Brief History

The cartoon on the right illustrates the problem of contaminated water and its consequent effect on health. The national situation was so bad that the Public Health Act of 1848 was passed to regulate the supply of clean drinking water in towns in England and Wales and to regulate the disposal of sewage and other related factors. The situation in Sherborne was particularly acute and in the late 1850s the death rate had reached 54 per 1,000 of population of which a significant amount must have been due water borne disease. Because of its size and death rate Sherborne was required to establish a Local Board of Health and it held its first meeting in September 1851.

Various actions were undertaken to reduce pollution in the town and to provide sewers but the first priority was to supply clean drinking water. Various proposals were considered including impounding water from three large springs in the area due north of the town which proved inadequate; boring for water at Castleton; and, pumping, using water powered turbines, to the Golden Ball Turnpike reservoir. This proposal did not work (the turbine pits are still present at the Museum). The next proposal was to use a steam engine at Castleton as a temporary measure. Because of the high cost of coal alternative ideas were sought and in January 1868 John Lawson put forward a scheme for a waterwheel driven pumping system. This scheme was enabled by the arrival of the London & South Western Railway through Sherborne. Many properties in Castleton were demolished, including the Castleton Mill, which allowed the water supply it had used to be available for Lawson's water pumping scheme. Lawsons scheme was completed and became operational in December 1869 and cost a total of £2,987:18:6 for a new wheelhouse, waterwheel, pumps, leats, tailrace, culverts, new rising main, materials etc. and delivered over 7,200 gallons perhour from Castleton to the reservoir at the top of the town.

It was the 150th Anniversary in 2020 

Cartoon illustrates the problem of contaminated water Cartoon illustrates the problem of contaminated water

Demand for water increased to such an extent that the supply from the waterwheel had to be augmented, and by 1871 there were problems with the wheel itself. Eventually it was decided to build a new pumping station which was completed in 1876. The additional power was provided by a Hindley steam engine but the high cost of coal, compared with the negligible cost of grease for the waterwheel, was a continuing matter of concern. 

More serious problems arose in the autumn of 1897 when the rainfall was exceptionally high. In early November the Oborne stream became a raging torrent that caused severe damage to the wheel-pit and wheel.

The 1876 building for the Hindley steam engine and boilers The 1876 building for the Hindley steam engine and boilers

By the beginning of October 1898 the new wheel-house, installation of a gas engine and rebuilding of the waterwheel had been completed. The work on the waterwheel was carried out by Edward White and Co. of Redditch.

The windows are an interesting feature of the wheelhouse. The 1869 pump-house had two windows which are now in the east and west walls of the house. Three more windows were added during the rebuild of 1898, provided by 'Pasley Ironmongers' of Cheap Street, Sherborne at 11/4d each. These windows, "Darby Cloister Pattern," are of cast iron and were made at the Abraham Darby works in Coalbrookdale.

Edward White plaque Edward White plaque

The waterwheel continued to provide water until 1959 when following new government legislation and deterioration of the pumpset's condition it was finally taken out of service. In May 1969 all the machinery in the 1869 pump-house, with the exception of the waterwheel, was removed by a scrap merchant. In 1975, determined action by the founder members of the Castleton Waterwheel Restoration Society saved the old pump-house from demolition, and during the past 35 years a great deal of voluntary effort and hard work by Society members has restored the pump-house, installed a new sluice-gate, formed a collection of relevant artefacts and literature, and enabled the Centre to be open to the public.

The wheel was however so seriously corroded and in a state of collapse, that it needed rebuilding at a cost of £60,000. The wheel was rebuilt and installed in 2005 through the generosity of donations from visitors and substantial grants from the following organisations:

Sherborne Town Council; West Dorset District Council; Simon Digby Memorial Trusts; Manifold Trust; Pilgrim Trust; Prism Grant Fund; Awards for All; Wessex Watermark Award; Sherborne & District Society (local branch of CPRE).

In 2006 a Hindley Steam engine similar to that originally installed in the 1876 pumphouse was acquired following closure of Gillingham brickworks. The engine was refurbished and installed in 2012 in a new  building funded by Chalk and Cheese, the European Agricultural Fund for European Development 2007-2013, Headley Trust and the Leisure Development Fund. 

The windows are an interesting feature of the wheelhouse The windows are an interesting feature of the wheelhouse
The new wheel prior to installation The new wheel prior to installation
The newly installed wheel The newly installed wheel