The history of the Whitley Pump

Whitley Pump c 1910

Whitley Pump c. 1910

This website, the Whitley Pump, is named after a real water pump built on Whitley Street in the 1860s.  The Whitley Pump thought it would be good to know some of the history of the actual Whitley Pump.

Before the pump was installed, there was a pond called the King’s Head Pond. The pond is marked on the colourful 1722-23 Plan of Land Belonging to Reading Borough in the parish of St Giles, Reading and other early maps of Reading.

The pond lay on the Reading borough boundary and in 1861 the Berkshire Chronicle reported on the borough perambulation:

… they then proceeded past Whitley Crescent, then, literally, through King’s Head Pond (this latter duty was performed by the deputy, an individual who was either as the song says “very fond of water,” or was tempted by the gratuity, waded through, holding aloft what Oliver Cromwell called “that bauble,” the mace).

The ‘perambulators’  included the Mayor (Mr James Boorne), the town clerk (Mr J J  Blandy, who lived at Highgrove House) and the borough surveyor (Mr Woodman) [ref 1].

The pump was installed at the top of Whitley Street in early 1860s by Mr John Jackson Blandy when the King’s Head Pond was filled in. The proposed design of the pump was described [ref 2] as

… surmounted with scroll work, supporting a lamp; and a triple tank will surround it for the use of cattle, and below will be smaller tanks for the use of dogs. The whole will be treated ornamentally and will form a pleasing object. As Mr Woodman has furnished the design, we may anticipate something chaste and elegant.

A letter was written to the committee of the board of health a few years after the pump was built saying that there had been no water in the pump for two months. They directed the surveyor to  repair it [ref 3], but water supply problems did not end there.  A resident of Conduit Crescent wrote a letter to the Reading Mercury in May 1900 complaining about the lack of water for a drover with a bullock and sheep on his way out of Reading [ref 4]. This seems to have prompted some action, because water carts were supplying the trough by July, and interest had been expressed by the council of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association as well as Reading’s MP Mr G W Palmer [ref 5]. There was a suggestion that the pump would be replaced, but there is no evidence that this happened [ref 6].

The Whitley Pump was an important landmark for those travelling to or from Reading at the top of Whitley Street. There was a small stand of trees next to the pump furnished with seats for people to relax or break their journey and became one of the meeting points in Reading, used for political meetings during the 1900 election and for armed forces recruitment drives during the First World War.

Whitley Pump c.1920

Whitley Pump c.1920

By 1903, the pump was the southern terminus of the tram line that ran between Caversham and Whitley Street. Tram poles can be seen to the left and right of the lamppost in the postcard above. The last tram on this route ran on 15 July 1936 and it was the first line in Reading to be converted to trolley buses. During the Second World War, from 3 August 1940, ‘Whit Pump’ replaced ‘Whitley’ as the destination in order to confuse the enemy.

1962 OS Map

Ordnance Survey map of Katesgrove Hill, 1962

By 1962 the pump and island of trees had been replaced by a roundabout.  A replica pump was erected on the roundabout in 1999.

IMG_8152

The Whitley Pump roundabout today


Sources and Links

  1. Berkshire Chronicle 19 October 1861. The song ‘I’m very Fond of Water‘ was written by Charles Neaves, Lord Neaves, (1800-1876).
  2. The decision to fill up the pond and erect a pump was reported in the Reading Mercury on 5 November 1861.
  3. Berkshire Chronicle 18 May 1867. Letter submitted to the Committee of the Board of Health. This letter says that the pump was erected in 1864.
  4. Reading Mercury 12 May 1900.
  5. Reading Mercury 24 July 1900.
  6. Reading Mercury 19 April 1902. Report on RSPCA Reading and District Branch Annual Meeting.
  7. Wikipedia Local Boards of Health, the Reading Board was founded in 1850.
  8. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was founded in 1859, now the Drinking Fountain Association.
  9. Reading Corporation Transport – Trams
  10. Reading Corporation Transport – Trolleybuses
  11. The First Electric Tram in Reading – postcard Reading Museum
  12. Removal of Tram Lines in London Street – photograph Reading Museum
  13. Barnes-Phillips, Daphne. The Top of Whitley Revisited.
  14. The History of Reading Society. The Reading Book of Days.
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