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Chishill Well and a local water diviner

by | Jun 2, 2021 | At Work, Village Folk | 2 comments

Ray Cranwell water divining

While rummaging through a file of articles recently I found this fascinating article about the digging of Chishill well. We don’t know where the well was, or where Twelve Acres was for that matter. Someone must know??

We also don’t know the name of the water diviner in the article below. However we do have our own Chrishall water diviner, pictured above. This was Ray Cranwell who lived in Crawley End. He was a skilled diviner and was employed by local farms to source water. Ray worked for Drage and Kent and you can hear him talking about his time as ‘cook boy’ by clicking this link.

However do enjoy the story of Chishill well digging first.

Copy of letter written, it is thought, by the late Mr Albert Edwards. It describes the sinking of a freshwater well in Great Chishill.

Albert lived in Chishill as a boy, but in later life he lived in Chrishall, latterly down High Street, and was a member of the Parish Council for many years.

The Well at Twelve Acres.

When I was a lad of 8 or 9 years old I remember walking with my father to fetch drinking water from the neighbouring village of Heydon. A distance of some three-quarters of a mile. He carried the water in buckets on a yoke back to our house. This had to be done on average twice weekly. The water was used only for cooking and drinking. All other water that was needed was collected in various tanks, etc, from the out-buildings – rainwater.

Now, one morning my grandfather called and asked me if I would like to go for a walk across the fields with him. I said yes, I would go, and off we set, and met by appointment another gentleman whom I did not know. He turned out to be a water diviner. Complete with hazel stick. My grandfather and I criss-crossed the fields around Twelve Acres as it was known to try to find a spring in order to supply the village with water. We were nearly on the point of despair and giving up as a bad job, when suddenly the water diviner stopped dead in his tracks. The hazel twigs twisted with such force he could hardly hold on to them.

Grandfather then dug a conical hole about 1 foot deep. The water diviner then produced an instrument and held over the small hole, and exclaimed that water would be found at a depth of sixteen feet and more at twenty two feet, what he called a cross spring. Well that was the end of that morning’s work. The water diviner went home, as did grandfather and myself. My grandfather reported back verbal to his master (grandfather could not read or write hence my invitation to him that morning, just in case there was any reading or writing to do).

But the water diviner sent his written report to the Clerk of Melbourn Rural District Council,  Melbourne. Instead of going to Melbourn Cambs, it went to Melbourne in Australia. In those days there was no air mail, surface mail only, which would take seven weeks plus to reach that distance. The letter spent some time in Melbourne in Australia looking for a Clerk to the Council. It was eventually opened in Melbourne Australia and returned to the sender which took in all ten or eleven months, and then after a lot of red faces and discussing the approval to dig a well at Twelve Acres finally got underway.

A local builder at Heydon was asked to do the job eventually. He arrived with all the tools of the kind he needed in a wheelbarrow i.e. fork, rake, and shovel and spade, two short sticks, a piece of cord about 6ft long. He tied a stick to each end of the cord and one stick he put in the conical hole my grandfather had dug. [With] the other he scribed a circle in the soil to make a circle some 12ft in diameter, he then started to dig. Each spit he put into the wheelbarrow to wheel away a short distance from the well to be. This process carried on until several feet down. The builder and his one man labour force then erected a tripod over the well with a pulley wheel in middle, through which passed a rope, [and] on one end a suitable sling to hold a wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow was lowered into the well and filled with earth, hoisted up to the top and pushed away. At this point it became necessary to increase his (the builder’s) labour force, two in the well, two up top hauling up and driving away.

This continued until about 16ft deep, then water started to come in just as the diviner had said it would. At this time it was decided to go to 22ft as it would be much more difficult after the well had once got full up – so on went the digging down to 20ft. Water then came in so quick it was difficult to control and dig at the same time. A large diaysham pump was hired from some place. I am not sure where, it took two men to operate this properly, one could but it was hard work. They was unable to go much deeper so they levelled the bottom off; which meant pumping continually day and night. The water came in as fast as they pumped it out.

For weeks they carried on pumping to find the capacity of the spring that was supplying it. The spring could not be beaten so it was decided to start bricking up the interior. The bottom layers of bricks were just laid in dry with a one inch gap in between up to six feet when a bonding of cement and sand was used to brick up to the top. The bricks were lowered into the well with the wheelbarrow on the tripod and pulley. This all involved a lot of really hard work – no mechanical diggers or engine driven pumps – just plain man power.

As the well was completed a leather bucket-type pump was put up and the water, tested and said to be the purest for many miles around. [It] was used by all and sundry for many years. The water in the well came up to within about 2 ft of ground level, and still is today. The water diviner was most accurate in his forecast – it all came true. I do not know his name being so young at the time to find out. This lasted until piped water came into the houses of local residents.

A note at the end of the article reads:

“Written by Albert Edwards, who lived as a boy in Audley Cottage.

Albert’s mother named the cottage after Audley End where she once worked for Lady Braybrooke. Albert’s grandfather lived as a young man with his 3 brothers and four sisters at Walnut Tree Cottage”.



  1. James mancer

    You may recall that your grandparents lived at 12 acres, so I would think that the site of the well would be fairly close

    • Rosemarie Gant

      Hi James – my grandparents lived in Chrishall so I don’t think it was them. But I think we have now established the Chishill well is near what is now known as the Bayer gates.


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