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Well, what a surprise as garden project uncovers historic watering hole

Ian Porter at the well he uncovered in the garden of his Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid
Ian Porter at the well he uncovered in the garden of his Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid
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As garden features go, uncovering a secret well dating back to the 1900s takes some doing.

Margaret and Ian Porter decided to landscape the front garden of their home in the aptly-named WELLbank Road, in Donwell, Washington, as they renovate the home they bought three years ago.

It is thought the well includes a tank so people could draw water from the tap.

It is thought the well includes a tank so people could draw water from the tap.

But a plan to take another 2ft from the edge of its border led to the discovery of a historic watering hole which could be the reason their street and area takes the names they do.

Margaret, 58, who works for the Department for Work and Pensions, and Ian, 56, a forecasting manager for nPower at Rainton Bridge, spent days digging around what turned out to be the stonework of the well as their curiosity drove them to find out what lay beneath the soil.

Margaret said: “I hit a rock and tried to dig it out and it seemed to be about 6ft long and triangular, a bit like a gravestone, and I originally thought it was a coping stone.

“We dug and we dug and we found a stone which reads Re-erected Chester-le-Street Rural Sanitary Authority and it says 1874, but it could be 1854, it’s hard to read.

It’s still got us amazed that we so nearly covered the garden in gravel and it would never have been found.

Margaret Porter

“It’s got the original tap on it, which is just amazing, and we dug around and there’s a hole about 4ft deep and we spent four days digging around it.

“We’ve found all sorts of stuff around it and we think it’s because there used to be a shop and houses around it.

“We’ve found a bottle with a stopper on it, which looks like it was used to hold chemicals. There’s no water running through it, which was a worry, but it looks like it has been blocked off.

“This is Wellbank Road and it’s in Donwell, so we knew there was a well somewhere, but nobody ever seemed to know where it was. Since we found it word has spread and we’ve had about 30 or 40 visitors this week coming to have a look.”

The tap is still attached to the well, which was built in what is now Wellbank Road in the 1900s.

The tap is still attached to the well, which was built in what is now Wellbank Road in the 1900s.

The family are looking to discover more about the well’s past, but it could relate to a place called The Pant, where horses would stop to be watered and rested between Sunderland and Newcastle.

Margaret added: “The house was built in 1965 and I remember seeing them when I was little and thinking how much more modern they were than the others nearby, so when it came up for sale, I thought we’d have a look.

“Now we’ve been working on it for three years and landscaping the garden.

“We were going to build a dry Japanese riverbed garden and were waiting for the gravel to arrive, but we’ve cancelled that. Now we’re looking at making a feature of this.

Maggi and Ian Porter in the garden of their Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid

Maggi and Ian Porter in the garden of their Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid

“To think we could never have thought about taking the garden back by another 2ft, we would never have known anything about it.

“It’s really strange, when you expect a round fairy story ‘well’ with a deep bottomless hole and a bucket, but this looks like it was a purpose-built holding tank for the spring water to gather then be pumped out.

“It’s still got us amazed that we so nearly covered the garden in gravel and it would never have been found.”

The Porters found the inscription on the stone when they uncovered the top of the well in their Washington garden.

The Porters found the inscription on the stone when they uncovered the top of the well in their Washington garden.

Ian Porter at the well he uncovered in the garden of his Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid

Ian Porter at the well he uncovered in the garden of his Washington home. Picture by Frank Reid

Margaret and Ian Porter began to uncover parts of the well as they dug.

Margaret and Ian Porter began to uncover parts of the well as they dug.