Historic & Elaborate Water Pumps
Get the water flowing, with as much flamboyant style as possible!
When we wrote about elaborate and often fantastic Gargoyles & Grotesques, we realized that some historic water pumps stand in the same extraordinary league, often boasting unique architectural styles and visually impressive designs. Here is a short roundup of more fascinating water pumps, found in small villages and cities around the world.
Victorian and Gothic Village Pumps in England, Wales and Ireland
The village water pump once stood at the centre of rural life in the United Kingdom, with most communities having pumps on the village green or in the town centre. Once piped water mains appeared in the nineteenth century, the old style water pumps quickly fell out of use. Many were simply discarded and sadly, few of these pumps now survive, but here’s a look at some of the examples that have stood the test of time.
We begin our journey in the county of Derbyshire in England. This pump is situated in the market place of Chesterfield (left image below). The pump was built in 1853 and draws water from a well about 11 metres below. Carts carried water from the pump to other places in the town in days gone by:
Middle image above: this pump can be seen in the village of Cubley; and on the right image above is the village pump in Hartington, erected to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. It’s been in use until around 1930, and then restored for silver jubilee of Elizabeth II in 1977.
According to its inscription, this cast iron pump in Stanton-by-Dale in Derbyshire dates back to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (left image below):
The site of Aldgate Pump in London (shown on the right image above) is thought to date back to the sixteenth century, when a pump was built at the location of an old well. In the late eighteenth century, a stone pump was built and this was modified around 1870. The pump has been a London landmark for quite some time, as the photographs below can attest (left to right: 1887 – 1908 – 1935) and the pump was still operational in the 1920’s. The pump supposedly marks the official starting point of London’s East End, plus Charles Dickens mentioned Aldgate Pump in ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ in 1861.
The water pump at Cornhill in the City of London was first erected in 1799 outside the Royal Exchange, although one of the inscriptions points out that a well was first created at this location as far back as 1282 – see here. Each side of the pump has a different fire insurance logo and the pump also has a plaque depicting the Exchange as it looked in the seventeenth century:
These pumps are located in Bedford Row and Queen Anne Square in London. Both were reportedly still in use during the Blitz in World War Two, but are no longer operational:
Here are few examples from Suffolk. This cast iron pump is in the market place at Hadleigh. The coat or arms on the front was awarded to Hadleigh in 1618, although the pump dates form the nineteenth century (left image below)
The Monks Eleigh village pump (shown in the middle above) is dated 1854, and the one at Mildenhall (right image above) is decorated by a streetlamp (there’s an inscription nearby reminding people that piped water was not available in Mildenhall until the 1940’s).
The cast iron pump shown left is in Houghton, Cambridgeshire. Center image: pump on the village green in Brasted in Kent. While the one on the right is located in the village of Steyning in West Sussex:
Water pumps can still be found not only in England. The pump on the left can be seen in Beaumaris on the island of Anglesey in north Wales… middle image shows the pump located at Llanuwchllyn in Gwynedd… and the right one is in Lloc in Flintshire:
Appropriately green, here are a couple of examples from Ireland: pump on the left located in Ballycolla, Co Laois -
The Dunmore village green near Falkirk in Scotland has a water pump bearing a poetic inscription (right image above). It reads – ‘Here quench your thirst and mark in me, an emblem of true charity, who while my bounty I bestow, am neither heard nor seen to flow, repaid by fresh supplies from heaven, for every drop of water given’.
Japanese Collectible “Bird” & “Tiger” Pumps
Vintage water pumps can be spotted throughout Japan in villages and in town squares, often used for distributing water in disaster situations. Here is the “Sun Tiger” pump seen in Totsuka Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture (left image):
On the right is the antique Japanese water pump with cute painted birds. Japanese street pumps often bear the insignia of the prefecture and the city, and thus become desirable objects to spot for photographers:
I wonder if there is an object category on Planet Earth that could not be converted into something desirable and collectible in Japan?
Hand Water Pumps in South America
This old-fashioned machine was spotted in Brazil: instead of a hand crank, you have to rotate the wheel which activates a few gears to pump the water up:
On the right is the similar old water pump from 1897, seen in the Sewell Park, Miami, Florida. Here are some pumps from Argentina with somewhat unique shapes:
Other whimsical and artsy pumps of Europe
The “Green Fish” is only one of many wonderful manual water pumps in Berlin:
Gothic water spouts can easily fill their own unique category; here is a weird face spotted behind the Lavirotte building in Paris (right), and on the left is perhaps the most impressive Art Nouveau water fountain, seen near Castel Beranger:
Beautiful views on a mountain path can be complemented by a refreshing source of water, like on this trail in Davos, Switzerland:
A beautiful pump was spotted in Logrono, Spain (left) and on the right: the resting beast calmly looks in the direction of a refreshing water source… (look into the lower right corner). This photo was taken in Antwerp, Belgium:
Very imposing and detailed water pump in Leipzig, Germany (left), and another small but interesting one in Spain (right):
Pump in Barcelona (left) and a frosty-looking metal giant pump in Stockholm, Sweden (right):
Stockholm boasts even bigger street water pump! Look at the imposing structure (reminiscent of Viking times) on the left photo below:
And in Heinola, Finland (right image above) water pump gets an impressive treatment. Seems like Scandinavian countries take their water sources seriously and love to decorate their pumps.
Fabulous Hand Water Pumps in Russia
Plenty of Russian folk art and skillful wooden ornaments adorn many water sources in small towns and villages (sometimes these are springs of “Holy Water”, sometimes more humble hand pumps). See for example this one at Vsevolodsk village (left)… and another one in Vologda (right):
Here is an old Russian photograph showing hustle and bustle around the market pump in Vorosho (left image). And in our days: splendidly-colored roosters love to sit on pumps… obviously this is a great vantage point for them -
Industrial-strength water, sand and concrete pumps, of course, look much more intimidating. Here is one manufactured in Japan for China’s Guangzhou City:
And we finish with the world’s largest water pump, the one that’s going to protect New Orleans from rising floodwater. It costs $500 million to install and is capable of pumping 150,000 gallons per second – see how it works here. Here is just a diesel engine that’s going to power that gigantic pump, towering over a truck:
Avi Abrams is the creator, writer, and owner of Dark Roasted Blend;