This hidden gem, on Oborne Road, dating from 1869 is the source of potable water for Sherborne and surrounding villages. In Victorian times Sherborne’s water was so badly polluted that the death rate rose to over 67 per thousand with the consequence that the Local Board of Health was required to provide an alternative to that from the Dymore springs. A Lancastrian engineer who worked for the Metropolitan Water Board designed a scheme using water from the Oborne Stream and Sherborne Castle Lake to drive a large waterwheel which pumped water from boreholes at Castleton to a reservoir near the Gryphon School and then by gravity to the town’s population. Very soon the demand for water increased and the Board decided to boost the supply by the installation of a steam engine and boilers in a new building at Castleton in 1876. This complex still exists and forms SSWC’s operation leased from Wessex Water who pump water using electrical borehole pumps from the underground aquefer.
The original waterwheel, built by Stothert & Pitt of Bath, was badly damaged in a flood in 1898 and replaced by Edward White of Redditch. This wheel ran until 1959 when electrical pumps took over. The steam engine, boilers and pumps were sold for scrap in 1932 but the waterwheel was left in the wheelpit as it was too difficult to extract. It remained there, deteriorating, until replaced in 2008 – the wheel you can see running on Open Days. There is also a Daniel Maggs waterwheel of 1819 rescued from a farm at Nether Cerne. Daniel Maggs was the precursor of Hindley.
The steam engine, the largest in Dorset, was originally installed at Gillingham Brick & Tile Works in 1872 and was made by the same company, E.S. Hindley of Bourton. It has been refurbished and installed with a boiler, along with a small Hindley engine in a new building. These can be seen running under steam on Open Days. Visitors can see more information about the history of the site through the video system, enjoy a picnic whilst watching the wheel go round as the trains go by.
As part of Dorset Heritage Week the Sherborne Steam and Waterwheel Centre will be open on Saturday & Sunday 14 &15 September 11.30 to 3.30, entry by donation. For more information go to www.sswc.co.uk