Sandfields Pumping Station - An Update

This month our regular meeting was preceded by our AGM, after which the Chairman of Lichfield Waterworks Trust, David Moore, gave us a fascinating, but worrying, presentation on progress so far with the rescue of Sandfields Pumping Station here in the City. Members will recall that the pumping station was sold, along with the adjacent land, to Persimmon Homes. The housing element has long been completed but legal agreements between the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company, Persimmon Homes and Lichfield District Council relating to the protection of this historically important building and its Cornish beam engine have not been honoured by Persimmon Homes and the Waterworks Company. The consequence of this is that we have a listed building and a large beam engine at risk.

The waterworks are historically significant. They formed a crucial part of an initiative to extract pure water in the vicinity of Lichfield and pump it via a pipeline to the Black Country where, in the mid nineteenth century, cholera was a rampant disease, flourishing through a contaminated water supply. Guiding light John Robinson Maclean chaired the new Staffordshire Waterworks Company and set about the task of supplying water to the Black Country by widening and deepening Stowe Pool to form a reservoir. The water supplies then flowed via Sandfields Pumping Station and the watermain along the route of the South Staffordshire Railway to Walsall. (Incidentally, John Robinson Maclean is yet another little remembered notable local person. He was owner of a substantial number of coalmines in the Chasetown area. He built most of Chasetown, including St Anne's Church and was Chairman of the South Staffordshire Railway Company, with its offices at Lichfield City station). Sandfields Pumping Station was erected in 1852 and further enlargement took place in 1873. This latter part, with its large Tipton-built Cornish beam engine is what you see now. Pumping ceased in 1995 but the Waterworks Company maintained the equipment until 2005, when it was sold, along with the adjacent land, to Persimmon Homes. From then onwards all maintenance ceased.

After considerable prevarication, Persimmon Homes reluctantly gave the Waterworks Trust a licence for one year to enter the building and care for the moribund beam engine. David's photos painted a sad, but ultimately encouraging, picture. From its pristine condition the beam engine became coated in rust. Only in the last year has the pace of decay been reversed and the rust held at bay through the work of volunteers. The building has been secured and made watertight too. Valuable archive records have been reorganised and stored more appropriately. Many tell the story of the people who worked there. Hopes were on the rise, only to be dashed in the last few months when Persimmon Homes announced that they would not renew the Trust's annual licence to access the site. As David pointed out, this building and its operation was, and is, an important part of Lichfield's social and industrial history. To see it suffer almost abandonment to its fate by owners Persimmon Homes is both sad and frustrating. The company appears to have no clear view on what should be done, despite legal requirements for them to establish a Trust on a sound basis to look after the building and its contents.

David and his supporters will continue a dialogue with Persimmon Homes in the hope that a new agreement can be resolved. His tenacity and eternal optimism in the face of such an obdurate company must be applauded. We must hope and pray that a satisfactory solution can be reached; but that requires a change of attitude by the directors of Persimmom Homes. It is not an exaggeration to say that this building and its contents is an equally important building in the history of the City as many of our other historic attractions. The Trust now have a website which members may wish to view:

Roger Hockney
February 2018