Rapid population growth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries led to concerns about the inadequacy of the town’s water supply. A number of remedies were considered, including the sinking of an artesian well on the Common. Consequently, in 1835-36 an agreement was made between the council and a London engineer, Thomas Clarke, who began boring the well in early 1836. This first attempt evidently met with scant success because in 1838 another contract was agreed, this time with John Collyer, a local plumber and member of the town’s waterworks commission. This contract allowed for the continued boring of the well and the construction of a reservoir to store the flow of water. Unfortunately, the expected flow of water never justified these expectations and Collyer soon abandoned the scheme, which was then taken on by yet another partnership. The bore hole eventually reached a depth of 1317 feet, but with only moderate success in terms of water supply, and by 1845 the scheme was stopped.

The boring necessitated the construction of an engine house with chimney, and this with the large mounds of earth and clay from the excavations made the site a notable feature of the landscape on the Common for a few years. A drawing by T. G. Hart captured this scene (image 1).

Experts were puzzled by the failure of the scheme and when the British Association met at Southampton in September 1846, the Geological Section considered the problem at some length. In 1882, when the Association again met in the town, they recommended a renewed attempt. A new project was subsequently started, but with no better results. The cover of the artesian well can still be seen just to the north of the boating lake (image 2).

1. Artesian Well, The Common

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Thomas Gray Hart’s drawing of the Common, showing the workings of the artesian well, c.1840

2. Artesian Well Head, The Common

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The cover of the artesian well can still be seen north of the boating lake.


Further reading:
Early Water Supply of Southampton, by D. V. Fippard, p7-13. (HS/lm)
Southampton Occasional Notes,, by ‘Townsman’, p43 (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes(2nd Series), by ‘Townsman’, p41, 42. (HS/h)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p74. (HS/h)


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