Water Supply at Sheerness - Extracts from 'The Dublin Builder' 15 Jul 1864.
....It seems incredible that a town, or rather a series of towns, containing an aggregate population of nearly 10,000, did not years ago call into question the engineering skill necessary to raise from the buried reservoirs of nature that which she did not provide for them on the surface of the island. It is true that stern necessity compelled the sinking of certain wells; but this was done only on a very limited scale, and in the rudest and simplest fashion. Nor was the water thus procured pumped into tanks so elevated as to enable it to be conveyed by pipes to the dwellings of the people. For years the only means by which the inhabitants could obtain fresh water was by purchasing it at the rate of a halfpenny a pail-full from the men or boys who obtained it at the wells and conveyed it through the streets in large barrels, placed upon wheels, and drawn by worn-out horses or donkeys. This state of things is likely to terminate. The Government has recently successfully constructed an Artesian well in the north-east corner of the dockyard, and another has been completed in Mile Town by the "Local Board of Health" and it is expected that in a short time all the necessary arrangements for conveying the water to the houses of the people will be accomplished.
....Originally, all the water required for Government purposes was brought from Chatham, a distance of 18 miles, in vessels constructed for the purpose, whilst the town was supplied by wells which yielded a very limited and precarious supply. Several years ago a private company sank a large well in Chapel-street, Blue Town. Its depth was 300ft., and the brick steining was carried entirely down. The water was raised in buckets by means of machinery of the most primitive character, worked by horse power. When raised it was sold to the proprietors of donkey barrels, and by them conveyed through the town and retailed to the consumers. About six years ago the steining gave way, and choked up the well, and as the proprietors could not agree the affair was abandoned, and the well is now nearly filled up.
About the year 1800 the Board of Ordnance decided to sink a well in a marsh within the fortifications and since known as "Well Marsh". This well is 9ft. in diameter, and is carried to the depth of 333ft. When the water began to accumulate in this well, the good folk living in Southend, on the opposite coast of Essex, were filled with alarm, for although the distance across the estuary is eight miles, the supply of water in the wells at Southend was materially diminished, and it was for some time feared would be absolutely cut off. The water of the Ordnance well was raised for more than 50 years by horse power, as is the case of the one already alluded to, but in 1859 a cast iron tank was fixed on the reservoir previously used, and a high pressure steam engine of five horse power was erected for the purpose of keeping the tank constantly filled. This well is used exclusively for the supply of the military, and is conducted to the garrison by mains and service pipes. The supply is not, however, adequate to the increased demand of the large force now generally stationed at Sheerness, and it is contemplated by the authorities at the War Office to sink a 9in. bore pipe, 480ft. from the ground line, so as, if possible, to tap the chalk and obtain the quantity of water required.
In a brewery yard in Mile Town a boring was made some years since, for the supply of the brewery. It is known as "Rayners Well." The water is lifted by a small engine erected for the purpose, and when there is an abundant supply the donkey barrels are allowed to fill from the well; but the yield of water is very uncertain.
A fourth well remains to be noticed. It is called the "Navy Well," and is made in the Royal Dockyard. Its diameter is 6ft., and its depth is 330ft. ; thence a bore pipe is carried about 50ft., so that the supply is obtained from a depth of 380ft. A large cast iron tank capable of holding about 500 tons is erected over one of the storehouses in the dockyard, and the water, which is remarkably pure, is pumped into it by means of a 14-horse power steam engine. By an elaborate system of high pressure mains the supply is conducted throughout every part of the yard, to the official residence of the commander-in-chief and to the quarters of the officers generally. A public conduit, which was constructed about 1850, at the top of the High-street, Blue Town, is also supplied from this source. This was erected at the sole expense of the Admiralty, and the public are allowed to supply themselves during certain hours of the day. Owing to the great augmentation of the steam marine, the enlargement of the Government works, and the increase of the population consequent thereon, even this supply was found very inadequate, and, consequently , in 1861, it was determined by the Admiralty Board to construct a new well on the Artesian principle, and the work, which we will now describe was commenced by Mr.Tillley in the autumn of 1861.
The locality fixed upon was the north-east corner of the dockyard, and this portion, before its enclosure by the Government (when the surface was raised 5 of 6 ft.), must have been a burial ground, for when the excavation had proceeded about 13 ft. below the present surface, a tombstone was brought to light, and a few feet further down the remains of eight human bodies were disinterred. These remains were reinterred in consecrated ground. The stone bears the following inscription surmounted with a Death's head and cross-bones carved into the stone: - "Here lies ye body of Eliz. Morison, wife of Alex. Morison, who departed this life, November 15th, 1729, aged 49 years." This memento of a departed graveyard has been inserted into the plinth of the engine-house connected with the well and occupies a position almost immediately over the spot where it was discovered.
....There are three 6in. pumps complete in the well; the engine house, a very neat building, with an octagon shaft, 60ft. high is erected; the boiler is fixed, and the engine, which is exquisitely finished and of 25 horse-power, is in working order. A large cast iron tank capable of holding 50,000 gallons, is fixed over the saw-mills, and into this the water will be pumped for conveyance by various mains and service-pipes to the places where it will be required....
....Mr Tillley has also just completed the well in Mile Town, constructed for the Board of Health. Although a mile distant from the one described, the depth is about the same, and the strata which have been passed are almost identical. The Board have recently accepted the tender of Mr. Nun, of Mile Town, Sheerness, to erect 18 stand pipes in different parts of the town to enable the inhabitants to procure an immediate supply of water pending the completion of the water works, which are intended to convey a bountiful supply to every dwelling....