SOMEWHERE, exactly 175 years ago, Henry Pease cut the first sod of what was to become the Tees Cottage Pumping Station in Darlington.

Many newspapers across the country reported on the ceremony that was held on Wednesday, June 27, 1849, but none of them say precisely where it was.


The Echo’s sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, said that Mr Pease carried out the turf-cutting with “workman-like style…in a field about half a mile on the road (from Mr Pease’s home of Pierremont) via Mount Carmel”.

“A volley of cheers was then given with great enthusiasm.”

The Durham Chronicle says the ceremony took place “on the Cockerton Road” whereas the Yorkshire Post identifies it as being in “a field beyond Hill Close House.”

Henry Pease, we cut the first sod on June 27, 1849

And so we reckon that the first sod was actually cut at what is now Bushell Hill Park. The park was the site of the Darlington Gas & Water Company’s first reservoir, built on the town’s highest spot and drained in 1971. It was only after work had begun at the reservoir that construction began on the pumps at Tees Cottage which were to take water out of the river, filter it and then pump it up to the reservoir for distribution into town.

Although the newspapers of 1849 were a little hazy on the details of the ceremony, some of them were filled with the excitement of the occasion.

The Shields Gazette said: “The shareholders testified their enthusiasm by a round of hearty cheers. Let us hope that there is a good time coming for Darlington.

“If cleanliness be next to godliness then we may expect a decided improvement in the morals of our townspeople after these works are completed and a supply of pure and limpid water is within easy reach of all.”

The Durham County Advertiser bubbled over with excitement. It said: “Henry Pease Esq was the chosen man to strip his coat off and handle the spade, and he did handle it in a most artistic and satisfactory manner.

“A short address on the benefits hoped from the greater diffusion of the universal cleanser followed from his lips, loud huzzas succeeded, then divers of the company became infected with the digging furore and in the most amiable mood returned from sod lifting and pipe admiring (and this latter not without good reason, for the casting is most beautiful) to a substantial and excellent dinner at the King’s Head.”

Tees Cottage Pumping Station, by Gary Holmes.

The volunteers who now look after the fabulous beam engine at Tees Cottage – it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and boasts the largest, fully operational historic gas engine in Europe – are holding a private ceremony this weekend to mark the 175th anniversary of the start of this project, which would bring clean water to much of the Tees Valley and so contribute greatly to the end of the scourge of cholera.

Tees Cottage Pumping Station, Darlington 

The brickwork on the engine house is dated 1849, but it wasn’t until the following year that the first water reached the taps of the 230 paying subscribers. On April 24, 1850, Edward Pease wrote in his diary: “There was considerable stir in Darlington today, this being the first day water was brought into the town from the New Water Works.”

There was also considerable scepticism about the water. It was said to have “the colour of India Pale Ale and a slight taste of pond”, but when the first drinkers reported that “the beer was better and the tea stronger” when made from Tees water rather than the dubious liquid raised from the polluted wells of the town centre, more subscribers began signing up.


The oldest bike on display last weekend at the pumping station: the Model C Triumph from 1913

ALMOST 500 visitors came to Tees Cottage Pumping Station last weekend for its June opening and they were treated for the first time to a display of more than 30 bikes belonging to members of the Vintage Motorcycle Club (VMCC).

The bikes covered a range of marques and ages, and included machines made during the high times of the British motorcycle industry as well as some from German, Italian and Japanese manufacturers. The oldest bike was a Model C Triumph from 1913, and there was also a 1921 OK Junior and a 1926 AJS G8 machine.

Following the success of the display it is hoped to make it an annual feature of our future June Open Weekends. The next open weekend of the 175-year-old pumping station is on September 14 and 15. For more information visit and for more about VMCC go to