Serving all his days

Here’s a great newspaper clipping found by local history rapscallion Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler. It will be of great interest, no doubt, to Dave Moore, who’s campaign to save the pumping station at Sandfields, Lichfield is gathering steam.

This is a wonderful piece, again transcribed by the magic of Brownhills Dog’s generous transcription skills, without whom I’d be buggered, frankly. This blog is rapidly becoming the sum of the immense work of a great number of selfless folk, and I thank them all.

Sandfields Waterworks 1859

Image from Dave Moore’s excellent Flickr Stream.


Lichfields Man’s Remarkable Record.




FIFTY years of unremitting service in the employ of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company is the proud record of Mr. Joseph Plant, of Christ Church Gardens, Lichfield, who has recently retired as foreman engine driver at the Sandfields Pumping Station.

In January, 1866, Joe Plant, as a boy of nineteen, started at the “foot of the ladder” at the Sandfields Pumping station and went through every department-labourer, boiler cleaner, stoker, engine worker-until he became foreman engine driver some years ago.

What he does not know about those huge steam pumping engines, which are incessantly working at the Sandfields station, and which have pumped water for the citizens of Lichfield and district for many a year, is not worth knowing.

Mr. Plant has seen many important changes and can tell many humorous and interesting stories expanding over that half-century.

A remarkable life. From the Lichfield Mercury, Friday, 6th March 1936. Click for a larger version.

A remarkable life. From the Lichfield Mercury, Friday, 6th March 1936. Click for a larger version.

A native of the city, he was born at the Sandfields Cottage, a stone’s throw form the building where he was to create such a fine record of service, and the lane leading to his old home to this day is called “Plant’s Lane” after his father, who lived there for many years and who did a remarkable number of years; service as a railwayman.

For the past thirty-six years, until his retirement in January, Mr. Plaint resided at  Waterworks Cottage.

The latter part of his fifty years and Sandfields saw the biggest changes, and perhaps the most important of these took place ion 1923, when three of the four old slow-speed engines were replaced by the two high speed engines which are working today.

FROM 1850 to 1925!

From a mechanical point of view that change was a revolutionary one, for the old engines-one of which is still kept in working order today, but is no longer used- were “James Watt” single-cylinder rotative beam engines and had been in use at Sandfields from 1858 to 1923.

These engines were originally used by the South Devon Atmospheric Railway Co. as blowing engines!

The New Engines were duplicity uni-flow centrifugal pumping engines, and as an engine driver at that time Mr. Plant proved his worth to the Waterworks Co. by quickly adapting himself to the modernised conditions which had been brought about by reconstruction, and later by the building of a filtration plant.

By coincidence he met another fifty year servant of the Company when, on Friday last, a special presentation of smoker’s requisites (a case of pipes and a tobacco pouch) was made to him by the Benevolent Fund of the Company of which he was a member for many years.

This interesting presentation took place at the South Staffordshire Waterworks’ headquarters in Sheepcote Street Birmingham, where over one hundred members and friends of the company had assembled.

The Engineer-in-Chief, Mr. F. J. Dixon M.I.C.E., M.I.M.E. (president of the Benevolent Fund), presided, supported by Mr F. S. Temple (Chief Mechanical Engineer), Mr G. Povey, Mr. W. Parker (Chairman of the Benevolent Fund), Mr. C. Brennan (secretary of the fund) and Mr. W. Shires, and a company of about thirty from Lichfield, including three of Mr. Plant’s sons.

Sandfileds Staff 1893

Joseph Plant and colleagues at work. Image from Dave Moore’s wonderful Flickr photo stream.

During an interval Mr. F. J. Dixon made the presentation.

In doing so he said Mr. Plant was the only servant of the Company to serve under three engineers, namely Messrs. Vawdry, Ashton Hill and F. J. Dixon.

When he (Mr. Dixon) joined the Company his predecessor, Mr. Ashton Hill, informed him that he had a good and reliable engine driver in “Joe” Plant, upon whom he could fully depend should difficulty ever arise, and had always found those words carried out to the letter.


Applause and cheers followed when Mr. Dixon made the presentation, and despite his emotion Mr. Plant made a very suitable reply.

He had always tried to be honest in his work, he said, and had tried to help everybody he possibly could and had nothing to regret during those fifty years.

He looked forward to his retirement, but would always be pleased to meet his workmates in the knowledge that he could meet face to face. (Applause).

Mr. Plant is also the recipient of an easy chair, subscribed for bu his fellow workers at the Sandfields Pumping Station, who thought very highly of him.

As a keen sportsman in his younger days Mr. Plant represented Lichfield at cricket and football, and played cricket regularly on the old county ground at Aldershawe.

That sporting interest still remains, and he enjoys good health, to look forward to his retirement, while his sons W.H and W.A., carry on the cricketing tradition as stalwart members of the present Lichfield club.

As a keen gardener and a member of the Lichfield Allotments Society since its inception, Mr. Plant hopes to devote a lot of his leisure hours at this hobby. In 1924, amongst other successes at the Lichfield Society’s show he was awarded the “Gardening Illustrated” bronze medal of which he is very proud.

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12 Responses to Serving all his days

  1. Dave Denison says:

    Very interesting article. The pumping station is amazing. I particularly liked reference to South Devon Atmospheric Railway Co. I couldn’t get my head around the dates till I realised Joe’s start date had been mis-transcribed as 1866 – it should say 1886 from scanning original article.


  2. Clive says:

    Pure gold, lovely job Pedro and all involved.

  3. Kickstart…my branch of Plants came from Lichfield. I shall have to investigate if there is any sort of tenuous connection to this man. Thanks

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a super article and what a beautifully clear photo. I wonder who the local hatter was. Big thanks to all involved. Suddenly rapscallions will never be quite the same again!
    kind regards

    • That there Grenfel looks like a hard gaffer. Love the fact he has his hound with him.
      It really is a cracking photo, and thanks to Dave Moore for allowing me to use it.
      That Pedro is a mischievous cove. Keep your eye on him…


  5. morturn says:

    Reblogged this on Morturn – Sandfields Pumping Station and commented:
    This is one of those remarkable discoveries, that can tell us so much about the past. It is these recollections from the past; Mr. Joseph Plant, his memories, the story of an ordinary working man, that brings the past to life.

    What I like about this post is how it tells the storeys of an individual, and also about the relationships he had with his employer and work colleagues. However it is also reflective of how our world has changed in quite significant ways in my own living memory.

    Johann Van Leerzem and Brian Williams in their amazing document telling the story of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company, they talk about staff with a long service record.

    There were over 12 people who had service record of 50 years or more, and some female staff who had worked for 46 years. Of course all of this changed with the ‘get on your bike and find work’ cultures that grew up in the eighties, so it shows a significant cultural and social change.

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