The Pump room at Canons Ashby

The outside of the house with archway and blue sky behind

For hundreds of years, from a small humble room within the entrance to the Pebble Court, water was supplied to Canons Ashby house from the Norwell, or north well, situated in a nearby field.

This water source, which was in fact a fresh water spring, had been used for almost a thousand years. In the 13th century by the Canons living in the Augustinian priory and before that, the villagers in the medieval hamlet of Ashby. This spring is believed to have been in use until about 1950.

Sir Henry at the Norwell
Canons Ashby Sir Henry at the Norwell
Sir Henry at the Norwell

The pump room was originally known as the water house. In the 1550s wooden elm pipes carried water from the Norwell to the house and some of these pipes were still in use as late as 1938. Old plans indicate the water may have flowed into an open cistern in the floor, which would then have been collected and carried to other parts of the house. In 1864 Sir Hentry Dryden started restoring and reinstating the system. This is probably when the pump, lead piping and lead lined wooden tank was installed.

Pump room water tank
Canons Ashby water tank in pump room
Pump room water tank

The job of pumping the water to the header tank would certainly have been hard and tiring work for some poor servant!

From the header tank, gravity sent the water straight through to the tap in the kitchen, which was the only tap in the house until 1938. From here the servants would carry the water to where it was needed.

It seems hard to imagine that the only source of water to the house was from the spring, as this extract from a letter in 1911 shows: "the water house has to be cleaned out and they have not much water until the spring fills it up again".

Canons Ashby House kitchen tap
Canons Ashby kitchen tap
Canons Ashby House kitchen tap

Would you like to explore your own family history?

If the life and times of Sir Henry has whetted your appetite to find out more about your own ancestors, this volunteer team can provide help and advice to get you started. From tips on the resources available, to information on family history research. Pop in and have a chat if you see they're open.

Visiting times

Due to changes caused by coronavirus, we are not currently able to open this room. Thank you for your understanding.