PHYSICAL FABRIC Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Southampton King's Lynn Coventry Bristol water supply public access conduits construction maintenance repairs right of way contracts friars petition offences brewers springs Dublin Bath Kingston-upon-Hull Chelmsford
Subject: Provision of a water supply
Original source: 1. Southampton City Archives SC 2/1/2; 2. Norfolk Record Office, King's Lynn archives KL/C50/Bc5; 3. Coventry City Record Office, Leet Book; 4. Bristol Record Office, MS. 04718 (Little Red Book), f.194; 5. Bristol Record Office, MS. 04719 (Great Red Book), f.10
Transcription in: 1. H.W. Gidden, ed. The Book of Remembrance of Southampton, vol.II, Southampton Record Society, no.28, 14-16; 2. Dorothy M. Owen, ed. The Making of King's Lynn: A Documentary Survey, British Academy Records of Social and Economic History, new series, vol.9 (1984), 117-18; 3. Mary Dormer Harris, ed. The Coventry Leet Book or Mayor's Register, London: Early English Text Society, old series, vol.134 (1907), 105, 189, 208, vol.135 (1908), 517; 4. Francis Bickley, ed. The Little Red Book of Bristol, Bristol, 1900, vol.2, 229-30; 5. Elspeth Veale ed. The Great Red Book of Bristol, Bristol Record Society, vol.4 (1933), part I, 115-17.
Original language: 1, 2, 4. Latin; 3. Middle English, Latin; 5. French
Location: Southampton, King's Lynn, Coventry, Bristol
Date: 14th and 15th centuries


[1. Agreement allowing Southampton citizens access to the friars' water supply]

On 2 February 1311 an agreement was made as follows between the warden and convent of the Friars Minor of Southampton, on the one part, and the burgesses of the community of the town on the other part. Out of respect for the venerable lord Henry, archdeacon of Dorchester and formerly almoner to the noble lord Edward, son of King Henry, king of England, and at the wish of the same friars, in the presence of Sir Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, then lieutenant of King Edward II, and of dom. John de Sandale, then the king's Treasurer, the warden and convent have by unanimous consent granted to the community of the town of Southampton and confirmed for themselves and their successors to the burgesses and community and their successors, in perpetuity, one pipe (with one key to their conduit house) through the wall of the friary up to English Street. Through which pipe the community of the town shall forever receive water, supplied from main pipe of the friars' aqueduct. The burgesses of the community and their successors shall construct, at their own expense, a cistern to receive the water from their pipe; from that cistern a pipe is to be made, at the friars' expense, leading to the friars' close, via which pipe the friars shall receive all the water not used by the community, to be put to whatever uses they decide. The burgesses are to pay all costs necessary for [making? maintaining?] the pipe through which they receive [water] and for repairs to it, whenever necessary and as often as the friars request them, without raising any objections. So that this [initiative] may be accomplished, the friars have guaranteed, on behalf of themselves and their successors in perpetuity, that at their own expense they will provide and arrange in whatever way possible for both constructing and keeping in repair that pipe through which their community receives water, and also all other pipes – [this work to be done] by themselves and by others whom they decide to ask to do it – whenever necessary, of their own free will, and without raising any objections. The friars have also guaranteed the maintenance of the principal pipe and all the others as mentioned above, by the honest labour of themselves and their friends, to the best of their ability, without any fraud, trickery, or evasion whatsoever. In testimony to which, the convent of the Friars Minor of Southampton – with the consent of friars R. de Conigton, then [their] minister, T. Heyron, then [their] custodian, and I. de Chollefeld, then [their] warden – and the town community have caused the seals of their communities to be set to the two copies of this document.

[2. Agreement between townsmen and Augustinian friars regarding a conduit, 1386]

This is the agreement made between the mayor and community of the town of Lynn, on the one part, and the men of religion, the prior and convent of the eremitic friars of St. Augustine of the same town of Lynn, on the other. Viz. that the prior and convent have received forty pounds, which a certain John Blowere, one-time burgess of Lynn, bequeathed to the prior and convent on the condition that they create a conduit for a continuous supply of running water, if no-one from the community blocked them. Otherwise, he assigned the forty pounds to the mayor and community, to be put towards acquiring some rents for the use of the community, as is set out fully in John's testament.

Taking into consideration John's pious intent, and the good intentions and great care given by the prior and convent to bringing about the conduit as specified, they [i.e. the mayor and community] have granted for themselves and their successors that they [i.e. the prior and convent] may freely bring the said conduit through their communal ditches, and under their walls and land, as far as the property of the prior and convent, without any opposition or obstruction from the mayor and community. Furthermore, they have granted for themselves and their successors to the prior and convent and their successors that they [i.e. the prior and convent] may examine, fix, repair, or rebuild the conduit without any opposition from the mayor and community or any of their successors. After, however, permission has first been obtained from the mayor (or his deputy) then in office by the prior or whoever presides over the convent at that time. And after finding two suitable sureties from the community, of comparable status to the mayor or his deputy, to guarantee that whenever and as often as it is necessary to examine, fix, repair or rebuild any of the conduit [on property] within the jurisdiction of the mayor and community – whether in the ditches, or under the walls, soil or plots through which the conduit runs – they restore or have restored to its exact original condition any ditch, wall, soil or plot that has been damaged as a result of the said examination, fixing, repairs or rebuilding. Except under the possible circumstances of a threat to the town at time of war, with the walls subject to a siege; at which time it would be inappropriate, and the mayor and community would not wish, for holes to be made in the wall or water removed from the ditches for the reasons given above.

The prior and convent wish and grant, for themselves and their successors, that every year the conduit run through a certain well-constructed cistern in the street called Listergate from where, through three pipes (commonly called stopcocks), it be freely and continuously available for the use of the community, any time that a member of the community goes there between 6:00 a.m. and until 7:00 p.m., between Easter and Michaelmas. Unless the flow of the conduit happens to be impeded bcause of repairs or any other reasonable cause. Moreover the prior and convent wish and by this document obligate themselves and those who succeed them in the order in the town, as regards both the forty pounds and other gifts and alms bestowed on the conduit, that the conduit be kept flowing as specified above, except when interrupted for reasonable cause. Furthermore they grant for themselves and their successors that if they hold back, or anyone holds back, the conduit water within their property, or if on any given day when the conduit water arrives at their property they intentionally or fraudulently by some means block or monopolize the water, so that the water not flow to the aforesaid pipes in that street in the manner set out above, unless within three days of the prior (or whoever is taking his place in charge of the order) having been warned of the problem by the mayor (or his deputy) then in office they correct, or have corrected, the flow, then the mayor (or his deputy) then in office in the town of Lynn may be allowed to distrain on all the goods and chattels belonging communally to the prior and convent, wherever they may be found within the boundaries of the town of Lynn outside the order's property – the conduit and its appurtenances excepted; and the forfeitures may be retained until the flow of the conduit water is restored.

[In testimony to which] the mayor and community have set their common seal. Drawn up at Lynn on 1 August 1386.

[The document concludes with a statement that the indenture was enacted on the above date in the time of John de Brunham, mayor, and Thomas de Botkesham alderman, by agreement of all members of the community in the guildhall at that time, and was also ratified by Henry de Tesedale, the provincial of the Augustinian order, Walter de Tyryngton, prior of the Lynn convent, and 37 named friars (probably representing all those then present in the town).]

[3. The Coventry conduits]

At which [view of frankpledge, held on 6 April 1426] there was submitted a petition from the community of Cross Cheaping ward, in the following terms:

To their worships, the mayor and his associates of the city of Coventry, your poor neighbours of Cross Cheaping make a humble request. A very necessary and praiseworthy initiative was taken for the benefit of the community – at great expense to the admirable men Laurence Cooke, Thomas Wilgrise, Roger Benet, Thomas Grene, John Egeston and others – to bring a communal conduit into Cross Cheaping for the well-being of all people; and at various leets petitions have been approved and appropriate ordinances made that the chamberlains should arrange for the conduit pipes, outside the gates and in each ward that the conduit passes through, to be in the charge of 2 keepers per ward, to look after it and supervise that no wells or suspirals, other than those authorized, should exist to tap into the course of the conduit. Contrary to which, both wells and springs leading from the conduit – some built from quicklime and stone – [have been made by] John Stafford in the West Orchard and at the property recently of John Lirpole; and in other places as well the course of the conduit has been tapped into, to the great detriment of the common people. Would you please investigate these problems and correct them as is reasonable, and assign specific keepers in each ward, whomever you see fit, to be responsible for custodianship of the conduit.
Which petition has been endorsed as follows: It is ordered that the matter addressed by this petition be enforced according to the ordinances made by the leet in the past; and furthermore they order that no man or woman tap into or break the conduit, from this time forth, upon penalty of 40s.; and that the above-named John undertake repairs within 8 days, upon [penalty of] 40s., and he is amerced 40d. for his offence.


[At the view of frankpledge held on 11 April 1439, the leet jury] present and declare that whereas Edward Lichefeld of Coventry granted to the mayor and the community of the city of Coventry and their successors in perpetuity that they have certain lead pipes put across Edward's property, by which water from the conduit might be carried through his property to the [River] Sherbourne at the end of the property and over, the mayor and community have been in possession of those lead pipes. But some time ago, notwithstanding this grant, William Darsate with malicious intent – he not having placed any claim in the tenement at the time of the grant – broke and carried off from the property lead pipes to the value of [...], which were laid subsequent to the above-mentioned grant, thus preventing the flow of the water, to the great nuisance of the community of the city.


[At the view of frankpledge held on 20 April 1444] they wish and order that the conduits be locked up from 9 o'clock at night until 4 o'clock in the morning, and that no brewer of the community take from it water for brewing, but only for preparing his meals, upon penalty of 40d., viz. 12d. [payable to] to the mayor and 2s.4d to the keepers, etc. And from hereon in no-one is to wash entrails at the conduits, under the same penalty as often [as the offence is committed].


It was ordained and agreed by the mayor and his brethren, on 31 August in the mayoralty of William Horseley [1483] that the keepers of the conduit be: for the Cross Cheaping, Richard Bregeman, Robert Fareman; for the West Orchard, John Pope, John Geest; for Smithford Street, Thomas Mower, Harry Myllys; for Bablake, Roger Wood, Walter Proodde.

The mayor and his brethren have decided and ordained that these above-named men are to have custody and supervision of the 4 conduits, and are to collect money for repair of the same in every part of their wards: from every hall door, 1d. per quarter, and from every cottage, a halfpenny per quarter. Furthermore, these supervisors are to choose a plumber – whomever they please – to undertake the same [repairs] in a timely fashion. Furthermore, they have ordained that if any brewer or dyer fetches water from the conduits for brewing, dyeing, or steeping barley, then the keepers may levy and take 6s.8d from every such brewer or dyer for [...] towards the repair of the conduits.

[4. Restrictions on the use of water at Bristol, late 14th century]

No brewer or ale-wife may take water from any of the conduits or wells of the town, by day or night, for use in brewing, nor carry it or or have it carried off, upon penalty of 40d. as often etc. But they may obtain water at the cisterns of the Avon and Frome, or wherever else it seems convenient to them. All conduits exist to serve the whole community for its daily sustenance.

No waterleder may take water from the Avon or the Frome or from any other location whatsoever unless it is pure and clear, upon penalty of 12d. whenever and as many times, etc.

5. Arrangement concerning the carrying of water of the Key Pipe and All Saints [conduit]

This is the agreement made at Bristol on 1 October 1376, in the fiftieth year of the reign of King Edward III, between Walter Derby mayor of the town of Bristol, William Somerwell sheriff, William Combe and Thomas Knap bailiffs and chamberlains of the town, and the community, on the one part, and Hugh White plumber and comburgess of the town, on the other part. Viz. that Hugh, throughout his lifetime and at his own cost, shall arrange for the conveyance of all water issuing and flowing from the heads of the conduit called the Key Pipe; that is, from those heads as far as the conduit situated on the Bristol quay. In addition, Hugh, throughout his entire lifetime and at his own cost, shall arrange for the conveyance of all water issuing and flowing from the heads of the conduit of All Saints; that is, from those heads as far as the conduit situated in Corn Street, Bristol, next to All Saints' church. In addition, Hugh, throughout his lifetime and at his own cost, without any argument, shall arrange for the conveyance of all the water coming from the cistern situated next to the Carmelite friary, called the Cistern of St. John's Pipe; that is, from the cistern as far as the conduit situated at the gates of St. John in Broadstreet. Ensuring that the community of the town is not failed or deprived nor experiences any delay in [obtaining] water from any of those conduits at any time in the future while Hugh lives – if any water is issuing from the heads of the aforementioned conduits.

In the event that the community is failed, or deprived or delayed in receiving water from any of the aforementioned conduits for the period of six days, and it is proven by the mayor, sheriff and bailiffs of the town then in office that this is through the neglect of me, Hugh, then I Hugh by this agreement obligate myself to pay to the community ten pounds for each failure, without any argument. Furthermore I, Hugh, will renovate each year at my own cost one thousand feet of pipe, well-made, sturdy and suitable to accommodate all the water flowing from the aforementioned conduit heads, without any misplacements by which the water flowing there might go elsewhere or in some other way [be lost], rather than only through the new pipes. The which new pipes will each be 20 feet long, and no more; and these new pipes made in the course of a year I, Hugh, will show to the mayor, sheriff and bailiffs of the town then in office (or to their assigns) before they are laid in the ground, so that they can see if there are any defects in those pipes. If any defects are found, they will be corrected as soon as possible by me, Hugh, without any argument. Also I, Hugh, will begin [laying new pipe] from the heads of the two conduits mentioned above and from the aforementioned cistern, and the new pipes made during a year will be put in the ground securely and appropriately, so that they last indefinitely for the use and benefit of the community, and they will be suitably covered with good, defect-free covering. Those same new pipes for conveying [water] from each of the aforementioned two heads and the cistern as far as the conduits will be laid in locations within the town as per the opinion, recommendation and decision of the mayor, sheriff and bailiffs of the town then in office (or their assigns). I, Hugh, will make as many navels in the conduits as needed, of good quality, suitable and defect-free, at my own costs. So that the town community from this day forward need not pay any additional expenses for the conduits, except only as regards making and repairing the stone heads and cisterns of the conduits. In addition the community will provide the leather heads for the conduits whenever needed, at their own cost. And I, Hugh, will have the heads, pipes, conduits, as well as the cisterns purged and cleaned whenever needed, at my own cost. Also I, Hugh, will have the heads and conduits lined in lead in a suitable manner and defect-free, at my own cost. Moreover I, Hugh, by this agreement wish and agree on behalf of myself and my executors that, in the event I do not make and supply each year a thousand feet of new pipe and lay them properly in the ground, in the manner indicated above, so that the three conduits are fully equipped with new pipes, then each year that I may be found in default I will incur a penalty of £10 payable to the community of the town at Michaelmas, without any argument. Also, when the pipes have to be examined or repaired, I, Hugh, by this document agree to install at my own cost suitable stone paving on all ground where the pavement is dug up or torn up, both in the town and in the suburbs, whenever necessary, from this day forward for as long as I live. By this document I, Hugh – on behalf of myself, my heirs and my executors – guarantee the good and faithful undertaking, in the manner indicated above, of such things as are agreed, by subjecting to distraint and seizure by the mayor, sheriff, bailiffs and community my lands and tenements, wherever I may hold them within the county of Bristol or into whoever's hands they come, along with all my goods and chattels, moveable and unmoveable, wherever they may be found

In return for the good and faithful undertaking of such things as agreed, in the manner written above, we the mayor, sheriff, bailiffs and community have granted to Hugh an annual rent of ten pounds due from certain tenements situated on the bridge at Bristol. Hugh or his assigns may have, hold and receive from year to year that annual rent of ten pounds due from the aforementioned tenements for the term of his life, according to the intent and effect of an indenture made between us and him and on the basis of the agreements written above. In testimony to which we, the mayor and community, have set our common seal to the part of this indenture that will remain with Hugh, and Hugh has set his seal to the other part of this indenture that will remain with us, the mayor and community. Drawn up at Bristol on the above date.

[There follows the text of the second indenture, mentioned above, of the same date, by which the mayor and community grant Hugh White for life the rents from 8 specified tenements and shops, most of them on the bridge over the Avon, to make up the sum of £10.]


English townspeople relied on springs, wells, and particularly natural watercourses for their water. Up into the fourteenth century this meant for many regular trips to rivers and streams to pick up water, unless prosperous enough to have it brought by servants or tradesmen. As far as was within their power, borough authorities worked to protect these sources from contamination: attempting through prohibitions and fines to control dumping of refuse in the water, ordering property-owners (or even entire neighbourhoods) living beside watercourses to scour them periodically, and sometimes appointing officers to police rivers and streams and supervise clean-up operations. In London, for example, there were keepers of the Walbrook before the mid-fourteenth century.

The lead in the initiative to create a protected system drawing water to the community was most commonly taken by religious houses; they sought to meet the needs of their members within the confines of their precincts, were highly concerned (as any closed community must be) with matters of sanitation and health, faced in their regimented lifestyle a particular problem in accommodating peak period demands on water (e.g. washing and mealtimes), and had the resources to take the necessary action. It was not coincidence that many monasteries, nunneries or friaries were established close to streams, rivers or springs – the houses of Clerkenwell and Holywell just outside London are instances. St. Mary Clerkenwell had put in place a conduit by 1190, to pipe in water from the spring. Two other thirteenth-century foundations – St. Mary Spital, Bishopsgate, and the Franciscan friary – also piped in water from sources outside the city. The tremendous growth during the High Middle Ages of religious communities, and corresponding lay donations of land, watersources, or money with which to construct water supplies, provided an opportunity for the towns in which such communities were based.

If towns were, for the most part, unable to take similar initiatives, it was partly because in the thirteenth century their preoccupations were with acquiring jurisdictional independence, their administrative mechanisms were still under-developed, and their fiscal surplus (beyond payment of the fee farm) meagre. But growth in population meant both increased demand for clean water and increased threat to watercourses from pollution; attempting to control this situation through legislation had limited effectiveness, and so a technological solution may have appeared attractive to those towns where decision-makers were conscious of the solutions already implemented elsewhere. In due course, some towns were able to capitalize on the initiatives of the religious communities and create a public water supply serving at least some of the more populous neighbourhoods.

On continental Europe this was happening during the thirteenth century, but English towns were slower to do so. However, there are a few exceptions: Bristol by the early thirteenth century was taking advantage of the pipes bringing in water to several religious houses there, while archaeological and documentary evidence has shown that Gloucester, Litchfield, and Southampton did the same. For example, at Litchfield – where access to the conduit in the cathedral close was for a while allowed to laywomen, with resultant scandal – a friary conduit was extended into its marketplace. At Bristol an extensive conduit system developed over the course of the Middle Ages; in 1391, for instance – fifteen years after retaining plumber Hugh White to take charge of civic conduits – the city took over the Dominicans' conduit and the costs of maintaining it, in return for assuring the friars a branch pipe supply and a nominal annual payment. Gloucester's government likewise took over much of the Franciscans' conduit system in 1438, and proceeded to extend it – again, this approach must have looked mutually beneficial – and by the end of the century we find a plumber in the role of warden of the conduit.

Bristol burgesses' early experience with water-supply systems may have been exported with their colonists to Dublin where, between 1244 and 1254, such a system was established. It involved heightening a weir on the Dodder to increase the flow in a channel cut to the Poddle (the townspeople's main source of fresh water), then creating a canal from the Poddle into a cistern, from where an open channel led along Thomas Street and was then carried by pipes and troughs to a public fountain near Christchurch. The terms of the initial feasibility study, given to the city sheriff, suggest that an appropriate route was to be determined, and land along that route virtually appropriated – at least, the owners were to be arrested if they tried to refuse access, although the St. Thomas' abbey was powerful enough to force the channel to be diverted around its property. Despite that opposition, the Dublin initiative may have been a collaboration with religious houses, several of which were allowed to share in the water, through branch pipes. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries there are even several known cases of private supplies, tapped off the public conduits, being permitted by the Dublin authorities.

At Bath the lead was also taken by a religious institution. The Roman baths fed by hot springs needed a good drainage system, and into the Middle Ages this provided some residents of suburban Southgate Street with a source of hot water running down into the River Avon. There were several springs on the hill on the south side of the river. In 1263 we hear of a cistern associated with one of these springs being rebuilt by Prior Walter de Anno. Water was piped thence, across the river (by bridge), and up Southgate Street to a public "fountain" (conduit) near the south gate. Prior Walter also arranged with the town authorities to set up another conduit, in the High Street north of the abbey, again to serve both monastic and urban communities. From the conduit near the south gate, more pipes and ducts led water into the cathedral-priory and to other parts of the town. Further conduits were added before the close of the Middle Ages, some taking advantage of other springs in hills north of the town. The system was sufficiently elaborate that Leland, upon visiting in 1534, found it remarkable.

Southampton's foray into this arena had its roots in the conduit project of the Franciscans, who had in 1290 been given Colewell Spring, outside the borough boundaries, by the lord of the manor there. Beginning in 1304 (with the work continuing into the early years of Edward III's reign), they had built a conduit to bring water from there to a lockable building that still stands and is known as the Water House. From there the pipes ran down English Street to the friary. The document transcribed above allowed the town to tap into that supply. But despite the assurances give by the friars, they allowed their conduit to fall into disrepair. A bequest by John Benet, thrice mayor of Southampton, put the borough into the position in 1420 of being able to negotiate purchase of the water system from the friars, who were doubtless happy to rid themselves of the burden. The old pipes had to be taken up and relaid, and a new lockable conduit house was built at the mid-point of the High Street. From there two pipes of equal diameter lead out, one to the friary, the other into a cistern for public use. The friary agreed to maintain the conduit head at Colewell, and in return received one of the keys to the new conduit house; the friars gave assurances that they would always allow authorized city personnel access to their key, on the understanding that if they failed in their duties under the agreement, the authorities could use force to take control of the conduit house. The borough agreed to shoulder all other costs associated with the system. During the course of that century, further pipes were laid and more conduit houses built, to serve more parts of the town. In the sixteenth century water began to be piped into a few private homes.

Lynn's southern marketplace seems to have been supplied with water by the middle of the fourteenth century. It is not known whether this was an extension of the subterranean conduit that the king in 1314 licenced to be constructed into the Minorites' friary or (less likely) of the Carmelites' conduit we hear of when it was vandalized in 1308. But the townsmen took advantage of the project of the Austin friars, whose house was in the northern section of town already served by a ditch system, to provide a supply that ran as far as the grass market to serve the residents of that populous part of the town. It may also have been intended for those using the northern marketplace, although this was served primarily by public wells: in 1365/66 we hear of expenditures (including the purchase of 24,000 tiles) on the upkeep of the old well and the new, and in 1384/85 the good-sized sum of £9 was spent on timber and tiles to reline the well then operating, provision of a new windlass and 2 buckets, and sending a carpenter to Swafham to obtain professional advice.

Such costs may have helped encourage the administration to explore other alternatives. The northern conduit was run from the River Gay (far enough back from the estuary to ensure no contamination from salt water) and fed, from the early fifteenth century, by a kettlemill, whose two horses probably worked alternate shifts to turn the wooden wheel to which were attached metal buckets. Not long after the arrangement with the Augustinians, we see that level of demand on the conduit system is already creating problems. Although further effort seems to have been put into public conduit system in the fifteenth century – in 1444 the bishop gave 100 marks towards making a conduit from the east gate down along Damgate as far as the northern marketplace – watercarts continued to do good business supplying residences and industry. Other religious houses may have built further conduits, but if so the civic authorities had no involvement with those until the Dissolution. In fact, several towns took over such conduits at that time.

Piggybacking on the projects of religious houses was not a universal solution. At Oxford, St. John's hospital obtained water after 1246 via an aqueduct coming from a spring in the north-east corner of the town, the Blackfriars were bringing water from a spring in Hinksey before 1285, and it was said that the Greyfriars had an extensive conduit system at a later date. Yet there was no civic conduit established until the seventeenth century. At Ipswich there are passing references to a conduit (1395) and a Conduit House (1417) in the centrally located parish of St. Laurence, although I find no evidence of any of the town's religious houses having had piped-in water; Speed's map shows a stream running from north of the town down Brook Street towards the river, skirting St. Laurence parish en route, so the conduit may have fed off that.

At Coventry also it seems that the burgesses took action independently of any initiatives of religious communities within their midst. In 1322 they acquired a licence from the king to construct a conduit. By the time that regular records, in the form of the leet book, appear in the early fifteenth century, the conduit system is evidently well-established, although continuing to undergo expansion. The cathedral-priory also had its own conduit by this time. At the October 1404 parliament the prior complained that the underground conduit serving residents within the cathedral-priory precinct – said to have been in existence since time immemorial – was being damaged by citizens tapping into it to draw water off in private pipes, and then obstructing priory officials who tried to repair the conduit. The prior also complained of dumping of refuse into the Sherbourne, resulting in stinking and polluted water. The king was persuaded to impose a £10 fine payable to the court plus damages triple the cost of repairs on offenders in either category.

In 1421 we have our first reference to townsmen tapping into the civic conduits to create a private water supply for their homes; those at Bablake and West Orchard, as well as one leading to the house of John Patch; were ordered destroyed or stopped up. In September 1426 a series of orders issuing from the leet involved not only protecting the quality of the Sherbourne, by prohibiting casting of refuse into it, and appointing men to oversee the quality of different sections of the river, but also provisions for supervision and repair of stretches of the conduit; responsibility for paying for the upkeep fell to the wards. It was also ordered that any pipes leading off the conduit, to private property, have a diameter no greater than that of a swan's quill.

In 1434 we hear of a standard – presumably like those in London, equipped with cisterns – half-way along Smithford Street (the western arm of the High Street, no longer in existence) for which a householder, in front of whose property it was situated, was trying to obtain assurance that it would not be removed. At the same time it was decided to remove the standard at Bablake (just inside Spon Gate) and not to authorize any private pipes tapping into the conduit. In 1448 the prohibition against brewers using the conduit for professional needs was reiterated, and the fine doubled. In 1461 it was prohibited for anyone to do their washing at the conduit, with a fine of 2d. being set for offenders; in 1468 this was further elaborated, forbidding the washing of cloths off the loom as well as fetching water for purposes of brewing or steeping, and the fine was increased to 4d.

By 1483 there were evidently several pipes leading from the river on the west side of the town eastwards towards the town centre, and one leading westwards from the same stretch of river (perhaps into the suburb of Spon). In 1493 the city authorities decided not only to allow private pipes, but to use them as a source of revenue. On the same occasion that the ward aldermen were ordered to keep the wells in their wards in good repair, or face a 40s. fine, a licence fee of 4s. a year was set for those who had private pipes tapping into the conduit; higher fees, ranging from 6s.8d to 13s.4d were charged to six men and one women (identified only as "Heddis wife"), for using conduit water for commercial purposes (brewing or dyeing) – whether these were to be annual payments or a one-time contribution to conduit upkeep is not clear.

In 1497 it was decided that every householder within certain wards should pay quarterly towards conduit upkeep 1d. per, whileshopkeepers should pay ½d. and cottagers ¼d.; special collectors – two for five of the wards involved, and three for the sixth – were to be appointed and paid 4d. each per quarter for their services, and were authorized to distrain for twice the amount on anyone refusing to pay. On the assumption that the wards contributing were those through which conduits ran, the areas served were much of the principal east-west road running through the city (Spon Street/Smithford Street/Earl Street), i.e the High Street, and the roads leading through the marketplace (Broadgate/Cross Cheaping); perhaps there was an offshoot from the High Street conduit into Bailey Lane, which skirted the former castle grounds to lead to St. Michael's.

Some towns, such as York, had no conduit system in the Middle Ages. But this was not due to any north-south divide, for at Newcastle we encounter a royal licence (1349) to build an aqueduct bringing water into the town via the Blackfriars' property; this was shortly after a quarrel between the town and the Franciscans, over access to the latter's conduit. And at Kingston-upon-Hull various initiatives were taken to provide the fresh water not available from the town's haven: by 1401 it was being shipped in from further up-river, but the overheads meant that the water was too expensive for the town's poorer residents. So it was decided to dig a dike to connect a spring at Anlaby and others in the vicinity; with a ditch on the west side of Hull, from where water could be brought into town by sled. The project had its share of problems: resistance from villagers through whose lands the dike was dug (in at least one case so violent that objectors were hanged), occasional flooding of neighbouring fields, and keeping the dike dredged and free of pollutants – several carcasses were removed, for instance, in the 1450s. In 1447 the town authorities obtained licence to acquire other springs and lay subterranean pipes from them; after two years £36 had been expended in laying pipes. But the project had its ups and downs: twenty years later the cash-strapped authorities were digging up the pipes and selling them to pay debts, and in 1476 John Adam was rewarded with a life exemption from being obliged to serve in any borough office as thanks for him donating four fothers of lead for the conduit.

Even a few of the smaller, less prosperous towns had conduits by the close of the fourteenth century. At Chelmsford, for example a spring just west of the town fuelled subterranean pipes that led into a cistern in the central marketplace, from where it flowed out again into an open drain that passed down the middle of the high street, eventually emptying into a channel connecting the two rivers that bounded the town. With this example too it has been suggested [H. Grieve, The Sleepers and the Shadows. Chelmsford: a town, its people and its past, Essex Record Office Publication no.100 (1988), vol.1, 55] that a local friary's initiative in 1341 to draw water from the same spring to its house south of the town may have provided the catalyst for the borough authorities to take action – curiously, at a location used for washing clothes and watering animals! Whether the open drain down the high street was intended for sanitation or as a source of domestic water for purposes other than drinking is not clear. Possibly the latter, since the drain entered the river at a place where clothing was washed and animals watered, and since in the late fifteenth century the authorities prohibited privies from emptying into the drain and women from washing clothing where the pipes surfaced in the marketplace. By the close of the Middle Ages it had the character of a sewer, however.

A recent survey by John Lee ["Piped water supplies managed by civic bodies in medieval English towns," Urban History, vol.41 (2014)369-93] has identified 46 towns where some kind of provision, whether originating in ecclesiastical or secular initiative, was in place by mid-sixteenth century. That many English towns, small and large, had no conduit system in the Middle Ages is due to a variety of factors and local circumstances. It was certainly too expensive an undertaking for most small towns. Conduits required some source of water that would involve the necessary pressure to maintain a flow of water. Where a town had no immediate springs available, or topography that did not favour a gravity-flow system, conduits would have been impracticable. It was also necessary to provide a route for the conduit. This involved either acquiring the lands across which the conduit was to pass – for, particularly in an urban context, there were usually involved several properties with different owners – or negotiating an easement (right of way) across those lands, as in the cases above at Lynn and Coventry. Professor Magnusson [Water Technology in the Middle Ages, Baltimore, 2001, 42] suggests that granting an easement rather than selling the property through which a conduit ran may have been preferred by the parties to the transactions, in part because of the work and cost involved in alienating in mortmain, and in part because an easement represented a relatively inexpensive form of pious or charitable donation believed to benefit the soul of the donor, or show civic-mindedness; on the other hand, some with a more worldly outlook charged a small annual rent for the land used. At some places the obstacles to building a conduit probably derailed projects; the townsmen of Scarborough were thus thwarted, but subsequently granted a spring for the use of a conduit of for the Franciscans, on condition the town could share in its use.

Donors may have shown practicality similar to that of the Lynn authorities, in their concern to obtain guarantees that their property would not be damaged by the conduit's presence. The Colchester Franciscans were given permission for their planned conduit to pass through the town wall, so long as they repaired, at their own cost, the hole they had to make in the wall. At Exeter in 1387 the city authorities conceded St. Nicholas' Priory the right to dig up city streets to lay and repair conduit pipes, but on certain conditions: the work had to done under supervision of a committee appointed by the authorities, while work was underway the trenches had to be covered and guarded to prevent public injuries, any injuries that did occur had to be compensated by the Priory, and streets had to be restored to their original condition within three days of work being completed. Some of the conduits in the city, however, possibly including those built by civic authorities in 1420, were in large, stone-lined underground passages, in which repairs may have been effected without tearing up the streets. The conduit repairs mentioned in the 1340s, sometimes paid for by the principal city financial officers and sometimes by the murage collectors from their proceeds, entailed mainly soldering the lead pipes; only in one instance is there the suggestion that anything had to be dug up to get at a pipe.



"2 February 1311"
Gidden has it as 1310, but the original says "Die martis in festo purificationis beate Marie virginis anno domini MCCCX" and it was in 1311 when that feast fell on a Tuesday; Dr. Gidden forgot that the new year was considered to begin on March 25.

The Lord Almoner of England was responsible for receiving deodands (instruments responsible for deaths, which were forfeit to the crown) and the goods of suicides, for distribution in alms to the poor.

"John de Sandale"
Later (1316-19) Bishop of Winchester.

"conduit house"
A more literal translation of the Latin would be "pool for washing", evidently referring to the place where water from the pipes was accumulated in a cistern or trough of some kind.

"English Street"
The High Street; the friary was situated to the east of that street.

"John Blowere"
The transcription in Owen erroneously has Glowere. John Blower was a brasier and bell-founder who purchased the franchise at Lynn in 1358, although already active in his profession by that time: he had been taxed (as a "brasman") the previous year in the category of non-burgess, his tax assessment being almost twice the average; and the year before that he had been paid 10s. for making a bell for Lynn's bedeman. In 1371 he also sold metalwork to the authorities for work on a portcullis and other town defences. He was called to civic duty as a chamberlain three times (1363/64, 1367/68, 1373/74), testimony to his financial acumen, and was one of the jurats for most of the same period. In addition we find him as alderman of St. Laurence's gild in 1370/71. Despite this service, he may have been a man without due respect for authority. For in 1370/71 he was fined 14s.8d for the astonishing number of 44 counts of letting his pigs wander loose. And his career in local government was brought to an end in July 1375, when he was fined the heavy sum of £20 (and the corporation forbade that any of this be forgiven him) for having complained to the king and the bishop that he and others had been excessively assessed by the local collectors of a royal tax, with the result that the borough authorities were embarrassed by a royal investigation. Perhaps he left town because of this contretemps, for he there is no further indication of him being active within the community, his will is not found enrolled among the Lynn records, and others of the family name are later found based in nearby Tilney. Whether Blower's bequest to the friars (rather than to the community) was intended as a slap in the face for the latter, or whether it was intended to the benefit of all and an attempt to make up for past misdeeds, or whether (in the absence of the will in toto) we should read nothing more into it than a conventional pious bequest, is difficult to say.

I.e. taps.

1382 in Owen, one of several typos or transcription errors (another being the archival catalogue number, incorrectly given as Bc.5).

Literally, his "peers" referring to the town council of 24 jurats, which was essentially the same group as the leet jury of like number. By this period, the leet court was the focal institution of local government, used not merely for judicial administration but for legislative and other purposes. In the early thirteenth century, leet jurisdiction was divided between the two administrative parts into which Coventry was divided, under the lordships of the earl of Chester and the Prior of Coventry. In 1250 the Prior purchased the earl's lordship, and during the first half of the fourteenth century the burgesses were more successful in asserting their independence. This was facilitated by the lordship of the manor of Coventry coming into possession of Edward III's mother, Isabella, who was prepared to contest the priory's jurisdictional claims – including view of frankpledge – and grant rights of self-government to the burgesses. A landmark royal charter in 1345 granted government by mayor and bailiffs and gave explicit recognition to the community as a corporate entity, so that the charter is sometimes seen as the forerunner of mostly later formal grants of incorporation. After ten more years of trying to maintain his authority, the Prior reached an agreement with the townsmen, surrendering most of his jurisdiction (except within a small enclave) to the burgesses. A portmoot established by the earl also existed and is still referred to in 1355, as one of the jurisdictions ceded by the Prior; although it continued to function as a venue for pleas of land and petty pleas, it gradually lost ground as a local judiciary of the peace developed, and as the leet court became the principal instrument through which mayor and council governed.

"Cross Cheaping"
As the name implies ("market cross"), this was the area around Coventry's principal marketplace.

"Laurence Cooke, Thomas Wilgrise, Roger Benet, Thomas Grene, John Egeston"
From the contributions towards loans of £100 to the king in 1421 amd 1424, we can see that some of these men were among the wealthiest citizens of Coventry. Cooke and Wildegryse gave twice as much as any other contributor from their wards. This pair were men of influence in the town, not simply serving on the mayor's council through much of the 1420s, but also being among the most prominent members thereof, with added responsibilities as J.P.s and clavigers; each served a term as mayor during that decade: Wildgryse in 1424 and Cooke in 1429. Grene and Egeston are also seen as members of the council, although their loan contributions suggests them as of lesser wealth. Only Benet is untraceable, suggesting a possible clerical error.

"wells or suspirals"
These terms must refer to openings, or vents, made in the conduit to siphon off water. The Latin fons could refer to a well, as we understand the concept, or a fountain (representing the output device of an aqueduct). Although the Coventry document uses welles, it may be thinking more of a fountain type device – perhaps no more than a simple horizontal pipe emptying into a trough or cistern, rather than the better-known vertical pipe in the centre of a basin such as in monastic lavatoria. Suspiral – the term derived from a verb meaning "to sigh" (an outlet for wind) was also used for more than one feature: both for vent pipes and for collecting tanks into which the pipes vented, these outlets occurring in intermediate positions along the conduit, rather than at the principal final destination of the water.

"West Orchard"
A street coming from the west into the market area, near Cross Cheaping; in the fifteenth century the hall of the important gild of Corpus Christi was located there.

"Edward Lichefeld"
A resident of Cross Cheaping ward in 1424, but dead by 1433.

"William Darsate"
Darsate, or Dorsett, a dyer and one of the more prosperous residents of Cross Cheaping ward, had been in trouble before, in 1435, when an assize of novel disseisin convicted him of misappropriating an annual rent of 6s. from a property owned by the mayor and community. This would appear to be the tenement in question of Lichefeld, so Darsate evidently had some rights in that property, even though he may not have had them, or announced them, at the time Lichefeld permitted the authorities to extend the conduit over the land. His digging up of the Coventry conduit may represent dissatisfaction with an easement he did not negotiate, or simply have been a pressure tactic in a dispute over ownership of the property. Darsate's quarrel with the city on this matter did not prevent his election as one of the city bailiffs in 1437, however.

The original is transcribed as les poodynges, a term used to refer to certain meaty substances, notably intestines; 'pudding' is still used with this meaning to refer to certain sausages. Query: might be a misreading of "clothing"?

"Smithford Street"
Part of a major east-west thoroughfare leading through the town, crossing the Sherbourne at Smithford Bridge.

A marshy area on the west side of the town, bounded by the river and Radford Brook.

"20 feet long"
Magnusson [ibid., 70] points out that short pipes would require too many tricky joints, while very long ones would be cumbersome to work with.

"securely and appropriately"
This may have been a reference not just to the quality of the pipe-laying, but also the depth at which pipes would be laid: too shallow a trench might expose the pipes to pressure or damage from traffic above, while too deep a trench subjected the pipes to the weight of the soil.

The term appears to be used in the sense of holes to be used as outlets for the water; it could also be used to refer to the junction of a leaf with a stem, and perhaps is used metaphorically here to refer to an outlet for a suspiral.

"conduit "
I find some divergence in use of this term in the secondary sources. Some authors restrict use of the term to the storage unit into which pipes or (less commonly in England) channels emptied the water, while others – myself included – use the term to refer to the entire system: watersource, conveying mechanism, and destination facilities. In the original documents the terms used in Latin (aqueductus) and English (condyte) were used in the latter sense in the great majority of cases, although occasionally in the former sense, and Hugh White seems to use the term in both senses.

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Created: August 27, 2004. Last update: January 8, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2004-2019