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Lincoln's water ....desperation then salvation

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Update October 2021: The stone frieze from the 1911 waterworks at Elkesley, Notts, has just gone on public display in Wickham Gardens at the foot of Lincoln's Water Tower. The 1911 works followed the disastrous Lincoln typhoid epidemic and, suitably, the frieze depicts the quest for new water and the salvation that followed. It has been in storage for nearly 50 years since the demolition of the 1911 pumpworks and their replacement with a modern pumping station. Its re-constitution and its placement in Lincoln itself for the first time is due to the efforts of The Rotary Club of Lincoln, the City of Lincoln Council, Anglian Water, and various volunteers. (See unveiling clip below or here)

At Blow by Blow our approach in the Covid-19 lockdown was to make available some of the back catalogue of nostalgia and heritage films for online streaming.

This last exercise sent me back to our documentary story of a previous pestilence, “A City with Typhoid”.

The typhoid epidemic of 1904-05 killed 131 Lincoln citizens and made 1045 poorly…. in most cases very poorly. But unlike Covid 19, it came from a very local source namely the public water supply. Like Covid 19, it had no respect for age or class.

The second person to fall ill, in October 1904, was a solicitor living next to the Cathedral. Mr Curtin, the Council’s sanitary inspector, died and so did the President of the Co-operative Society.

Yet in that terrible time there came great acts of kindness - not least from Alderman Thomas Smith of Newark who began to send clean water each day by railway tender to the stricken city.

The letters and cards of thanks sent to Alderman Smith by Lincoln citizens offer many revealing insights into the mood at the time. Stream or download “A City with Typhoid” to learn more about that extraordinary winter. The documentary is also available on Bygone Lincoln DVD 2.

The film was “Highly Commended” in the Institute of Videography documentary awards.

On a happier note, celebrations of a century of clean water in 2011 raised over £10,000 locally. This was doubled and quadrupled within the worldwide Rotary movement - and then added to further by collaborators Anglian Water and Water Aid. As a result of Lincoln's gratitude for safe water, more than 100,000 citizens of Madagascar, one of the world's poorest countries, now have clean piped water through Water Aid.

Below: The Mayor Lincoln, Cllr Jackie Kirk, and Trevor Pacey, The Rotary Club of Lincoln, unveil the 1911 frieze in its new location.

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