Tadcaster's Water Supply

Something that is easily taken for granted is that turning a tap produces clean, drinkable water.  For how long has this been the case in the Tadcaster area?

The 1849 Ordnance Survey map of Tadcaster marks some Wells and Pumps.  The 1893 map which is much more detailed is marked with large number of “P”s indicating a pump.  These have been highlighted with red dots on the map of part of the town.

27 pumps are marked on this section of the 1893 map

At this date, a “pump” was a device fitted over a well shaft to raise water without the use of the classic bucket.

The source of most of the following information comes from an annual publication by Tadcaster Rural District Council.  Tadcaster Rural District Council covered a large area that included Bishopthorpe in the north-east, Swillington in the south-west, Barwick in Elmet in the west and South Milford in the south.  It ceased as an authority following the 1974 Local Government Reorganisation, Tadcaster then becoming part of Selby District.

49 of these publications with dates between 1895 and 1972 can be found on the Internet Archive Digital Library, by searching for “Tadcaster”.   These were reports produced by the Medical Officer, covering all aspects relating to health and population in the area.  They provide fascinating reading and are a must for anyone wanting annual statistics such as how many manure heaps were removed having been found to be a nuisance!

The Annual Report for 1895 records that 50 pumps in Tadcaster East and West had been sampled during the year.  Most of these pumps would have been dug as wells rather than being bored as would be the case today and as a result would be relatively shallow.  The report records that the water from most of these was “satisfactory”, however some were recorded as “doubtful”.

The 1899 report records 4 cases of typhoid in Tadcaster.  The wells in question were known to be unsatisfactory, but two of the cases occurred soon after flooding of the river.  It notes the passing of the Wetherby Water Act of 1899.  This allowed a company to provide piped water in some areas of the Rural District, notably in the Aberford and Sherburn areas.

Bilbrough bore hole

Consideration had been given to the best means of supplying Tadcaster with water.  A trial 120 foot bore-hole had been sunk at Bilbrough and the water was found to be satisfactorily pure.  Land had been purchased for a permanent bore hole at Bilbrough.  By 1902, some households in Tadcaster were connected to the Bilbrough supply and work was progressing to connect all houses to the system.

Whilst Tadcaster was looking at boreholes for its water supply, Leeds with a larger population, more finance available and situated nearer the Pennines had taken a different approach.  For many years it had been building reservoirs and in the 1870s was building reservoirs in the Washburn valley in the Wharfe catchment area.

Typhoid outbreaks throughout the district were not uncommon and were often traced to unsatisfactory wells.  These outbreaks served to put pressure on work to provide a piped water supply.

One drawback of the water supply from Bilbrough was its hardness.  I remember the thick lime deposits in kettles which became the norm in the town. Possible methods of softening the water were considered.

By 1904, the report records that the old shallow polluted wells were rapidly being abandoned in favour of the public supply.  Most of the progress in the district was targeted on taking piped water from Leeds.

Typhoid outbreaks

Major outbreaks of typhoid continued to arise. 1910 brought 19 typhoid cases in South Milford.  This followed 7 cases in South Milford the previous year.  These were traced to polluted water sources.  A temporary water supply was installed.

The Medical Officer makes some rather pointed comments in his reports as to the action taken at South Milford.  He says:

“In previous Annual Reports I have mentioned the need of a public supply at South Milford, and in January last I again directed your attention to its dangerous condition. Practically the whole supply is from shallow wells most of which are seriously polluted with sewerage, or liable to pollution by reason of their defective construction and proximity to privies and fold yards. Typhoid fever recurs year after year.

I suggested that a trial bore should be made on the high ground at the west end of the village. If satisfactory water were obtained a public supply could be pumped by a wind engine and stored in a reservoir at ground level. In August I again reported that owing to the recurrence of cases of typhoid fever and the very bad condition of the water in the wells it was necessary to take immediate steps to provide a wholesome supply. It is impossible for the various owners to obtain good water owing to the proximity of sources of pollution.

It was then suggested that a main and stand-pipes should at once be laid and water obtained temporarily from a well at the top end of the village. I reported that owing to its proximity to sources of pollution I could not recommend it as a temporary public supply. This scheme has however now been carried out and the water is pumped by hand into a raised tank. I hope the experimental bore will as soon as possible be commenced on ground further removed from risk of contamination. No further progress has been made in obtaining a supply for Sherburn; one supply might well serve for this village and South Milford.”

Unfortunately, a gap in the records means that we are unsure of the outcome of his remarks.

It records that in 1925, 15 of the 40 parishes had a piped water supply to some part of those parishes.

By 1933, 82% of the houses in the district were fed with a piped water supply, however, some parishes had still not been reached.

1933 map showing parishes with no piped water supply.

This map shows those parishes shaded in pink for which there was no piped water supply.

East Tadcaster had all of its 402 properties piped, whilst West Tadcaster had 538 piped out of 603 properties.

That year, there were no reports of typhoid anywhere in the district, a rather different story to 30 years earlier when there were 33 cases of which 5 were fatal.  A good water supply was beginning to bear fruit.

The war years intervened, but in 1943, the report refers to the supplies from Leeds, York and Bilbrough all being chlorinated.  This had probably been carried out since the early 1900s.  About 89% of houses in the district were supplied with piped water.

During the war, the Air Ministry arranged for the Selby water supply which came from a deep well at Brayton Barff to supply Church Fenton aerodrome by means of a 9” pipe.  This was later used to supply parts of Sherburn, Biggin and Church Fenton.

By 1953, 94% of houses in the district were provided with piped water, with every parish being in receipt of a supply.


This map shows the source of water to each parish.  The pink in the south-west shows the Leeds supply, the dark blue in the north-east the York supply, and pale blue in the middle showing the area fed from Bilbrough.

In May 1957 a scheme was completed that connected Tadcaster with the Leeds supply.  This enabled the Bilbrough well to be a reserve supply.  The area now had a much softer water so limescale in kettles and pipes was much reduced.  The water pressure to the properties on higher ground was also improved.

Transfer of responsibility

1st April 1960 saw the Tadcaster Rural District Council’s responsibility for water supply transferred to Leeds and York as part of a national change to regionalisation of supplies.  By this time 98% of houses in the district were supplied with piped water and typhoid was a distant memory.

The Yorkshire Water Authority was set up in 1973, taking over the Leeds and York undertakings.  This was privatised in 1989 as Yorkshire Water.

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.