7 November 1903

By Aaron Miller
No. III — The History of the Botany Pump

At the time when my narrative begins there was a brook course, the source of which was on a farm called Dry Roads, near Ashton Barracks, from thence it proceeded down one side of what is now Whiteacre-road, across Curzon-road, through Bengal, Botany, Hurst Brook, Turner-lane, Boston-street, the bottom end of Charlestown, across Oldham-road, past the back of Groby Hall, across Manchester-road, dividing Ryecroft and Crowthorne, across Stockport-road, through Jeremy Brook (by which name it was known by there), and from thence it emptied itself into the River Tame.

The farmer who occupied the farm above, where the first pump was in Botany, whilst repairing his ditches by the brook side (the brook having been made into a sewer long ago), found a spring of good water. This, after a time, became a great nuisance to the farmer, as the children who went for water did damage to his ground and fences, so he complained to the landlord about it.

The landlord was a gentleman from Copster Hill, near Oldham. I have forgotten his name, but he was uncle to the late Jonah HARROP, Esq, of Bardsley House, Bardsley. The landlord came to inspect the place himself, and when he saw what a convenience it was for the inhabitants, he gave a site of land to the inhabitants for ever for the purpose of a pump, the site to be six yards square, with a six yard street leading to it from what is now Holden-street, Botany.

The old pump stood in what is now the yard of Messrs BALL and WILLIAMSON’s oil and grease works; it has since been filled up. The pump was used by the inhabitants until the well was drained dry by Mr Samuel CHAPMAN, when it was of no further use. Mr CHAPMAN, of Hurst Mount Mill, had sunk a jackwell at the end of the mill, and driven a tunnel from it until he tapped Botany pump spring, and drained the well dry, so the inhabitants were left without a supply water, which was a very serious thing from them, as they had no other means of getting an adequate supply from other sources.

The inhabitants were allowed to fetch water from his factory yard, for which he charged them a halfpenny a burn can full, thus making them pay for their own water, so they were compelled to take proceedings against Mr CHAPMAN in the law courts to restrain him from taking the water.

They employed Joseph HEGGINBOTTOM, Esq, solicitor, to conduct the case, which was very protracted, as Mr CHAPMAN denied taking the water, and the onus of proof rested upon the inhabitants. The case was finally carried to the Court of King’s Bench, where judgment was given against Mr CHAPMAN, with costs of the action, and an award made by Mr COTTINGHAM, a celebrated lawyer at that time. I have seen a copy of the award, and it was as follows:-

That Mr CHAPMAN must sink a well at his own expense upon his own land, the well to be sunk two yards deeper than his tunnel, so that when he had taken all the water he could there would always be two yards of water left for the use of the inhabitants. The inhabitants must erect a pump at their expense, and must have the right of going down CHAPMAN’s well at any time they think proper to repair the people’s pump.

There were great rejoicings by the people when the lawsuit had ended in their favour, and they got jugs and pots and tea services made with Boatny Pump inscribed thereon, also some doggerel verse, which I have forgotten, only the first two lines, beginning –

Brave Cottingham, of high renown,
Who brought Botany Pump tyrant down.

They also christened the square in which the pump stands Cottingham-square, in honour of the man who brought the lawsuit to a successful issue. I have often wondered why our District Council has not put a sign in the square with Cottingham-square upon it. Perhaps it is because the present member don’t know anything about it. I commend this to their consideration.

After the waterworks were made the pump fell into disuse, and the flagstone covering the well, being cracked and becoming dangerous, a subscription was opened to purchase a new stone to cover the well. But Mr Paul COWPER, the owner of the well at that time, engaged a number of men to fill the well up against the expressed wish of the inhabitants, and he afterwards attempted to let the land for building upon, and a house and shop were staked out for that purpose.

While this was being done Mrs Mally TAYLOR, who lived in Water-street, came to see me to see what must be done about it, so I gave her one shilling and sixpence to engage the bellman to call a public meeting to be held in the dinner hour that day in the square. At that meeting there were just three persons – myself, William GREEN, a brushmaker, and Samuel WILLIAMSON, a joiner, who afterwards became of the Central Liberal Club in Stamford-street – with perhaps a dozen more men standing at the corners laughing at us. But we meant business.

So, borrowing a chair from the nearest house, Samuel WILLIAMSON proposed, and I seconded, that Mr William GREEN take the chair. Then mounting the chair, he spoke a few minutes about the advisability of forming a committee to take into consideration the opening of the well again, and so preserve the land for an open space for the hamlet. Upon closing his remarks he announced that the meeting stood adjourned until eight o’clock at night, and would be held at the Ring-o’-Bells Inn, Hillgate-street.

Owing to business engagements I was unable to be present at the adjourned meeting, but I was told it was crowded and the people were enthusiastic. A committee was elected, of which I was one, and the committee were instructed by the meeting to engage men to open the well and begin operations at once, and this was accordingly done. The meeting also appointed collectors to go round the hamlet weekly for subscriptions, which were fixed at threepence per week, and by that means we collected as much money as defrayed all expenses.

The committee engaged Nathaniel PERRY, James OUSEY, Samuel GODDARD, and Thomas CLIFTON to open the well, and immediately after operations began. Mr COWPER warned them to desist, and threatened legal proceedings against them, and upon their refusal he summoned them at the County Sessions for trespass by laying the dirt got out of the well onto his land.

Upon receipt of the summons I was deputed, along with Mr William GREEN and Mr Joseph PLATT, to go to Manchester to engage Mr ROBERTS (a leading attorney in Manchester, and who was styled the miners’ attorney-general, he being the attorney for the Miners’ Federation), to defend the case. After we had given him all the information we could, he asked us the name of the solicitor who had conducted the case re CHAPMAN. We told him Mr Joseph HEGGINBOTTOM.

He asked us to engage him again, as he said he would like to have access to the papers relating to the first law suit. Upon our return to Ashton we went direct from the station to Mr HEGGINBOTTOM’s office in Delemere-street, and when we told him our business he was almost as pleased as a dog with two tails, and he pulled from a recess a large box, upon the front of which was painted in large white letters “Botany Pump Case.” He opened the box, and I should think there was a wheelbarrow full of documents relating to the law suit with Mr CHAPMAN>

When Mr COWPER’s case came for trial, Mr DARNTON, the solicitor employed by Mr COWPER, in opening the case, said he believed defendants intended to set up a sort of claim to the pump, which was on his client’s land, but that claim was altogether fictitious, and although he saw by the large heap of papers displayed on the opposite side that something of that sort was to be attempted, yet he defied them to produce a legal title to the land occupied by the pump.

The large bundle of papers that he saw ought long since to have been sent to the butter merchants, for they were utterly useless. His client would produce a proper deed of conveyance giving him legal right and title to the estate.

Mr ROBERTS, after cross-examining the witnesses, said this was the old battle of might against right. It began in the days of Adam, and would continue as long as the world lasted. It was a question affecting the rights and privileges of thousands. His only object was to ascertain the real facts of the case, and to get at the truth at the same time.

He objected to the case being decided in that court at all. He denied the jurisdiction of the court. It was a question of a disputed right, and a magistrate had no power to try such cases; they could only be tried by a jury. These men had done what they had done, believing themselves to have a perfect right to do it, and therefore it was a question for a jury to decide. He contended that the case must be dismissed.

The magistrates, after consulting together for some time, announced through their chairman, Mr BUCKLEY, that they were of opinion that they had no power to try the case. The defendants were therefore discharged. Mr COWPER did not proceed with the case any further.

The well when opened to the bottom is thirty-two yards deep, but on the re-opening of the well, owing to the great influx of water, the men could only get down 16 yards. They would have to have had a pumping engine to get down any further, so it still stands at 16 yards deep. The case was tried again March 24th 1858. I believe the first law suit began in the year 1825. So ends the history of Botany Pump.

Creative Commons License Rhodes Family History by Ian Rhodes (1999-2018 v.3.0) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.
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