supply of water at a very high pressure was given from a reservoir holding 369,000 gallons situated on Frith Hill to supply the Godalming Town, Farncombe and Crownpits districts. The water tower, 75 feet tall and holding 28,000 gallons, provided a supply to Frith Hill, Hurtmore and Shackleford. This tower is now a private residence. There were about sixteen miles of mains piping, which were always kept charged in case of fire. The water was pumped from a well sixty feet deep to Frith Hill by a fifteen horse-power steam engine installed in No. 1 Pumping Station. This was situated behind what is now the Scout Hut in Charterhouse Road and has now been converted into a private house.

The No. 2 Pumping Station and the Catteshall (pronounced ‘Cats Hill’) Springs Reservoir were constructed in 1885 in Catteshall Lane opposite a row of twelve cottages, aptly named ‘Spring Place’. Ten thousand cart-loads of soil were excavated by hand and spread, six feet deep, over a pig farm which then existed on what became the site of Victoria Road (built in 1887). The water was pumped to Frith Hill by a sixteen horse-power Crossley Gas Engine, the Gas Works then being located nearby.

When this reservoir was demolished in 1996  to make  way for  the ten  houses of Carmarge Place the springs were still producing 19,000 gallons of first class quality, very soft water every hour. This still runs, but drains into the River Wey. I wonder if any will find its way into the 100-space underground car park now being constructed on the Key Site development site in Woolsack Way. We all know what happened at Waitrose!

Before and during the demolition work at Catteshall Lane I photographed the interior of this beautiful Victorian reservoir and sketches taken from these photographs illustrate this article. The reservoir was cut into South Hill with the front (north) wall being exposed to Catteshall Lane. At its base this wall was 3˝ bricks thick, diminishing to a 1˝ brick thick parapet. Behind the wall were eight brick barrel vaults each spanning 10 feet with a headroom of 8 feet. The depth of the vaults into the hillside was 80 feet. The vaults were waterproofed with asphalt to prevent the entry of surface water, then covered with soil and grassed over. The Godalming and District Rifle Club rented the area above the Catteshall Springs reservoir as a small-bore rifle range - firing into the South Hill was ideal for them. When I photographed the interior of the reservoir it was in pristine condition - a beautiful construction.

In 1899 Godalming Town Council purchased the Waterworks and became the local water authority. Two more pumping stations were built, one in Borough Road  and one in Ockford Road. Both had white glazed brick walls internally; but have now been demolished. Another reservoir and water tower were built at Munstead and yet another reservoir at Hydons Ball. The Munstead tower has since been converted to a private residence. Several years ago a nursing home called Roseacre in Prior’s Field Road burnt down because of low water pressure. This prompted the building of a water tower at the end of Prior’s Field Road. The Roseacre site is now occupied by the Robertson Nursing Home.

In 1950 the waterworks became the Guildford, Godalming and District Water Board, later changing to the West Surrey Water Board. In 1974 yet another reservoir was constructed in Sandy Lane, Frith Hill and there was another name change, to Thames Water, Southern Division. Up to 1990 we paid our water bills into the old Branksome School in Filmer Grove, but in 1990 we had the last name change, to Thames Water Utilities, and our cheques go all the way to Swindon.

All Godalming’s water is now supplied from the pumping station behind Shalford Church via the reservoirs mentioned and, yes, you are still drinking water from the Catteshall Spring which flows down the River Wey to Shalford, is treated there and then pumped back to Godalming!

Finally, do I hear someone asking what happened at Waitrose? When the building in Bridge Street was under construction the dewatering pumps were switched off and the 12 inch thick basement concrete floor slab rose up 10 inches. Holes had to be drilled in it to release the spring-water pressure below. The slab then settled down to its original level and the pumps had to be restarted while the building was stabilised by further construction work; they do make concrete-hull fishing boats!

John Young

 John asks that if any reader has, or knows someone who has, photographs, internal or external, of the four pumping stations mentioned above, or of the Roseacre fire, they let him know as he would love to take copies for future slide shows. Indeed he would like to hear of any old photographs of Godalming and its surrounding villages - old school groups and charabanc outings are always exciting.


                                                                    Web site last updated 02/10/2004