Thursday 29 April 2010

Just A Hole In The Ground?

G has decided he’ll make a vegetable garden in the sunny corner on the bottom dRAIN hOLE WITH PATHright hand side of our garden. It’s the only flat square patch on that side of the house which is really a long bank with a few large old trees,  soon to be  undercut with thousands of bluebells – a glorious sight for a week or so but a bit of a flopping- about mess afterwards. But worth  it.

I read something somewhere which said that when bluebells pop up anywhere and everywhere like this – as they have here for thirty years - it’s a sign of ancient woodland. I love that thought.

When we arrived here all that time ago this bottom right hand corner actually was a vegetable patch. I remember in those early days we found a lady’s silver watch down there. (Lost again now…) Drain Hole 2 But we were too busy writing and working to earn our living to grow vegetables and the corner became overgrown. I do remember planting some herbs down there once. My gardening - like most things then and now - happened in my head rather than on the ground. I dream a very good garden just like I dream a very good dinner.

So G, armed with two reference books and tips from his Auntie Susan who is a brilliant gardener, got down to digging and  clearing this patch,, doing a brilliant job.   Then one day there is this long whistle and G shouted up the bank, ‘Come and see! Come and see this!’

‘This’ is a yard deep hole in the ground. In the bottom of the hole is a terra cotta drain. G has just pulled off a long capping stone.

He tells  me that this is a Victorian dRAIN hOLE WITH HOUSEwater pipe, a drain to lead the water down the bank and prevent it from being a swamp.

On the other side of the boundary wall is the filled-in stone arch of a drinking trough which this pipe must have lead to. The narrow road beyond it was once the main road through this small town. The stream, now piped underground,  must have fallen down this slope before this house and the other houses in the road were built a hundred and forty years ago.

Before our road existed this area  was a flattish plateau  called a Garth, owned by the Dean and Chapter – that is the Bishop Of Durham. G knows all of this because for his dissertation for his history degree he researched the land, the houses and the people who eventually lived in these streets after 1860;. It’s a fascinating stDrain Hole 1udy.

Now we think there must have been a stream meandering across this land. And probably a well. One clue to this is that  our house has always had Springwell in its name. We didn’t really know why, till now. As we are talking we look down at the drain and it has filled up  with a good trickle of water. The stream is still running. – well, trickling!  This feels like magic. It’s so touching that I could cry. G leans down and touches the pipe and says with a craftsman’s  reverence,

‘I was thinking that the last person who touched this was the guy who put it in some workman in the 1860s.’ So many levels of time are sitting in the air around us. We have always shared that wonder.dRAIN hOLE 5

When everyone – including neighbour Terry who took these pictures - had actually witnessed this marvellous hole in the ground, G  rebuilt the stone slab and tile super-structure of the drain and filled in the hole.

I looked up the hill and realised that the stream  must have originally flowed through my kitchen. Still running water, then.

We’d acted as good archaeologists and documented the find (see Terry’s pictures here…) and replaced it as we found it.  The plot is now beautifully dug, raked over and criss-crossed with stamped-down paths to make six small beds. The potatoes are in, as are the garlic and carrots. There are more plantings to follow.

I think they’ll crop well. They’ll certainly never be short of water.


Drain Hole 3


  1. What a wonderful tale. How exciting to find such a tangible relic of what was...

  2. I suppose the story's the thing, Al. As for beauty, my image of a drop of water in a drain does not compare with your magical pictures of Australian waterfalls. wx



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