Peeling away the layers of history, transcending time and bringing the past forward to make it a useable past

The Victorian Waterworks at Sandfields is possibly on of the most overlooked yet important pieces of social and industrial history that Lichfield has.The problem is, that it has not crossed the boundary that defines its value as a historical monument, and become an object of heritage.

I have known Sandfields pumping station now for over forty years, and in this time, my relationship with it has significantly changed.

As I have grown with it, I have discovered new ways to look at it. As I grown both personally and intellectually, along with my new found knowledge, I am discovering new ways of looking at it; slowly peeling away its historical layers.

When you stop and look and then start to unpeel the layers, a whole new set of concepts reveal themselves in quite subtle but definite ways, taking you on a journey back into the past.

To most people this building is seen as an is an icon of the past, however I want to dig even deeper by injecting some personality into the way we see this place.

There are people alive today, who worked there, their parents worked there, or even their grandparents worked at the pumping station. Some preliminary research shows that at certain times, there was quite a substantial workforce of up to one hundred people associated with the waterworks at Sandfields, delivering fresh water to the industrialised towns.

Understanding the stories and the working lives of these people can and an often does invokes memories of older family members possibly long gone, creating a unique longevity due to the stories being much personalised.

Now these stories usually mark some moment or event in time in relation to a family member, and can shape a family identity giving this place a great deal of power through its emotional potency.

Last week, I was contacted by Kevin Carpenter, who kindly invited me to his home, to talk about his grandfather Harry Pragnell. Harry worked at Sandfields as an engine man.

Harry Prangnell

It was both an honour and delight to sit in the home of Kevin and his wife Brenda and listen to their stores about their family….

Here is but a short snippet;

Harry Pragnell was born in 1874 and worked in the merchant navy as an engine man. In 1913 he was employed by South Staffordshire Waterworks as an Engine Worker at Pipe Hill Pumping Station.

Harry said in a letter to the waterworks company, giving his address as Waterworks Cottages, Chesterfield Road, Lichfield, Staffs; this was a waterworks property.

Dear Sirs….

….owing to a slight misunderstanding a Stoker was promoted. So I accepted job as Stoker until first engine worker’s vacancy occurred. I was sent to Sandfields Pumping Station as Engine Worker February 12th 1914. I was there till July 24th 1915.

I am sorry to say I left the Company on that date. But shortly after then I went back to the Sea as a Volunteer & was serving under Admiralty. On Active Service till Jan 2nd 1919….

I need to do further work on this, but already what we are seeing are remarkable stories being told by a very ordinary person. Harry lived through two world wars, he bought up a family and clearly loved his job with the waterworks company. He took his children to work to show them around, and he even took photographs of the place he worked.

As I often remind people, history propagates; asking questions opens up opportunity for others, I am hoping to Visit Kevin and Brenda again in the near future so to gain a fuller picture.

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2 Responses to Peeling away the layers of history, transcending time and bringing the past forward to make it a useable past

  1. Peter Turvey says:

    Pipe Hill had Two Horizontal Tandem Compound Pumping Engines; one by Hathorn Davey & Co Ltd, Leeds – 1904 & one by Ashton Frost & Co Ltd, Blackburn – 1915. Photos on this site: http://jalbum.net/en/browse/user/album/886569 , which has details of many other vanished pumping stations, including Sandfield’s vanished near-sister engines at Moors Gorse.

  2. morturn says:

    I can actually remember seeing the pipe Hill engine running. We were passing on day in my dads car, and noticed the smoke coming form the chimney, so we pulled over.

    You could see the a cantilever beam rocking back and forth through the window.

    The next time we went past, there was a stack of railway sleepers stacked on top of the steps to the entrance, they were cutting up the engines for scrap.

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