Village Wells

When asked what they consider to be the centre of a village community, most people would reply, "the church". But this was not always so. ln fact, until the advent of mains water supply in the 1950s and 60s, the centre of a village was typically the village well.

Water had to be collected for cooking and washing, often two or three times a day. People would congregate around the well and while away their time gossiping about other people, local events and, this being England, the weather! ln this respect it differed significantly from the village church. Granted the church was the focus of life on Sundays but few hung around afterwards gossiping, and of course, collecting water was a much more frequent event.

The Well at East Marden reproduced from
Sussex: People and History by Denys Skinner

A few houses were lucky enough to have their own well but whichever the source, the water was rarely used for drinking - people usually drunk beer to avoid the risk of possibly polluted well-water. Hence the number of beer houses in Yapton in the 19th century!

So where was Yapton’s village well? l’ve not been able to find any records describing a communal well and it seems likely that groups of houses shared wells between themselves. The local water table isn’t far below ground level and maps from 1839 show numerous ponds scattered among the fields and houses (although these would have been used for livestock and crops rather than human consumption) so it would have been easy to dig a well nearby rather than have to walk to a communal one. The hamlets of North End, Yapton, Burndell and Bilsom were quite distant from each other and a local source of water would have saved much time (and spillage!).

Water consumption today averages 32 gallons per person per day - imagine having to collect that lot in buckets from a well up to a mile away and you can see why 1 gallon per person was more usual for our ancestors.

Some people argue the demise of the village well has contributed to a loss of sense of community, but perhaps the village well has been replaced by the pot of tea as a place for people to gather and gossip?!

Geoff Westcott
June 2008

(Originally published in Yapton News & Views, July 2008)

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