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Monday 7 July 2008

Dame Mary Bolles Water Tower

Heath, Nr Wakefield, North Yorkshire NMR Number: SE 32 SE 20.

For centuries before piped water became generally available there occurred the occasional ambitious and ingenious scheme to bring it to the dwelling of the rich or influential.

In 1505 Richard de Wombwell, prior of Nostell, had conduit pipes laid from a well in Ryhill to take its water to the Priory (now a National Trust property). The well-head, recently restored, remains a feature of the landscape today.

About a hundred years later, this tower was erected above a natural spring and pumped fresh water via a water wheel to Old Heath Hall on the hill above. Mystery and wonder surround it as much today as it did in the 1600's. Both modern and ancient pagans consider the spring sacred and Dame Mary is said to have dabbled in witchcraft. She asked that the room where she died (in 1662) in the old hall should be sealed. When it was unsealed, 50 years later, it is claimed that her ghost appeared and proceeded to haunt the surrounding heath.

Lady Bolles (1579-1662) owned the Heath estate from 1635 until her death at the age of 80, having purchased the Hall from the Kay family. First married to Thomas Jobson of Cudworth and, after his death, to Thomas Bolles of Osberton, Notts, she was created a baronetess by Charles I. Lady Bolles's will, made in the year she died, refers to "the water tower or conduit, which she lately built, with the lead works and iron works belonging to it."

The system was an unusual, perhaps even unique. The spring fed into a cistern from which, in turn, water flowed to power an 18-foot wheel. This provided the force to pump some of the water to the top of the tower from which height it would pass, probably by means of an overhead, lead-lined conduit, to the gateway at the old Hall.

Here, a further building, designed with the appearance of a gatehouse or lodge, held the huge storage cistern. This building, of a similar style and stonework to the water tower, like other of the outbuildings at the Hall, bears Lady Bolles's coat of arms.

How long the system functioned is not known, but it may well have survived into the 19th century, though not, apparently, beyond the 1830s.

Lady Green, whose book, The Old Hall at Heath 1568- was published in 1889, refers to the tower and spring: "This spring used to be a very copious and never-failing stream, but it is much diminished by the sinking of a coal pit that tapped the water bearing stratum; nevertheless, it is excellent in colour and quality."

The spring does, in fact, still flow with perhaps no greater loss of force than Lady Green records.

The tower stimulates considerable curiosity but its real nature is even more striking than its strange isolation suggests since it is a very early survival of English skill in hydraulic engineering.

A video of the tower is here

(Thanks to David Blackburn for much of this information.)

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