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Sawston Village History Society

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About SVHS
The Sawston Village History Society normally meets on the second Thursday of every month (see diary for upcoming meetings). There's a wide range of speakers and subjects related to the history of Sawston and Cambridgeshire.

The next meeting, on Feb 12th 2015, will be a talk on Queen Mary and the 1911 Coronation Durbar given by Sean Lang.

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Comments from visitors

Geoff wrote: I looked up your site after seeing an old newsreel from 1925 about the pea custom. I just thought I would drop you a line with the link in case you don't already know of it. As it may be an extra weapon to help you fight the bureaucracy that is threatening the event. British Pathe film of Sawston Peas.

Dot wrote: I am trying to trace the Samuel family for a friend. James Samuel lived in Great Shelford and was a miller and I believe there was a steam flour mill there. His children moved to Sawston and also became millers and one ran the pub in Sawston High Street. Could you tell me please - are you aware of any flour mills in Sawston? I have seen mention of the Dernford one and wondered if they ran that? Thanks for a wonderful site.

Can any of our readers and members help Dot? We look forward to publishing any of your contributions. Our thanks to Geoff for pointing us towards the fascination film - a real window on our past. Ed

The Sawston Community Archive Group (SCAG) now has a strong nucleus of members drawn from the Society, but is also open to non-SVHS members. Our mission (as they now say) is to create a digital archive of anything relating to Sawston, under the auspices of the Cambridgeshire Community Archive Network (CCAN), web site: We usually meet at the Sawston library (for times please contact Liz Dockerill on 835127) for on-line archiving sessions

An archive of former notices is available.

Recent Meeting Reports
January 2015 Meeting Report

Annalise Lister on Cambridge Water

Annalise Lister from the Cambridge Water Company gave a very interesting talk about the supply of water to Cambridge and district in the past through to the present day.

The Kings ditch was dug in 1230 which meant that the town was surrounded by water, but since these waters were fundamentally open sewers they were not fit to drink, so everyone drank beer.  At least boiling the water during the beer making process killed most of the bacteria present.  In 1300 the Greyfriars constructed a conduit to bring spring water to Kings, and by 1574 the Kings ditch had become so polluted that water from Nine Wells was used to flush it out.  The runnels that are fed from Nine Wells today, and are dry more often than not, are the responsibility of the City Council, and nothing to do with Cambridge Water.

In 1852 a company was formed to source water from Cherry Hinton well and pump it by beam engine to the reservoir on Limekiln Hill.  Water was also obtained from a well at Fulbourn, but an outbreak of typhoid in the 1900s led to its discontinuance and one at Fleam Dyke was substituted.

The water from these chalk bore-holes was very hard, so a large building with water softening equipment was built. By 1963 the company was tasked with supplying a wider area around Cambridge, and the decision was taken to no longer soften the water.  In 1989 the company was privatised and sold to a Spanish company.  The softener building was converted to become the head office. Further sales led to Hong Kong ownership in 2002, and Staffordshire Water in 2011 which continues to the present day.

All our water comes from the chalk and is owned by the Environment Agency whose consent has to be obtained for new boreholes such as the one at Euston, near Thetford, which is the current main source.  Water towers like the one at Bluntisham are built on high ground to give the best gravitational flow.  The one at Linton is no longer in use.

Water quality is a very important issue.  Phosphoric acid is added to prevent lead from pipes polluting the water, and chlorine to act as a disinfectant.  Nitrate removal is an important but expensive exercise, so a great deal of effort is being made with farmers to practise good water catchment sensitive farming.  This is not a quick fix solution. The water being pumped now has taken many years to reach the aquifers, but it will help in the long term.

Compared with other water companies, Cambridge Water is far from the worst in managing water leaks, but it is important to report any found quickly.  Even if the leak is on the householder's own property, in many cases the company may be able to help.  The average household uses 150 litres per day and 68% are on meters, but there are simple things that can be done to reduce use, such as having showers instead of baths.  Many devices are available free on the company website.  If you are approached on the doorstep by someone claiming to be from the company, do not let them in without seeing their identification. Normally they will only come by appointment.

For the future the most important thing is security of supply.  Automatic meter reading will come, and focus groups are being consulted about what they want for the future.

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