The Engineers Department at Hall Place

The Engineers’ Department at Hall Place by Dick Wood (written 10 Nov 1981)

I was born on 5 December 1907.  At that time we were living in Budgeons Cottage at Lower Green.

When I left school, I worked for three years for Tom Belton as a baker’s roundsman and then went into the Engineers’ Department at Hall Place.  At that time Harry Heney was in charge and Bernard Pankhurst was the second man. I took the place of William Baldwin and we operated from the Waterworks in Kiln Lane.  At that time, the two estate bricklayers worked from the old gasworks which adjoined the Waterworks.

We were responsible for the water supply for the house and for the estate houses in the village and also for the electric generating plant and for the central heating at Hall Place.  Though gas was no longer made in Leigh, we were responsible for seeing that the two gas holders at the old gas works were kept topped up with gas from the Tonbridge main supply.  The old gas works supplied Hall Place with gas and the Village Hall and Institute, but so far as I know never supplied other houses in the village.

The well was 12ft in diameter and the borehole was sunk to the Hastings sand level, 103.5 feet below ground level.  There were no filter beds but water was purified and softened by the Porter-Clark process.  The system was to add quicklime to water in a small tank and small quantities of the resulting lime water were then added to the main flow in an agitating cylinder.  When the quicklime was introduced, choking gaseous fumes were produced, hence the reason for the attractive louvered lantern at the top of the octagonal building.  After the limewater had been added to the main flow, it was passed through three filters which were cloths about 3ft square stretched between plates.  Every two weeks the cloths were taken out and washed.  The cloths in their frames were vertical and the water passed through horizontally into an enamelled slate tank which was about a 4ft cube.

The steam “Cornish” boiler at the Waterworks drove with steam a 4 h.p. horizontal engine which operated a triple set of well pumps.  These pumps pumped the water from the well to a tank at the top of the filter house.  At the same time the steam boiler drove a Blake’s direct acting pump which pumped the water from the slate tank into the reservoirs.

The larger octagonal building was the filter house, the smaller octagonal building was the well house and the square buildings adjoining housed the boiler, the engines and the coal store.

There were four reservoirs into which the water was pumped.  In the South Tower at Hall Place, there were galvanised tanks which supplied Hall Place itself.  At the top of the mound adjoining Hall Place there were two concentric tanks, the inner tank was covered and supplied the stables, bothy and stable cottages, the outer tank was not covered and took the surplus water from the inner tank and supplied the gardens.  The reservoir immediately behind the Stone House originally supplied the four fountains in the high street, two in recesses in the wall, one built of granite in the triangle and one in Forge Square.  It also supplied the horse trough and the dog trough which was underneath it.  There was a reservoir behind the garden at Park House (and now within the garden extension) from which the Gate House and Park House probably had a pumped supply.  In my time the water supply from the reservoir behind Park House had been extended to supply the estate houses in the village.  There was also a reservoir in the Granary at Home Farm which supplied Home Farm and also the Laundry.

I believe that the granite blocks from the fountain in the triangle which carried an appropriate text are still at the Waterworks.

The Waterworks were closed in 1936 when Tonbridge took over the supply of water throughout the village.  They had, of course, already been supplying water from Tonbridge to the non-estate houses in the village and there is a post on the site of the footpath at the powder mills with a date on it (about 1902) which is probably the date on which the water main was brought from Tonbridge to Leigh.  I was not employed at the Waterworks when it ceased to supply water so I have no knowledge as to what happened to the two steam engines which pumped the water or to the boiler which supplied steam to the two steam engines.

Earlier water systems

The village pump in the High Street was still working until about 1914 but was little used.  The turbine house was never used in my time so I have no knowledge as to whether there was a ramp pump to supply Hall Place and/or the Laundry before 1870.


When I went to work at Hall Place about 1926, there was already a generating plant supplying a D.C. supply with batteries at 110 volts to Hall Place.  The engine room was opposite the Bothy and the engine was a gas engine.  It was very noisy and used to make terrific explosions which rocked the village.  The gas used to get into the exhaust chamber and explode.  I can remember one occasion when it blew off a great slab of stone which came down on a greenhouse.  The engine had to run every day except Sunday.  It supplied electricity to the house and probably to the stables.

The gas engine became obsolete in 1927 and a new building opposite the double doors to the kitchen garden was used.  In this house, a Ruston oil engine was installed which burnt crude oil.  It provided a D.C. supply with accumulators.  I do not remember when Hall Place changed to main electricity but it was likely to be before 1938 because as from that date the only staff in the engineers department was Bernard Pankhurst.  I had become redundant in 1930 as a result of an economy drive.


The Engineers were not concerned with the drainage system which was the responsibility of the bricklayers.

Sawing and Threshing

The estate owned a steam engine which was towed by a horse and we were responsible for its maintenance.  It lived at the Home Farm and was used for annual threshing but it was also taken to the wood lodge to drive the circular saw.  It was on one occasion used temporarily at the Waterworks to supply steam when the Cornish boiler was replaced by an upright Coffee Pot Boiler.

Fire Engines 

We also looked after the steam fire engine which lived in one of the stable buildings at Hall Place.  It was called a Merryweather and was horse-drawn and consisted of a steam pump.  I never remember it being used so I cannot say how long it took to get up steam.  Our job was to overhaul it periodically to see that it was in working order.  There was also a hand fire engine made by Shaun Mason.  It was a manual pump which could be operated by people standing on each side of the engine.  There was a larger village manual engine which was kept at one time where Healy’s Garage now stands and before that in one of the buildings behind the Head Gardener’s house.  Notwithstanding the existence of this engine, Hall Place had to have its own fire engine which was restricted to use on the estate.


The original sewage scheme was put in by Samuel Morley, probably about 1870, and probably originally only served Hall Place and the Estate cottages.  In 1910 it was extended to the other houses in the village and a proper filtering system with filter beds was install south of the railway line.  The engines were Hornsby Oil Engines with hot bulb ignition and they were replaced about 1950 with electric engines.  Subsequently, the whole sewage works became redundant on the construction of a main sewer to Tonbridge.

Dick Wood (Nov 1981)