Friday, 13 February 2015

Conduit Head

 In Shrewsbury, the casual observer will notice many things of historic interest, such as strange metal contraptions put on display, and whatnot. And for a town so focused on becoming a tourist attraction, there's very little explanation for a lot of it. Sometimes I'll be walking along and see some bizarre rusty contraption with cogs and crank hoists and other things, and search in vain for some kind of explanation. And if one stops to ask the good people of Shrewsbury "Say, what is this bizarre contraption?" the response is "Shhh, look over there, that's where Charles Darwin went to school."
"But whats the story behind these old water outlets with cool lion heads?"
"Shhh, have you been to the Sandwich Evolution? It's named that because Charles Darwin was born here."

I've often wondered on the story behind the water outlets in particular. They're dotted around Shrewsbury and differ in number depending on who you ask, ranging from five to twenty. If you live in Shrewsbury you've probably seen them. They're black, with silver lions heads on the front, and give their age away with big friendly lettering that says "Waste Not, Want Not" where today would probably be some legalese warning off vandals.

I know of eight, which according to some sources is three more than there should be.

I've often wondered on the history of these outlets, because they are, as is everything historic in Shrewsbury, the subject of rumours and myths- everything from as ordinary to the story that one is always dispensing water and that when it stops, another one activates, to the less believable tale of them being ghost traps.

In actual fact, these outlets were the outlets of the towns water supply from 1556 to 1947, from a site called Conduit Head.

Conduit Head itself is hidden away in the woods about an hours walk from the middle of Shrewsbury. Naturally, I had to go check it out, armed only with a vague idea of the general direction to walk in, and the knowledge that it was hidden away amongst nature.

I found it eventually, after a few scrambles over barbed wire fences and a trek through nature. I later found out I'd gone the long way, but it was certainly scenic.

Or as scenic as it gets in England in February. I must make the walk in the summer.

Finally, I found a road that looked promising, as it clearly had not been used in years, but had at the side what looked like a moss-covered parking space.

Across from that was a random post sticking out of the ground with some kind of water outlet on it.

And while this may seem to be a pretty uninteresting, to my delight someone has at some point etched a lighthouse into the side that isn't facing the road. And on inspection of these pictures, the blue arrow is pointing at a rocket that I missed completely when I was there.

And here's a close up of the tap on top.

Anyway, I was pretty certain that I'd found Conduit Head at this point, tucked away behind another abandoned building covered in grafitti. Because rebelious teenagers exist even out in the middle of nowhere. But it was decorated with the insignia of Shropshire council, and the date of its construction was given away.

This particular building dates back to 1908, and I later learned that it was an attempt at modernizing the already ancient Conduit Head up until 1947. It was converted into a visitors center by Severn Trent Water in the 1980s, but as you can see, that didn't go very well.

I poked around this building, but found little of significance.

Where's the door to this little room?

There it is!

There was this random pipe sticking out near the building but I don't know what it was for.

Next to this building was a well- one of nine, to be exact, that date back to 1556 and were used to gather water for the town.

The remaining eight wells were across a wooden walkway over the swamp-like landscape. Three were surrounded by the walkway, while five more remained dotted around the outside of it. This was the older portion of the complex.

The second well was somewhat overgrown and not very photogenic.

 But then this is February. I imagine in the summer, this place is really beautiful.

The third well was a lot more photogenic.

As I explored the area, I almost missed a few of the wells entirely, as nature had almost completely taken some of them over.

And naturally, I couldn't stop photographing the surrounding area.

There was a gate at the far end, but it seemed to go nowhere. I did scramble over it, and ended up, after some walking, in a meadow near an estate. Conduit Head was invisible through the trees though.

Also present at Conduit Head is a little building, which dates back to 1578 and is a Grade II listed building. It allegedly holds a water tank, but I couldn't see. The entrance was boarded up and it was too dark for me to make out its interior by shining a light through the cracks.

From this point I had a lovely view of the swamp.

Conduit Head was a privately owned enterprise until 1878 when it was taken by the towns corporation. In 1935, with an expanding town, bacteriological quality problems and inadequate supplies, Shrewsbury council decided that a new, cleaner and reliable supply was needed and built the new waterworks at Shelton, which could pump water directly into peoples houses. However, the Conduit Head pipes were still used to pump water to the water outlets, by public demand. However, the bacteriological failures continued to not be conducive to public health, and after the winters of World War II, the tanks and pipes were severely damaged and the opportunity was taken to close the site, and abandon it.

 The council officially acquired the site in 2007, but as you can imagine from Shropshire Council, nothings been done with it.

Which is a shame because fixed up and actually known about to the public, this little place could be an amazing tourist attraction.

But what is truly amazing is how far away the water outlets of Shrewsbury are from this area. While four of them are relatively close to the middle of Shrewsbury, the remaining four are a real trek away, each in opposite directions, and to think that Conduit Head provided water to these places as far back as 1556 is quite extraordinary. The piping was actually made from hollowed out elm trunks because elm is resistant to decay when its constantly wet. Clever stuff!

I will return in the summer, for better photos.

It's an amazing site, and a lovely chunk of history right under our noses.


  1. I've walked along the old Roman Road so many times, I even have a geocache along there. I had no idea this place existed! Really enjoying your blog.

    1. I'm glad you like it. I'm ashamed I never knew about this place for so long too!

  2. You need to pay a visit now it's taken over by the Shropshire beekeepers association. Open to the public Saturday and Wednesday 9-30 to 12-30, free entry.
    Conduit head, nobold lane,shrewsbury, SY58NP.