Trouble brewing?


Sandhill Pumping Station is a beautiful example of its kind.

About a decade ago, South Staffordshire Water historian Chris Pattison sent me some scans of 1921 documents he found in the archives relating to the Shire Oak Brewery owner, Geroge Boulter, who was expressing concerns about the creation of the Sandhills Pumping Station and borehole, and the possible effect on the well the brewery used at the top of Shire Oak Hill.

The Sandhills Pumping Station – built by the private concern of The South Staffordshire Waterworks Company in 1935 – still pumps fresh water to this day from two 400 foot deep boreholes drilled into the bunter pebble beds under Sandhills.

The brewery stood behind the Shire Oak Pub, and has been exhaustively documented by historian Clive Roberts in his wonderful book ‘Snippets of Local History in and around Shire Oak’.

I’m sure Clive will find this material interesting.

Friend of the blog Richard Burnell was very generous in transcribing these hard to read documents, and I present them here: they are records of interviews between Fred J. Dixon, SSWW Engineer in Chief, and  George Boulter about his concerns and provide some remarkable detail.

Thanks to Chris who has donated some wonderful material on South Staffordshire Waterworks and connected matters over the years: he really is most generous and I thank him profusely.


This image – of the construction efforts to cap and resolve the problems with Shire Oak Reservoir – shows Shire Oak Brewery beyond the reservoir. This 1924 image was kindly supplied by Chris Pattison.


Mr. Boulter called and said he noticed it was intended to put down a pumping station at Sandhills and he had observed from the notice in the paper that the Company were applying for to Parliament for powers for several new works.

He drew my attention to the fact that he had a well and a borehole at his Shire Oak Brewery and that he was rather nervous that the proposed Sandhills Pumping Station would interfere with this supply, and he wanted to know what position he was in as regards protection.

I told Mr. Boulter that I anticipated that I should not interfere with the water in his borehole or well as I was anxious to get the water from the pebble beds, and as he was considerabl[y] higher situated in regard to the site of the proposed well I did not anticipate I would draw water from his well. Mr. Boulter, however, stated that he was somewhat doubtful and was therefore very anxious, and wanted to know what the company were prepared to offer to protect him. I pointed out to Mr. Boulter that in the Act of 1915 all private wells were protected by a special section introduced by Parliament and that I felt sure in the 1922 Bill similar protection would be given to private wells. I read to Mr. Boulter section 13 of the 1915 Act when he pointed out that he did not want the company’s water as the temperature of same was always 10 to 15 degrees higher than the water from his well which was a serious matter in brewing. He wanted to know what other compensation could be given him, when I pointed out in the section that if he was not compensated with water the company had the alternative of compensating him with money.

I then pointed out that no doubt with the supply from Sandhills the temperature of the water would certainly be much lower than the supply from the existing mains as it was my intention to lay a pumping main from Sandhills Pumping Station Direct to Shire Oak when we could tap the mains if it was necessary to supply him.

Mr. Boulter asked if I could give him a copy of our Bill when I said I could not do that as they were not printed., but when they were I would send him a copy, and also a copy of the plan showing the site of Work No. 2.

Mr. Boulter then suggested I should come over to Shire Oak Brewery and take particulars of the depth of the water , the depth of the well and borehole, and the temperatures together with any other information I thought necessary, so that I should be alive to the present conditions under which he got his supply.

I thanked Mr. Boulter for giving me the opportunity and arranged this on Monday 12th Instant at 11.30 A.M.

Mr. Boulter said he did not in opposing the Company in the Parliamentary Enquiry, but he wanted to be quite sure he would be protected, and suggested I would give him an undertaking on behalf of the Company that if his water supply were affected the company would compensate him in water or money.

I said that was a question that my board would have to consider but I was not prepared to go as far as that, as I was certainly under the impression that no interference with his supply would take place. However, that might be a question for further negotiation as I was wishful to meet him in every way.

Mr. Boulter said he had two supplies of water – one was a surface supply and the other was a well supply. He asked me what quantity of water I anticipated getting from Sandhills Borehole, when I said I was hoping to get 1,000,000 gallons per 24 hours. He was rather dubious as to this quantity and said “I have had enough of boring and well sinking and know a fair amount of boring in the district.” I promised to send Mr. Boulter all of the particulars and information when it came to hand.

Shire Oak Brewery Interviews

The man Burnell did a cracking job of transcribing this somewhat difficult document so generously donated by Chris Pattison.


As arranged, I met Mr. Boulter at the Shire Oak brewery to consider the position of the proposed Sandhills Pumping Station in relation to his well and borehole at Shire Oak Brewery.

Mr. Boulter informed me he had not had time to go through the Act of 1915, but he was anxious that the company should give him some protection. I pointed out that the position of his borehole was such that no interference would take place when pumping at Sandhills Pumping Station, as the position of the borehole was of such an altitude above the Sandhills Well that I considered the water which would be pumped from the Sandhills Well would be from the pebble beds, while water in his well would be from stratum above the pebble beds.

Mr. Boulter then suggested I should examine the well as to depth and discharge so I went to the well with Mr. Cotterill and Mr. Fidkin and Mr. Boulter, and took certain particulars with the following results :-

Depth of top water in the well as measured from the underside of the wooden doors over the well head was 61ft 2 ½ ins. This was taken at 12.30 p.m. and the depth of water in the well was 27 ½ ins showing a total depth from the underside of the doors of the head of the well to the bottom of the well, 88 ft. 3 ins. Mr. Boulter agreed to this measurement and it was taken by a copper wire and then measured with a steel tape the measurements were considered absolutely accurate.

Mr. Fidkin and Mr. Boulter’s man went down the well and made certain examinations as to the method of pumping. In addition to this Mr. Fidkin took a sample of water from the well, but when it was brought to the surface it was found the sample contained a considerable quantity of oily matter and was therefore discarded and a proper sample taken from the outlet of the pump when pumping direct from the well. I then went down the well myself and found a certain quantity of oily matter on the surface of the water, and also that the well had a brick steining from the top of the well to the top of the water as far as it was possible to observe.

The temperatures of the borehole water were taken at 1.5 p.m. at the discharge in the brewhouse, which gave a reading of 46 F. The temperature of the well water also gave a reading of 46 F.

Mr. Boulter was anxious to ascertain the rate of flow from his borehole, so I took the dimensions of the pump as given to me by Mr. Boulter, viz: a 4” ram, length of stroke 9”, number of strokes per minute 34.

It was suggested that a test of the discharge could be made direct from the borehole and Mr. Boulter supplied a 4 gallon measure, and upon testing it on two occasions the 4-gallon measure took 45 seconds to fill and on one occasion 23 seconds, so it was agreed that the discharge was equivalent to 4 gallons per 25 seconds. This was as the water was pumped direct from the borehole.

Mr. Boulter’s man informed me that the discharge from the well was double that from the borehole, and upon discussing the water in the well Mr. Boulter suggested that when they tried to pump the well dry it took from 36 to 48 hours before they could get to the bottom of the well. The pump is an ordinary twin cylinder ram pump and is worked from the head of the well by a gearing driven by a steam portable engine adjacent to the well.

I made a suggestion as to the temperature of our water, when Mr. Boulter said that in the summer he had found the temperature was 67 F. and upon testing the sample of water as supplied in the cellar at the brewery Mr. Cotterill found the temperature to be 45 F. showing 1 degree less than the temperature of the borehole water.

A sample of the borehole water was taken by Mr. Cotterill from the discharge in the brewhouse, also a sample of the well water in a like manner, when I promised to send Mr. Boulter the results with the analysis.

In discussing the temperature of the atmosphere I remarked to Mr. Boulter that the temperature this morning at 7.30 was 34 F. but as regarding the temperature of the atmosphere when the tests were taken no direct reading was made.

Mr. Boulter informed me that the borehole was some 300ft. deep below the well and was lined with 200 ft. of steel tubing, and the tubing projected above the top water of the well. I was, however, unable to see this tubing when I was down the well. It appeared the diameter of the borehole according to the dimensions of the cast iron plug shown me on the ground by Mr. Boulter was the equivalent to 6 inches.

The pumping arrangements at the borehole appeared that the borehole water can be pumped independently of the well water and the well water independently of the borehole water, but as the pump is a twin ram pump I am of opinion that when pumping water from the well the borehole water is likely to mix with the well water as there was no means of disconnecting the bucket in the borehole while pumping water from the well.

There was, however, some arrangement by the introduction of a valve whereby the water from the borehole could be closed down from the well and this arrangement appears to be made from the surface of the ground by an extended spindle controlling the valve in the well.

It was not clear whether the two supplies were actually separate when pumping from the well.

I thanked Mr. Boulter for giving me the opportunity of taking these dimensions when Mr. Boulter invited Mr. Cotterill, Mr. Fidkin and myself to lunch at his house, when I left his house at 3 p.m.

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Trouble brewing?

  1. gogwit says:

    Reblogged this on Gogwit's Blog and commented:
    A fascinating and detailed accounting making an interesting and engaging read.
    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Clive says:

    Very intresting. When i was researching the Shire Oak Brewery i wondered where were they getting all this water from for brewing, now i know. Big thank you to all involved.

  3. Pedro says:

    Many thanks to Chris and Richard.

    T Boulter and Son, Shire Oak, Boulter’s Ales, awarded Gold Medal and Grand Prize, Paris and Brussels 1910.

    1917…Beer for Harvest…We are open to brew beer for this purpose. Farmers requiring same apply to T Boulter and Son, Shire Oak.

    1914…George Harold Boulter owner of Shire Oak Inn, and owner of the Royal Oak Inn, Stonnall.

  4. Pingback: A fresh supply | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.