Sitting alongside this channel of crystal-clear water today it is difficult to appreciate how important it has been in the history of Calne.

A plaque, installed by Castlefields Canal and River Park hints at the importance of the spring:

                                            “Chaveywell

                The well is renowned for the purity of it’s [sic] water.

           During an epidemic between 1880 and 1890 the water in Calne

                   became polluted resulting in a number of deaths

                                    (probably from Typhoid).

                 Chaveywell was the only water that remained pure

                          And was relied upon until a new supply

                                     Came from Calstone.”

As far back as the 1850s, the spring was known for its pure waters, which drained into the canal. There was an investigation in 1858 by the Calne Borough Council about the practicalities of bringing the water into the town because it was known to be ‘good water’. A public meeting about instigating this investigation was so well received that inhabitants were in favour of meeting the expense by public subscription.

A meeting the following year described that three shafts had been sunk and showed a sufficient supply of water. The water at Chaveywell, or Chivywell as it was known then, was not brought into town in what feels like a quantity over quality issue.

Unfortunately, that water provided by these shafts would dry out from time to time, as well as become polluted. A regular conversation during Council meetings in the 1890s was that of ordering wells to be closed.

Calne, as many other areas, experienced Typhoid Fever and Diphtheria during the 1880s and 1890s. Time and time again the Calne Urban Sanitary Authority published Compulsory Notifications of Infectious Diseases in the local newspaper. In 1888 a purpose-built isolation hospital north of Curzon Street replaced a house at Mile Elm that was acquired by the board of health in 1881.

Once again, Calne relied on the pure water at Chaveywell. It wasn’t until the reservoir up at Calstone was created in 1882 that Calne had a permanent clean water supply, but uptake of the new supply was slow. In early 1886, 13 samples were sent to Bristol for testing. Chaveywell and a well at Patford Street were of the best quality. Later that year, there was legal enforcement for the closure of many wells in town. But a clean water supply was only one part of the equation. It also took the re-laying and cleaning of many sewage pipes in the town to finally put the epidemics, particularly of Typhoid to bed.

During the archaeological dig for the Calne Castle was under way, a trench was dug at the Chaveywell site. The medieval outlet was found nearby and the origin of the spring was traced back to its origin in the grounds of St. Mary's school.

So,while you sit here, whether for contemplation, to let your dog drink from the spring water, or to watch your children splash about in these clean waters; take a moment to think of all the lives that they likely saved during a particularly dark period in the history of Calne.

Tim Havenith
Author of Calne Place Names

Images (Credit: T Havenith)
01: The point of exit for the spring.
02: The channel that feeds the spring water into the canal, with Chaveywell Bridge in the background.
03: The Chaveywell plaque alongside the corbel in the shape of the pig's head that used to reside in the C&T Harris factory.

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