The Management of Water in the Historic Borough

Rep. Trans. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 146, 83−102 © The Devonshire Association, June 2014

The Management of  Water in the Historic  Borough of Bovey Tracey
Frances Billinge, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD. Devonia, Ashburton Road, Bovey Tracey Devon, TQ13 9BZ

Water management in the historic borough of Bovey Tracey is described from early times, then concentrating on developments in the nineteenth century. Unpublished documents, minutes from Vestry meetings, and newspaper reports, are explored. Local officials experienced difficulty, and were confused about their responsibilities, in improving the water supply in the age of political reform and national cholera outbreaks. As in other places, such as Exeter, there was a reluctance to spend money on sanitary improvement. Interesting links have been found between national figures and prominent people in Bovey Tracey at the time.

The historic settlement of Bovey Tracey was in a geographically good position for obtaining a water supply. The River Bovey fl owed along the south of the settled area and there were springs, streams and brooks from the hills on the north which fl owed into the river. Today along the main streets of Bovey Tracey running east to west a plentiful supply of this water running underground can be heard. At the southern part of the settlement below the river the leats which fed the various mills are extant in the area of The Dolphin Hotel. It was probably these leats which fed the mill described in the Domesday survey.1 In some places dipping stones can be seen by the leats where inhabitants would have stepped down to dip a pot to obtain water for household use. Such water was called pot water. Record refers to the leat to these town mills coming from the river Bovey through the grounds of Parke, starting at the junction with the weir where there is a sluice gate to control the water flow from the river at the head of the leat.2 These leats appear on the 1641 Gulielmus Map, so were constructed before that date and maybe much earlier.3

Apart from surface water including leats, some premises also had private wells, and later in the nineteenth century water was piped to central collecting points and then directly into houses. Plentiful water supplies would have helped the area’s surge of development in the thirteenth century. Bovey Tracey had markets granted in 1219 and fairs in 1260 and at this time it also became a borough.4 The plentiful water supply meant it would be a suitable place for certain businesses to prosper.

We cannot be sure from which, if any, natural sources of water supply in Bovey Tracey water was taken for drinking before cleaner water was piped for residents in the Borough. Undated evidence for household supply can still be seen in pumps and wells under or behind premises such as Ashwell, Cross Cottage, houses in East Street (Figure 1), Mary Street, and Fore Street. Studies of Exeter’s historic water supply, (Kneel and Pickard, 1933; Minchinton, 1987; Killingback, 1998), give an indication of how people collected water before a piped supply was available and this may have been the same in Bovey Tracey. Minchinton (op.cit.) describes how in previous times water was not drunk, it was used to wash and wring, brew and bake, and refers to premises using rain water from gutters, and having drain pipes from roofs for  water to collect in wooden barrels or lead cisterns.

Figure 1. Well and Pump East Street. Frances Billinge 2013.

No medieval records of any litigation regarding water supply have yet been found. The earliest is the 1770 case between Joseph Steer and Mr Hole regarding right of entry to land which contained Tracy’s Pool at the north eastern end of the borough.5 No reference was made to any specific function of the pool. It was fed by streams from Ashwell and is now covered by a twentieth-century housing development.


The next reference to water supply is an 1825 newspaper advertisement for the sale of a dwelling house in Hen Street (now Hind Street) headed ‘To Tanners and Others’ and notes that, ‘through the premises runs a constant stream of water ’. The water supply was clearly a business selling point mentioning suitability for a tan-yard.6 After this date we learn more about the water supply of the historic Borough because of the sanitary and health reforms of the nineteenth century. This was a period of great political change. In Bovey Tracey, as in nearby Exeter and other places throughout the country, the population wanted to curtail central government spending and its power. As a result, local holders of office acted in ways which would keep them in power, and were unwilling to spend money on sanitary improvements which would mean a financial charge on their local electorate.

Until the 1830s medical practitioners knew more about cholera from outbreaks affecting British troops in India. They were aware of the need for clean water, clean streets, and reducing smells in streets, as dirt and smell were connected with the disease. When cholera broke-out in England in 1831, the Privy Council’s response was to issue sets of instructions and regulations. It suggested parishes dealt with the problem and that local Boards of Health be established. At that time it was thought that cholera spread through the air as a miasmus. There were few sewers in populated areas. Smell mattered and people believed waste was the problem and so there was an emphasis on keeping streets clean. A water supply was needed to wash streets to sluice away filth and any noxious rubbish from the surface; it was not a water supply for drinking. In Exeter the gutter was in the middle of the street and this was for refuse disposal. It is possible that places such as Bovey Tracey would have had the same system if its roads had a suitable ‘paved’ surface.

A national cholera outbreak occurred at the same time as the 1832 Reform Act which was concerned with national changes in constitution, politics and the environment. Public bodies were perceived as corrupt and this had led to the reform. However, concerns about financial mismanagement continued to prevent any speedy sanitary improvements. Later in the century novels such as Barchester Towers, (Anthony Trollope, 1858) and Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1871) described the difficulty for politicians in effecting improvements even when facing the threat of diseases such as cholera.

Cholera broke out in Devon in 1832, on 19th July in Exeter and 13th July in the Plymouth area. This led to 440 deaths in Exeter, and 932 in Plymouth, Devonport and East Stonehouse. As a consequence these highly populated areas started to give more serious consideration to improving public health through their water supply arrangements. For example, in Exeter steps were being taken to cover all open drains and to culvert streams.7 Bovey Tracey residents who read the national press would have been aware of the country’s concerns about, and developments in, providing a clean water supply.8 The principal residents, churchwardens, overseers and the clergyman of Bovey Tracey were clearly concerned about the nearby occurrence of cholera, and in August 1832 wrote to the Privy Council requesting permission to set up a Board of Health in the parish as a precautionary measure.9

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act set up Commissioners of Improvement responsible under Local Acts for cleansing, scavenging, lighting and watching in their neighbourhood. Cleaning streets of waste was the focus. Apart from the establishment of its Board of Health, the only references to water supply in Bovey Tracey at this time are found in ‘For Sale’ columns of the local press. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post advertisements indicate that a good water supply was a selling point for business premises and cultivated land.10 Staddons tenement had ‘an excellent well of water ’; the Water Grist Mills, ‘known as Bovey Mills abundantly supplied with water’; Shapter’s Meadow, ‘a rich meadow with the wash of the town running into it ’; and Pludda Meadows had plentiful water. Interestingly by 1837 Shapter’s Meadow was for sale again, but then described with ‘a reservoir that takes the principal wash of the town and where immense  quantities of very rich soil is collected’. This might be referring to a managed water meadow where the flood water was channelled to flow across it in such a way as to enrich the soil with silt. Further research could investigate the use of water meadows in the area. This is the first mention of the reservoir, the position of which appears on the later 1888 Ordnance Survey map at SX 814786. Howard’s tenement (not yet located) had an ‘excellent well of water, and a very considerable business on these premises was conducted in the woollen trade’. Various unidentified premises in the town had ‘a pump of excellent water’, and a premises in Mary Street was ‘abundantly supplied with water’.

In 1837 there was litigation in connection with a pot water leat and other leats in the Brimley part of Bovey Tracey. This was between Lord Courtenay as Lord of the Manor, and Joseph Steer the owner of Indio where there was a pottery. Lord Courtenay disputed Steer’s right to take more water for industrial use. It was stated that the water in the leat was only to be used as pot water for Indio and also for Challabrook House, and that Steer had made another cutting to take more of this water to which he was not entitled. No date is given for this pot water leat which was described as ancient, and witnesses confirmed it had been in place since at least 1714 and probably much earlier than that. Lord Courtenay agreed that if Steer gave up his claim for this illegal use he could take water to run the coal works.11 In the same year of this litigation the leats and other water courses in the area of Bovey Tracey south of the river were mapped and show the position of the Indio pot water leat, a leat to Indio pond for pottery works, and a third to Pottery Pond, all from the Challabrook/ Shallowbrook stream.12

The next evidence we have of the water supply is in the Tithe Map of 1841 which depicts the pump at the green in the centre of the Borough, as well as the various leats from the river serving the mill areas at the south end of the Borough. 13 There is no record in the 1841 census of anyone in the area having an occupation connected with water supply. We know in some places, such as Exeter (Shapter, 1849), water carriers delivered water on their shoulders or in a cart. The fi rst reference to a water cart in Bovey Tracey is not until nearer the end of the century, and the fi rst reference to a water occupation is not until the 1901 census when Edwin Steer was described as a water bailiff.14 The population had grown from 1,400 in 1800 to 1,800 in 1841 so a sizeable number of people needed water.


Figure 2. Spreat, William, ‘On the Bovey at Bovey Tracey’, 1844 (DHC, SC0223:1/S,  reproduced with their  kind permission).

In 1843 an issue in connection with excess water affecting the highway was raised by William Hole, magistrate and local land owner, at the Devon County Sessions. He directed the surveyors to deal with operations going on at Bovey Tracey bridge where a person’s machinery was throwing water on the road.15 This was a nuisance which had to be dealt with. Causing rutting on the roads was a major concern as the Borough needed good highways for businesses and markets to flourish. Spreat’s illustration of 1844 is of this bridge (Figure 2) and shows activity on the river which then had wider access on the downstream side. It is not clear if the illustration shows the collection of pot water, doing washing or other activities. The ancient ford was up-steam on the other side of the bridge, so the water where the women are standing would have had contamination from travellers and livestock crossing the river a few metres away.

The latter part of the 1840s saw continuing national legislation and activity regarding water. The Poor Law Commissioners under Edwin Chadwick reported on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. In December 1846, Chadwick attended a meeting at the Guildhall in Exeter and spoke about the need to improve the sanitary conditions.16 How much would Bovey Tracey have been aware of this? There is an interesting link as the MP for Exeter at that time was Edward Divett, and his brother John Divett was an important figure in the public life of Bovey Tracey being a local JP, owner of its large pottery works, and he also sat on the local Vestry along with the local surgeons Drs Croker and Haydon.17 Exeter Corporation was reluctant to spend money on improving sanitary conditions and the water supply and, although Chadwick was an important national figure, the meeting was poorly attended. The MP sent his apologies along with other dignitaries. The Exeter Corporation and its ratepayers were influential and could veto expenditure. Exeter was willing to spend money on the turnpikes and gates as they encouraged carriage folk and business, rather than on sanitary improvements.118  Would the picture be the same in a small place like Bovey Tracey 14 miles away?

The Waterworks Clauses Acts of 1847 and the Public Health Act of 1848 gave powers to the local Poor Law Authority in connection with water supply for houses, and scavenging and removing the nuisances of waste from streets.19 The powers were permissive and not mandatory, but they did lay down the foundation for more effective public action.  At this time Bovey Tracey had the parish Vestry, the Borough Court Leet, and the Court Baron of the Manor, all of which had some interest in dealing with the scavenging, lighting, watching and cleansing of the area. These bodies, sometimes with the same influential people sitting on all of them, appointed waywardens to deal with cleansing issues. Passing nuisance removal powers to the local Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Authority in the Newton Abbot Poor Law Union inevitably led to some tensions with Bovey Tracey. The Board of Guardians had two representatives from Bovey Tracey, who might not have had much influence. At times unresolved issues were passed on to it for action. The latter was not appreciated by the Bovey Tracey office holders who considered that the Newton Board had no jurisdiction in these matters. Having four different authorities might have been the reason why issues in Bovey Tracey in the next few years were not dealt with speedily. The Exeter Corporation voted against the Public Health Act, thereby deciding not to form a local board of health for the city. We do not know Bovey Tracey’s response, but later events show that it was reluctant to impose a rate for sanitary improvement on the residents.

Having a cholera-free town was important for trade and when the press in Liverpool erroneously reported six cases of cholera in Bovey Tracey in 1848, two of which were said to be fatal, followed by a northern paper reporting that Bovey Tracey was a place in very bad condition, there was a speedy refutation in the local press from the two local doctors, Croker and Haydon and the local vicar.20 In 1849 cholera again broke out in Exeter and there were 43 deaths; although this was only a tenth of the first outbreak, concern must have been felt by nearby places. The local press reported on a Vestry meeting which noted the need for proper drainage and agreed to promote sanitary conditions.21 Obviously the Vestry was not working quickly enough as some who attended the meeting complained about the lack of sanitation. The Vestry was criticised for not spending the necessary money on street cleansing, and ridiculed for its assertion that the de-odourising powers of carbonic acid from the ignited heaps of coal tar near the town would obviate the need for any further outlay of money to promote the sanitary condition ‘of one of the foulest and dirtiest streets in Christendom.’ This refers to the lignite ‘coal’ mined near Bovey Tracey Pottery Company. The benefi t of breathing curative air was fashionable, and even in the middle of the twentieth century people considered breathing coal tar was good for respiration. Clearly the Vestry was aware of the need for cleansing the area but was reluctant to spend money to achieve it. It was still thought that ill health and infectious diseases, such as cholera, were attributable primarily to poor street sanitation.


London politicians, as well as those elsewhere, continued in their reluctance to spend money on sewers. It was political reformers versus the oligarchy. Both the Conservative and the Whig political parties’ emphasis was on not spending money, having low rates, low expenditure, and a financially accountable local administration.22 This was also how it was in Bovey Tracey. The Vestry ordered works to improve the road and gutter in Mary Street.23 This proved contentious and in 1851 resulted in litigation brought by Dr Croker for the Ratepayers versus the waywardens of the Vestry. The case was heard at the local Petty Sessions after two adjournments. Dr Croker objected to payment of £42 2s. 3d. for the repairs the waywardens had carried out when covering the gutter. We learn that there was an ancient open gutter running down the middle of Mary Street. The facts were contested. It was stated that residents had from time immemorial had the benefits of a running stream going down the road. There was argument about whether this was used as pot water. The case referred to a water course on the south side of Mary Street having been covered up too much by the waywardens’ repairs so that now it remained ruinous to health as it was stagnant and a nuisance. This was a big issue as it had not been dealt with satisfactorily by local officers. It resulted in a court hearing and witnesses were called. It was said that the waywardens were at fault as people now no longer had the pleasure of using the water. Dr Croker was concerned about not wasting money. To modern thinking it seems odd that a doctor appeared to be talking against public health reform. The Vestry minutes conf rm it considered there was a leat which ran on the other side of the road, but whether it was pot water or not was impossible to be sure. Dr Croker said it was and that the Vestry, in order to save the expense of water improvement, stated it never had been used as pot water. In other words they did not have to cover it appropriately as it was not used as pot water. The ruling was that the bill of the waywardens be paid and it was noted that the Vestry had already agreed this. The magistrate was not at all pleased with the cost of the case and stated, ‘Dr Croker was the last person in the whole parish who should have come here to raise an objection’.24 Was the issue chiefly about excessive cost as seemed to be the national concern, or was Dr Croker also trying to raise local awareness of public health issues? We do not know, but Dr Croker had an interesting link with national government. He was a distant cousin of the Right Honourable John Wilson Croker, conservative MP and influential political writer who had opposed the Reform Bill. Their families descended from the Crokers of Lyneham in Yealmpton. Further research is needed to see what, if any, political views these cousins shared.

In 1852 and 1853 the Vestry continued to be concerned about water from premises affecting the roads and walkways, and who should bear the cost of improvement. It discussed ‘carrying water underground which ran into the highway from Miss Daymond’s premises’ (unidentified), and also to repairing footpaths which were ‘much out of order’. It concluded that the two drains at Mrs Daymond’s premises should be repaired at her expense, but agreed to pay to cover a piece of gutter adjoining Shapter’s Close at the bottom of the town. The Vestry appointed Messers Hole, Divett and Harris to collect money from residents for bringing in water for their use. Also it agreed that Messers Hole, Harris, Sparke, Bond, Pike, Longs,
Haydon, and Cornish would ‘examine the drains and ascertain steps to maintain the general health of the parish’.25 Here is the Vestry stating its intention to take sanitary measures to maintain general health and appointing parties to see ‘such necessary measures speedily and properly carried into effect’. The words were good, but would anything be done quickly? The Vestry knew that nearby Torquay was working on its water supply, as that authority proposed to carry water from the River Bovey by means of a pipe.26 Residents must have been aware of the engineering involved and perhaps wondered what their authority would be doing about their supply.

Mary Street continued to be a concern in 1854, as the Vestry considered Dr Croker’s further complaint about the drains which it had received from the Newton Abbot Board of Guardians. This time the complaint was not about the cost, but rather about public health. The Vestry decided that the water Dr Croker called ‘pot water’ had never been considered or used as such and it was not his business anyway. It was not pleased that Dr Croker had, as in 1851, asked the Newton Abbot Board to intervene. Mr Wills, one of the Bovey Tracey representatives on the Newton Abbot Board, had subsequently proposed that there was no nuisance at Bovey Tracey. That Board agreed to consider if it did have any relevant powers. The Vestry responded that the Board of Guardians was acting illegally by commissioning a survey which had caused expense to Bovey Tracey Parish, and also that the Board should not have responded to the application of just one individual. It reaffirmed that it did realise the advantage of sanitary improvement and good water in particular and would be happy to carry out measures of public health that were legitimately within its powers, and set up a committee for this. Interestingly one of the six on the committee was Dr Croker, so it was his business after all. The others were also infl- uential local men, W.R. Hole Esq. of Parke, John Divett manager of the pottery works, Mr Sparke, W. Harris and the Hon. Revd Courtenay. These wrangles and disagreements indicate not only how keenly felt the local concerns were, but also the lack of clarity regarding the responsibilities of the various local bodies and interest groups.27 The Vestry kept saying the same words that they were concerned about a good water supply, but it obviously was not happening fast enough for some residents.


Bovey Tracey was, however, beginning to be cleaned up. At the Vestry’s expense the previous open drain down Fore Street was to be covered and a footpath and kerbstones made, and a 350-foot drain from the Mann’s slaughter house at number 43 was to be covered. This drain was extended a further 73 foot with the Vestry willing to fund £21 10s. for it, but it did not agree to the tender for the stones used to make a gutter to assist with sluicing for watering the road.28 Funding the Fore Street drain was in contrast to the refusal to pay for Miss Daymond’s drains two years’ earlier. The minute also confirms the use of water to keep roads passable by sluicing dirt away. A similar approach was used on roads in Exeter (Minchinton, 1987).

In 1855 the Nuisances Removal (England) Act was passed regarding requirements for sanitary arrangements. The Vestry’s response was to ask Mr Pascoe and the waywardens to keep repairing roads and gutters, and to re-name its sanitary committee the Nuisance Removal Committee.29 The important next step was to consider main drains, and the following year the Vestry agreed to make a drain in Coombe Lane.30 In 1857 a nuisance of the open gutter in part of Fore Street was complained of and it was agreed that the Nuisance Removal Committee build a common sewer down the centre of that road and a covered drain throughout its length. The plans for this and the expense were much debated and whether the expense of constructing this sewer should fall solely upon the houses using it, or on the general rate of the parish. It was carried unanimously that there should be a central sewer to be laid by waywardens from a point opposite the King of Prussia.31 Progress was, however, slow. There is no record that this work was undertaken as we will see that it was discussed again 14 years later.

The population in Bovey Tracey was continuing to grow and by the 1861 census there were 2,100 inhabitants, an increase of 300 over the previous 20 years.31 The increase would have put further demands on the water supply. The 1863 Water Clauses Act was keeping water supply needs in the public’s mind. At a dinner in the Dolphin in 1863 Mr Locke, ‘a gentleman of the neighbourhood, talked of the ill effects, particularly in the summer, of the defective water supply.’ There was also concern that the poor water supply would deter visitors from coming to the town.33

Industry was growing with the lignite works and Bovey Tracey Pottery Company in the Brimley part of Bovey Tracey expanding and needing more water. In 1866 the local press reported on the opening of a leat from Becky Falls to drive coal works machinery in Brimley. This was an extension to the leats already in place.34  National water legislation was also continuing apace with the Sewer Utilisation Act 1865, and the Sanitary Acts 1866 and 1868. Public concern was not going away. The Devonshire Association published an article by E. Appleton giving advice on sewer ventilation as an aid to preventing sewer gas permeating people’s houses.35 In Bovey Tracey the ratepayers and Vestry met to consider action for drainage and water supply.36  Nuisance on the highway remained a problem and in 1869 the Vestry discussed the open sink opposite the gate of Parke View. It agreed to inform the Highways Board for action under the Sewage Utilisation and Sanitary Acts.37

At the start of the 1870s discussion was recommenced about where to site the mains drain sewage outfall, how much should be charged as a local rate and how many people were needed on the committee to affect this. The main drain outfall was recommended to be in the field of the Dolphin Club. The Vestry did not agree and asked Mr Hole to suggest an alternative. He did, but this was not agreed. Seven meetings had been held on this matter, but no decision, so no action.38 The Bovey Book states that public stand pipes were erected this year, which is possible given the activity of the sewer authority, but no record for this has yet been found.39  The sites of these pipes can still be seen at Ashwell Trough (Figure 3), Fore Street, Pludda and St John’s Church. There was also one at the Market Cross which was at or near the site of the original town pump on the Tithe Map of 1841, and others recalled by local residents at the Alms Houses in East Street and at the now demolished Marsh Cottages by the river bridge.


Figure 3. Stand Pipe at Ashwell Trough. Frances Billinge, 2013

Further Vestry meetings came to no conclusion and the sewage committee members resigned, perhaps because there was not enough progress. An easy decision was made to pay £10 to procure a good pump for the wall under the town hall.40  Finally, in 1871, the Vestry agreed that the sewage outfall should be in the orchard belonging to the Parke estate on the south side of Fore Street. Later that year, the Vestry agreed that a corporate seal be adopted, being the Seal of the Sewer Authority acting for the Vestry of Bovey Tracey, County of Devon. This was not just a vanity cost, as a seal was for needed to borrow £350 for a security for mortgage in connection with sewage works. Also the Vestry agreed to construct a sewer from College Cottages opposite the church to a drain already existing on the south side of the road and emptying into the College meadow, and to the construction of a common sewer through the town (Figure 4). This sewer had been proposed in 1857 so it had taken 14 years to put it into effect.41 Nearly 30 years later, more settling tanks were sited below here in Buck’s Field, now covered by housing alongside Le Molay Littry Way.42


Figure 4. Main Sewer under construction, undated, David Lewis Collection

After 1872 the local sanitary powers of the Borough and Vestry of Bovey Tracey transferred to the Sanitary District under the local Board of Guardians which later became Newton Abbot Rural District Council.43  The need to improve dwellings, drainage and water supply
to prevent deaths in villages and small places in the county continued to be a concern as reported in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association in 1874.44 The following year, what was by then the Newton Abbot Rural Sanitary Authority, noted that Bovey Tracey had double the normal incidence of deaths in the area and it proposed to improve the water supply by building reservoirs in Mary Street and East Street.45 The Borough Court Leet was asked to sell its Portreeve’s Parks to fund these improvements but it refused.46  Finding the money continued to be a problem. In 1879 the Charities Commission on unreformed Corporations made the same proposal.47  The appointment of trustees to see this through was proposed, but they were Messers Hole, Divett, Bentinck, Wills, Staddon and Langmead, from the Vestry, Manor, and Guardians of the Poor of Newton Abbot Union. They were not officers of the Borough, and after a six-hour public meeting, the mayor and his Borough officers would not be bullied into giving in.48 As a result, the cost of the sewage works at Bovey Tracey swelled the increase in expenditure for the Rural Sanitary Authority which had to borrow £1,750 to pay for it.49

Work on public health and other services was gathering pace and in 1882 at the Devon County Sessions agreement was given to the Bridge Authority of Newton Abbot Rural Sanitary Authority to carry water and gas pipes across South (sic) Bovey Bridge.50  Also it was reported that a difficulty had arisen with a person in Bovey Tracey causing the road to be flooded when the water was at a high level. It has not yet been identified if this was again at Parke View. Such a nuisance was a serious concern and the committee agreed if necessary to put the matter into the hands of the county solicitor. This threat must have worked as we hear no more about it. Other water works were going ahead extending the tanks both in Mary Street, and from the Ashwell spring at Churchstile and Nine Acre Diamond.51  The latter is now a residence and the mound of earth of a later and larger reservoir just above can still be seen from the road.

Following the Unreformed Corporations Act of 1883, Bovey Tracey ceased to be a Borough and the legislative authority for water transferred to the Newton Abbot Rural District Council. This did not stop the Vestry discussing some sanitary matters. In 1884 the Vestry agreed to cover the water shutes, which were the public water supply at the Town Hall.52  Even as late as 1890 the ex-Borough officials at the dinner of the Mayor’s ‘beating of the bounds’ were still discussing water supply issues, and suggested providing a water cart. Regional newspaper reports of the time indicate that most areas had such carts.53 To further increase the water supply William Hole agreed to water being diverted from Beara Longmead, north west of the town, and to the construction of a reservoir.54  A year later more water was needed and a new section of the sewer supply was opened to bring water from Yarner near Haytor Down, kindly agreed by the owner Mr Chadwick.55

Flooding at the lower end of town continued to be a problem and in 1892 the Vestry asked the County Council to deal with this.56   Such flooding continues to the present day. In 1893 the Vestry agreed that the public standpipes should be done away with, and owners to be responsible for carrying water to their tenants.57  The final reference to water supply in the Vestry minutes was in 1894 when the Rural Sanitary Authority  was requested to extend the water main to the pottery in Brimley, and there was discussion about payment for watering the highways.58 After this the newly formed Parish Council met in the Vestry’s place, the last ratepayer’s meeting was at the end of that year, and Newton Abbot Rural District Council became solely responsible for all water supply issues. The twentieth century saw the water supply extended to the more rural areas of the parish such as Wreyland, and a reservoir constructed at Trendlebere. The site of the latter can still be seen above the cattle grid on the south side of the Manaton Road at SX 784793.


This case study encapsulates the complexities and challenges involved in the management of amenities and public facilities in small, rural boroughs and towns. This has been the story of managing water supply against the backdrop of resistance by the residents and politicians. The overlapping and competing jurisdictions of the various corporate bodies and institutions caused confusion, and impeded effective progress and implementation of improvements in water supply. It was easier to pass over responsibility rather than take action. There was no single authority with clear powers and responsibilities to effect change. The deep-seated reluctance in the Victorian era to spend rate-payer revenues or other monies on public works is highlighted, together with how this meant that remedial action was either blocked entirely or carried out inadequately. Pressure to keep down the rates seemed more important than tackling disease. There was a lack of any organised ‘health lobby’ even among medical men, which can be understood within the context of a lack of understanding about the water-born bacillus of cholera. There is literature on public health and sanitary improvement as well as water-supply issues in large towns and cities in the 1800s, but the experience of small towns has attracted little detailed attention. The Bovey Tracey study shows very clearly that the experience of smaller urban areas differed in many important respects and in a manner which sheds important light on local politics and vested interests. It was not until the Water Act 1945 that the country had a national water policy.

Further research is needed to find the unidentified dwellings associated with Bovey Tracey’s early water supply, and also to investigate any further links between prominent people in Bovey Tracey and national figures of the time.


I would like to thank Dr Bruce Coleman (University of Exeter) for his encouragement, and very helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.


DHC  Devon Heritage Centre


1. Thorn, C. and Thorn, F., 1985.

2. Historic Environment Record, MDV 30563,30564, and 74010.

3. DHC, 2890 Z/Z/1, 1641. Gulielmus Map, Manor and Borough of Bovey Tracey.

4. Letters, S. 2010; Billinge, F. 2013.

5. DHC, 312M/EH 217, 1770, Hole vs. Joseph Steer.

6. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 17th March 1825, p.1, for sale notice.

7. Kneel, A. and Pickard, R., 1933; Minchinton, W., 1987; Killingback, A., 1998.

8. The Times, 2nd January 1832, page 2, Daily Report of Cholera Cases.

9. DHC, 59/7/2/3, 7th August 1832, Memorial Bovey Tracey residents to the Privy Council.

10. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post. 8th October 1835, p. 1 Water Grist Mills and Staddons: 11th August 1836, p. 1, Shapter’s Meadow and Pludda: 24th March 1837, p. 1 Shapter’s Meadow; 24th August 1837, p. 1 Howard’s tenement: 15th July 1841, p.1 Mary Street, for sale notices.

11. DHC, L1508M/EL/court/77, 1837, Courtenay papers.

12. DHC, 1508M/E/MPA/Bovey Tracey/Plans A1, 1837, Plan of part of Bovey Heathfi eld showing Folly Pottery, its leats… and the coal works.

13. DHC, 3861M-1, 1841, Tithe Map Bovey Tracey.

14. The National Archives, accessed 13th December 2013, Census 1841-1901.
15. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 29th June 1843, p. 3, Devon County  Sessions.

16. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 10th December 1846, p. 2.

17. DHC, 2160/A PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes.

18. Coleman, B.I. 2013. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., History Section Lecture, The Age of Reform and Cholera; The Politics of Early Victorian Exeter.

19. Waterworks Clauses Act 10 and 11, Victoria c.17, 1847. Public Health Act 11 and 12, Victoria c.63, 1848.

20. The Liverpool Mercury, 24th October 1848, p. 3. The Blackburn Standard; 25th October 1848, p. 3. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post; 2nd November 1848, p. 5, articles.

21. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 22nd November 1849, p. 5, article.

22. Coleman, B., 1988. Conservatism and the Conservative Party in Nineteenth Century Britain 129 (Edward Arnold, London).

23. DHC, 2160A /PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 28th November 1850, 13th March 1851. 24. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 10th April, 1851, p. 8; 1st May 1851, p.8, articles.

25. DHC, 2160A/ PV1 Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 27th November 1852, 18th June 1853, 29th September 1853.

26. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 1st December 1853.

27. DHC, 2160A/PV1 Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 8th April, 24th April, 29th April 1854. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 1st April 1854, p. 4, 18th May 1854, p. 4, articles.

28. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 23rd August 1854, 6th September 1854. 29. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 25th June 1855.

30. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 25th November 1856.

31. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 20th March 1857, 25th March 1857, 11th July 1857, 18th July 1857, 1st August 1857.

32. The National Archives, accessed 13th December 2013, Census 1841-1901.

33. 1863 Water Works Clauses Act 26 and 27 Victoria c.93. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 11th February 1863 p. 7, article.

34. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 27th June 1866, p. 5, article.

35. Appleton, E., 1868. Sanitary Notes. Sewer Ventilation. Rep. Trans Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 2, 599–609.

36. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 29th November 1866, 17th October 1868, 24th October 1868.

37. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 3rd July, 20th November 1869.

38. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 28th March, 14th May, 21st May, 4th June, 18th June, 10th December, 17th December, 1870.

39. Kennedy, V. 2004. The Bovey Book, p. 223 (Cottage Publishing).

40. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 28th January, 1st March 1871.
41. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 10th December, 16th December 1871.

42. DHC, 4622M-O/T/25, 1899, Agreement Newton Abbot Rural District Council and Miss Divett.

43. Public Health Act 35 and 36 Victoria c. 79, 1872.

44. Appleton, A. 1874. Sanitary Arrangements for Villages and Small Places. Rep. Trans Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 6, pt 2, 475–480.

45. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 28th April 1875, p. 7, article.

46. Billinge, F. 2013, op.cit.

47. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 19th February 1879, p. 7, article.

48. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 30th April 1879, p. 7, article.

49. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 3rd September 1879, p. 7, 3rd November 1880, p. 7, articles.

50. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 4th January 1882, p. 8, article.

51. South West Water Archive, 1364/D 978, 1882 Baker and Newton Abbot Union Guardians of the Poor; South West Water Archive, 1362/1/A, 1882, Puddicombe and Newton Abbot Union Guardians of the Poor; South West Water Archive, 362/D 988, 1882, Hole and Newton Abbot Union Guardians of the Poor.

52.  DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 6th June, 6th December, 1884.

53. The Royal Cornwall Gazette, 17th July 1890, p. 4, article.

54.  DHC, 312M/EH 245, 1890, Hole and Newton Abbot Rural Sanitary Authority.

55. The Western Times, 17th November 1891, p. 4, article.

56. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 25th February 1892.

57. DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 27th March 1893.

58.  DHC, 2160A/PV1, Bovey Tracey Vestry Minutes, 26th March, 6th April, 25th October 1894.

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