A Peep at the Life of a Village Pond
SALTWOOD VILLAGE POND
AT A PARISH COUNCIL MEETING FOR THE PARISH OF SALTWOOD, HELD AT 7:30 P.M. AT THE SCHOOL
ON MONDAY 31ST DECEMBER 1894
On a motion proposed by the Rev. H. M. Spooner and seconded by Mr Sutton, it was resolved that Mr Fuller be voted into the chair for the conduct of business, until a permanent chairman might be appointed: carried: nem con.
Thus, the first parish council for the parish of Saltwood was born as the members duly signed the declaration of office. The new parish council comprised:
Rev. H. M. Spooner (Rector and Chairman)
Nowadays, village ponds are little more than picturesque reminders of the past, maintained to fulfil a nostalgic role, rather than that of a vital public facility.
For our not too distant ancestors, the village pond would have served many purposes within the local community, and as such, it would have been a constant drain on the public purse from a maintenance point of view. Before the convenience of piped mains water, ponds would serve as an invaluable source of stored water: livestock would drink from them, tradesmen, such as the blacksmith might use the water for his forge; builders would also use the water for their work, as would many others. With the formation of local fire brigades a ready supply of water would be essential, and maintaining that supply and keeping it topped up would have been very high on the list of duties as far as representatives of the public were concerned.
It is easy today, with all the public amenities that we have come to take so much for granted, to view parish records of just over a hundred years ago showing our forefathers squabbling over the use of pond water, as quaint and slightly amusing. However, we must remember that to them, the maintenance of any public or private water supply would have been a very serious business indeed. An empty pond before the days of piped mains water, might mean that the local Fire Brigade (such as it was) would be unable to save your burning house if they were unable to refill their pump – and quickly . . . !
It is not really possible to establish the precise origin of the village pond at Saltwood with any degree of undisputable accuracy, as in early times, records were not generally kept out of historical interest, as this is a relatively modern idea. Before the birth of parish councils in 1894, village records were largely confined to vestry records held at the parish church, and these were seen more as a means to an end in an administrative context. The majority of the records that have survived in regard to the Saltwood village pond date from the formation of the first parish council in 1894, and relate mainly to administration and expenditure in respect of essential maintenance, etc.
Most rural communities would have had a village pond as they were considered to be a public amenity, long before public amenities became part of people’s daily lives. We take mains water for granted these days, but as you will see, it is not really that long ago when villagers would have relied solely on the village pond and the village well for all their domestic and commercial water requirements.
We can get a rare glimpse of this from the way in which the pond at Saltwood was regarded by the community, and also, by their newly elected local representatives. A peep into the records relating to the early and formative years of the newly-formed parish council offers an intriguing revelation of the petty squabbles and endless maintenance costs that prevailed.
For example: At a meeting of the parish council held in the school on Monday 21st January 1895, it was agreed that a committee, comprising the Chairman, Mr Edwards and Mr Samuel Gower, be appointed to ‘look at the pond’. The problem that these three fledgling councillors were to look at, might be that mentioned during the first meeting of the new parish council held on Monday 31st December 1894, where a minute reads: Mr Gower proposed, and Mr Miller seconded, that a letter be written to Mr Day, asking him to attend to a defect in his drain which, ‘visibly causes soap suds and other matter to flow back into the village pond’. This was obviously considered to be an urgent matter requiring immediate attention; however, we are not told whether Mr Day shared this feeling of urgency, or if he was duly galvanised into taking remedial action.
That this was to be just one of many problems is a conclusion that might be drawn from a meeting held on Tuesday 16th April 1895, when Mr Gower is asked by the council to prepare a specification of work required to be done at the pond and the well. This motion was proposed by the Chairman and seconded by Mr Fuller, and subsequently, carried – but with one opponent.
A meeting was held on Tuesday 4th June 1895, at which, Mr Fuller proposed and Mr Finn seconded, that the clerk be instructed to ‘get the work done at the well and pond’. However, as is usually the case in these matters, there was not full agreement by all members, and there is no mention of any specification of work having been presented by Mr Gower for their perusal. Much discussion took place on who should be invited to tender for the work at the pond and the well, and we are told that the well should be ‘cleaned out at once’. But as far as the pond is concerned, and for all we know, some of the work in question might still be due to the troublesome drain belonging to Mr Day. However, the clerk is instructed to accept the lowest tender, provided that it did not exceed £5-10/-.
The Chairman, Mr Gower and Mr Parsons are to see that the work is properly done, and so it may seem safe to conclude that Mr Gower has, in fact, drawn up a specification of work on which he and Mr Parsons might base their supervision.
August of that year arrives, and at a meeting held on Tuesday the 6th, the clerk is again instructed to get the work done at the pond and at the well. Mr Gower and Mr Parsons are the members of the parish council who had undertaken to oversee the work in question, but for some undisclosed reason, there is no mention of their progress to date.
At the same August meeting, the question of extra rails being erected to the right hand side of the pond was discussed. Some councillors thought that the rails should be omitted, but Mr Gower’s practical opinion carries the day, and extra rails are agreed upon.
Early photographs of the pond show the rails in question running along the boundary of the village green and the unmade road adjacent to the Castle Hotel. This narrow road was then known as The Brickyard, a name which might have connections not only with the origins of the pond itself, but also, with Samuel Gower, the local builder (whose workshop and yard was behind the village pond), using part of the area for storing his bricks - hence, ‘the brick yard’. Or, there is also strong evidence of a possible connection with brick-making on ground now occupied by dwellings in The Brickyard (now, Old Saltwood Lane).
Sadly, the change of name from The Brickyard to Old Saltwood Lane occurred in the 1960s/70s, and was brought about purely as an effort to raise the tone of the area. Unfortunately, this completely disguised the highly likely historical connection with bricks.
By the November meeting, however, the work in question seems to have been carried out. The Chairman, Rev. H. Maxwell Spooner (Rector) proposes that: ‘the bill be paid for doing the pond’. All agree; however, we are not told of the cost on this occasion, or even if the work is completed as agreed. But the Rector has given his endorsement, which is sufficient to satisfy those concerned.
In April of 1896, the Rector, Rev. H. Maxwell Spooner is unanimously re-elected as Chairman of the Saltwood Parish Council. No business is recorded in connection with the pond for a whole year. This does not mean that there was nothing done, but the council took no recorded decisions on the matter.
Maybe this is because the parish council have bigger fish to fry around this time. For one thing, the idea of street-lighting had reared its head for the first time, and there was a great deal of discussion as to where six oil lamps might be best placed. But that is another story.
April 1897: The Rector is again unanimously re-elected into the chair. The pond seems to be going through a quiet period at the moment, again, possibly being eclipsed by more urgent and pressing matters. However, the parish council has received a letter from the district council, drawing their attention to the sanitary condition of the village. Quite how serious this might be has to be left to the imagination, but there is sufficient concern to warrant the immediate formation of a small committee to inspect all the houses, and to report back to the parish council.
April 1898: The Rector is yet again unanimously re-elected into the chair, and the pond is back on the agenda. Mr Miller and Mr Usher consider the problems serious enough to warrant a special meeting to discuss matters.
Quite what these problems amounted to remains a mystery, but whatever they were, they were sufficiently serious to persuade the Chairman to consider taking action. But it was not until the September meeting that he finally felt sufficiently concerned to move that: ‘the pond, be cleaned out’.
By that time, Mr Miller thought that he had come up with a better idea, and he moved as an amendment that: ‘the same, be filled in’. By the time that the remainder of the councillors present had picked themselves up off the floor, nobody could bring themselves to second such an outrageous proposal. However, in an effort to pour oil on troubled waters, Mr Gower put up a further amendment, being that: ‘the pond be not touched this year’. Common sense prevailed, and the Rector’s clean-out won the day.
A stay of execution is granted, and Mr Miller’s unspeakable ambitions are shelved.
No doubt still smarting from Mr Miller’s dangerous ambitions, by October, the sub-committee formed for the purpose, was pleased to report that the pond had been cleaned out in a satisfactory manner. A cheque was therefore drawn in favour of Mr George Chittenden, who had carried out the work for the price agreed with the clerk: £5-10/-.
Mr Miller was not present to drop any further bombshells, so the remaining councillors agreed that twelve loads of chalk should be purchased and placed in the bottom of the pond as a lining. The clerk was instructed to arrange the chalk and cartage.
A fortnight later the work is complete, and invoiced. A meeting of councillors authorised payment to Mr G. Chittenden for carting chalk for the village pond: £1-16/-. To C. Fuller for royalty on chalk: 12/-.
April 1899: The Rector is unanimously re-elected into the chair.
The parish council met again on 17th May, when an embarrassing problem arose: Mr S. Gower and Messrs Amos and Foad have (allegedly) been using water from the village pond for building purposes. There was speculation as to whether this might amount to theft, as the pond is maintained and kept full at the expense of the parish. On the other hand, it might also be considered a public amenity, on the same basis as the village well?
Members were not entirely sure of their ground on this one. However, they were obliged to act in the interests of the community, so a diplomatic letter was sent by the clerk advising those concerned that in the event of there being a spell of dry weather, the council would require them to cease from taking the water.
By the 8th of June the dry spell has arrived, and the clerk duly wrote to the water poachers, requesting that they cease from taking same.
Unfortunately, this diplomatic request seems to have fallen on deaf ears, as Mr Gower finds himself no longer a councillor burdened with protocol and civic responsibilities. Whether this is by choice, or otherwise, is not clear, but by the 23rd of June things are looking a little tricky. The clerk is instructed to write again to Mr Gower, asking him to agree to cease from taking the water from the pond by Wednesday next. Should he fail to heed this request, the council will ‘assert their authority’ . . . ! Furthermore, they want him to pay an acknowledgement for the use of the water for his forge, and, for his encroachment on the pond adjoining his property.
July sees a further deterioration in the relationship between Mr Gower and the parish council. A letter from Mr Gower (the contents are not disclosed) is read out at their meeting; a long discussion follows, but the councillors seem to find themselves in uncharted waters, and are uncertain of how to proceed.
However, remaining true to the spirit of committee mentality (a committee being a gathering of people who as individuals can do nothing, and as a group, decide that nothing can be done), the council, being faced with a blatant disregard of their sabre-rattling, decide to pass the buck. The clerk is instructed to write to the district council, urging them, to act.
They say that what goes around comes around, and August offers an ideal opportunity for the council to apply pressure, when Mr Gower applies for permission to dig up the village green for the purpose of laying water pipes. A unanimous decision: permission NOT granted . . . !
A letter had also been received from the district council in response to their having had the problem of Mr Gower imposed upon them. They are going bring all their powers to bear on the matter, and as a result, they are going to form a committee to consider Mr Gower, and to inspect the village pond.
One might forgiven for imagining that Mr Gower might be quaking in his boots at the prospect of being ‘considered’ by a committee of district councillors; but it would appear that he is made of sterner stuff.
March 1900, brings no news from the district council. Has Mr Gower seen the error of his ways and caved in at the prospect of a visit from their committee? I think not. However, the parish council decides to hold out an olive branch to Mr Gower, and he is instructed to repair the overflow to the pond; also, to put in a stronger grating and reset bricks and stones, etc.
April 1900: The Rector is unanimously re-elected into the chair.
A letter was read from the Sandling Estate Company offering to hand over a strip of land that they had purchased from Mr Gower. Their condition was that the authorities should widen out the road to its full extent - including the pond, and a site meeting was arranged to consider the matter.
Why would the Sandling Estate purchase land from Mr Gower, and then offer to hand it over to the authorities? The parish council already owned the pond, so the strip in question could only have been between the boundary of the pond and the Castle Hotel, or, between the pond, the road and the village green. There is no mention of payment, which in itself is odd; however, they obviously want to be rid of it, and for reasons so far, best known to them-selves.
The parish council is naturally wary. However, they agree to recommend that the district council accept the offer, provided that the company undertake to fence off the land and level and metal the road to the extent of their boundary. The parish council would then undertake to set back their fence around the pond, to bring it into line.
Mr. Gower submits his account for a stronger grating, etc.: 19/5d.
To further complicate matters, a letter has been received from a Mr Lonergan, complaining about the state of the road near the pond, leading to The Brickyard. The parish council decides to write to the district council to the effect that they consider this to be a private road, and to urge them to put into force the urban powers conferred on them by article (2) of the Local Government Board order of 4th of October 1889.
One might be forgiven for expecting a public outcry over such unresolved and contentious issues that would certainly have a significant and detrimental effect on the lives of the villagers. We have already heard a suggestion from one parish councillor that the pond should be filled in, but perhaps we are too ready to judge by today’s standards, where any suggestion to fill in a village pond would almost certainly set alarm bells ringing, and inspire the immediate formation of an action committee.
But a hundred or so years ago, issues of immense importance, affecting and shaping the future of small rural communities were still being formed and administered almost entirely through the influence of the local Church of England incumbent, together with members of the landed gentry and local businessmen. As a member of Saltwood Parish Council during the mid 1970s, I could see the tail-end of this very much in evidence. Local Government reform changed the whole framework of local administration, and the resultant stripping of power away from parish councils in favour of district and county councils, has left many rural communities feeling short-changed.
On the 12th of December 1900, the parish council received a letter from Archdeacon Spooner, tendering his resignation as Chairman. Retiring from his position as Rector, he had decided to leave the parish.
Mr Charles Victor Hammon (landlord of the Castle Hotel) stepped into the breach and filled the casual vacancy created by the Archdeacon’s departure. The election of a new Chairman was postponed until the next meeting. Undoubtedly, they are hoping to have a new Rector by then, and (and very likely by default) a new parish council Chairman.
However, at a meeting of 30th January 1901, Mr Charles Fuller is elected to fill the Archdeacon’s shoes, and he duly takes the chair. But this is election year, and the clerk to the parish council has received a letter from the Local Government Board in regard to the matter.
In the manner and style of such things during the early 20th century, the Annual Parish Meeting to be held on the 4th March seems to serve as an ideal vehicle for the due process of election, and a show of hands proves sufficient to decide who will be elected to serve the parish. A full council of seven men are duly elected, but there is no business conducted in regard to the pond.
At their April meeting, members of the parish council unanimously re-elect Mr Fuller into the chair. The pond has seemingly adopted a very low profile, with no mention of any problems for three years.
During this time, Mr Fuller continues as Chairman, and various councillors come and go until March 1904, when Mr Fuller is replaced as Chairman by Mr F. Willcocks. Matters concerning the pond come out of hibernation, and it is cleaned out by a Mr Baldock, who is paid 8/3d for his trouble.
By this time, Mr S. Gower (junior) is part of the family business, and things look to be tightening up. The engagement of Mr Baldock for the purpose of clearing out the pond is no doubt due to Mr S. Gower (senior) having been disqualified for some reason. The old gravy-train may be slowing down a bit, but as yet, it has not quite been shunted into retirement in a siding at Sandling station.
This is apparent when a resolution is produced asking the district council to remove its disqualification in Mr Gower’s case, and the clerk is to explain why. Unsurprisingly, however, the clerk’s explanation is not shared with the wider public.
The September meeting of the parish council sees a letter from Kent County Council (a step up from the district council) in answer to the question of Mr Gower’s disqualification. They say that they are unable to deal with the matter – ‘except when the case arose’ (whatever that means). They also add that they invariably refused similar applications.
April 1905: Mr Frederic Willcocks is unanimously re-elected into the chair.
They say that sleeping dogs are best left to lie, and in some cases this would appear to fit well into the mindset of those early councillors. The fact that Mr S. Gower (junior) appears to be carrying out works for the council on a regular basis, seems to have been viewed as an acceptable means of working around the problem of Mr Gower (senior’s) disqualification. And in all fairness, short of trawling through ancient company accounts, one cannot accurately infer that Mr S. Gower (senior) and Mr S. Gower (junior) were not operating as separate entities in matters of business.
At a meeting in April 1906, Mr Willcocks is yet again unanimously re-elected into the chair. Another year has melted away, during which the pond seems to have escaped official attention.
April 1907: Mr Willcocks again re-elected into the chair. No mention this time of his election being unanimous: are his days already numbered . . . ?
April 1908: Apparently, not. Mr Willcocks once again enjoys unanimous support, and is re-elected into the chair.
It is during 1908 that Mr (Beaky) Wood, a man with an inordinately large nose, is set to be a real thorn in the side of the parish council. Amongst other things, he is in trouble for ‘allowing his cows to wade in the village pond’, and the parish council decide to draw his attention to the nuisance caused - not to mention the damage.
Beaky Wood operated a small dairy business, carriage-hire and livery, from his home at Dairy Cottage, on the village green. When they were not roaming the village and wading in the pond, his cows were mainly confined to a small yard at the rear of his property.
It is January 1909 before the pond is in receipt of maintenance again, and Mr Gower is paid 14/- for repairs to the footbridge over it (early photographs show this to be more like a small jetty).
April 1909: Mr Willcocks is once again awash with unanimous support in his re-election to the chair.
The pond receives the parish council’s attention again in June of that year, when it is resolved that: ‘the same, be cleaned out - when practicable’. A three-man sub-committee, including the Chairman, is formed for the purpose.
Also in June 1909, Beaky Wood’s cows are again found wading in the pond. It would appear that the parish council has had a belly-full of Mr Wood over this and other painful disputes concerning (alleged) damage to the village green, and they are in no mood to pussy-foot around the matter. Their response is to inform the Elham Rural District Council of the unhygienic menace caused by the offending cows.
April 1910: Mr Willcocks again enjoys re-election to the chair, although this time, minus unanimity. This demonstration of lack of universal support may be due to the fact that he and his two nominated colleagues have failed to wade in alongside Beaky Wood’s cows, and clean out the pond as agreed.
However, the problems with the pond take a back seat, as the drinking fountain on the village green is in need of refurbishment. Also, a desire is expressed that a bench be placed under the tree on the green (the tree was planted in 1903, to commemorate the coming of age of Mr William Deedes). Mr Willcocks forms a sub-committee with power to act, and a price is to be sought from Mr Gower.
By August of that year, the clerk to Saltwood Parish Council reports that he has written to the district council about repairs to the bank of the pond, but has had no reply. The Chairman said that the surveyor had received the clerk’s letter, and would endeavour to bring the matter up at the next meeting.
Meanwhile, there is a bitter blow to the Gower empire: Mr Gower’s approximate price for putting a bench under the tree on the village green is £2-16/-, and the refurbishment to the drinking fountain would stand them in at a further £2-5/-. This is considered to be too expensive, and the councillors decide to carry out the work themselves . . . at a lower cost . . . if possible . . . !
Unsurprisingly, they didn’t get very far. At the September meeting, the councillors gave their report on the drinking fountain, and at the same meeting, Mr Gower’s account for repairing the fountain was passed for payment: £2-15/- . . . ten shillings more than he had quoted in the first place!
The pond then reared its troublesome head again. Its clean out was elevated from when practicable, to as soon as possible. Mr Stickells is to do the work at a price agreed with the clerk, and the not-to-be-forgotten sub-committee are to superintend the work.
By October, the Chairman was able to report that the sub-committee had met the district council and asked them to make a concrete wall round the pond, and also, to erect a fence. The surveyor estimates that this could cost as much as £13 or £15. Mr Stickells’ clean-out has already set them back £10, but the villagers are undoubtedly reassured to know that the ever-vigilant sub-committee continue to superintend the work on their behalf.
April 1911: Mr Willcocks achieves unanimous support once more, and is re-elected into the chair. The pond still requires a lot of work if it is to meet the standards that continue to be imposed upon it.
By August, the clerk is instructed to write the district council with regard to his council’s displeasure at the great delay in carrying out the repairs to the bank of the pond.
In September, the clerk reports that he has written to the district council about the pond, as it is believed that it is their responsibility to repair the road and the fence near same. In reply, the district council declines liability, and feels that the matter should be dealt with by the parish council. Some things (like passing the buck) never change . . . !
By October, however, things have moved up a gear. A letter is received from the District Auditor in regard to the pond. Enclosed, is a report from the Medical Officer of Health. In view of these ominous developments, Mr Gower seconds a proposal by Mr Longly, that: ‘the Elham Rural District Council, be again requested to do the work around the pond’.
January 26th 1912: A letter is received from the Elham Valley Water Company, informing Saltwood Parish Council that they intend fitting a meter if they are to supply water to the village pond. They state their charges which are considered ambiguous, so the clerk is directed to write and ask for clarification.
At the July meeting the pond is discussed again. It is decided that the clerk should write to the Elham Rural District Council, undertaking that the pond would be kept in a satisfactory condition. By the sound of things, the intervention of the Medical Officer of Health has quite rightly caused a few sleepless nights.
It is also decided that better terms should be sought from the Elham Valley Water Company, as far as the supply to the pond is concerned.
As a result, a letter is received from the water company during March, reducing its estimate from £2-15-3d, to £2-5-3d, for fixing the meter and making connections to the main.
By May, the question of the retaining wall to the pond is on the table again. Mr Gower explained his side of the contract with the district council for a similar wall - as far as the district council’s liability was concerned. He then offered to do the parish council’s portion of the wall for the sum of £19. Mr Gower now seems to have a foot in both camps.
In the absence of any choice in the matter, and with the Medical Officer of Health apparently breathing down their necks, Mr Gower’s tender is accepted, namely: ‘A wall and fence to be put round the pond until it touched the present concrete work, and to commence at the spot where the district council had left off. The work is to be carried out in all respects, subject to the same specification as laid down by the district council. The fence is to follow the same line as at present.’ It is interesting to note that Mr S. Gower was present at the meeting by request – apparently, this being a period during which he did not hold office.
Nothing much changes over the years in the corridors of power. A hundred years ago, the idea of the two councils working together and doing a job as one exercise, was about as likely as is it is today.
As things now stand, it would seem that, Mr Gower has agreed to build half a wall for the district council, and then sets about negotiating with an increasingly baffled parish council for the rest of the required work. But you have to hand it to the old boy: he appears to runs rings around the whole lot of them.
Unsurprisingly, members of the parish council still seem unsure of what they have asked Mr Gower to undertake on their behalf. So, in an effort to remind them-selves they gather at a special site meeting held at the pond at 3:00 p.m. on the 8th of June. The upshot is that they decide that the wall shall follow the course already fixed. A brilliant piece of deduction, but had they had the gumption to study the minutes of their last meeting, where the information that they are seeking clarification on is clearly set out, they could have saved them-selves a lot of additional time and effort.
Later in June, Mr Albert Day sees a window of opportunity. He has written to the parish council offering to exchange a piece of land near the pond which belongs to his son, for a portion owned by the council. Why he should see this as being to his advantage is not clear, but the offer is thrown out anyway.
At the same meeting, a letter is read out from the water company setting out its charges for the supply to the pond. It is a long-winded piece of bumph, but it amounts to the parish council paying 7/6d per quarter for 2,000 gallons of water, and this will include rent for the meter. Any water required per quarter above this amount, will be charged at 1/9d per 1,000 gallons.
The council agree that the arrangement may take immediate effect. While they are on the subject, Mr Gower’s account for £19-12-6d (increased by 12/6d) is passed for payment. The water company’s bill for £2-5-3d for fixing the water meter is also passed for payment.
On the 30th of August, the council receives a letter, and the Chairman reports that Mr E. Friend of Hythe had rescued a child from the village pond. Moreover, this was not the first instance in which Mr Friend had been instrumental in saving a life. If members were in agreement, the clerk indicated that he would state the facts to the Humane Society, to see if they could make him some award. Members of the council duly agreed.
In response to this piece of news, members also agreed that wire netting should be placed between the top rail of the fence and the ground around their boundary of the pond. Mr Gower is to be asked to provide an estimate for providing and fixing same.
The clerk reported in September that he had received a form from the Humane Society: ‘to be filled up with the particulars of the rescue of the child from the pond by Mr Friend’. The clerk was instructed to interview him.
As yet, there are still no signs of the war clouds that would soon gather over Europe, and plunge the world into war on an unprecedented scale.
When it is all over, in the aftermath of this catastrophe the village and indeed the whole nation will find them-selves robbed of an entire generation of young men. Life will never be the same again, but in blissful ignorance of the carnage that is only 19 months away, the Chairman asked Mr Coleman if he would send two ducks and a drake to the pond.
© Barry C. Sansom: 18th March 2017
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