7 Aug 2012

A generous gift

In the little village of Stoke Row in Oxfordshire there's a rather exotic-looking structure for an English rural area.  This is the Maharajah's Well and the story of its origin and construction is very interesting.

Before 1842 the villagers had to walk several kilometres to fetch and carry water by hand as the village had no well.  At that time the son of a local landowner, Edward Reade, was living in India and had formed a friendship with the Maharajah of Benares. Mr Reade, an engineer and local governor had been involved in digging a well in one of the Indian Prince's villages.  He told the Maharajah that in times of drought water deprivation was also experienced in his home area in the Chiltern Hills.
Some years later the Maharajah decided to give the village a gift and he paid for a well to be sunk,
a well-keeper's house to be built and a cherry orchard planted which would eventually yield fruit to provide the income to maintain the well.
The digging of the well, which had to be very deep (twice the height of Nelson's Column) in order to get to the underground water source, was an incredible feat of engineering.  Only one man at a time could work in the confined space digging through a layer of clay and gravel, then further layers of chalk and sand as well as bricklaying the sides. In the meantime, the iron well-head superstructure, winding machinery and 9 gallon buckets were commissioned and made by a local foundry and, in due course, the well was completed and officially opened on Queen Victoria's birthday in 1864.
Normally the well provided 700 gallons of water a day although it took ten minutes to wind the bucket up from the bottom of the well. Going to the well to draw water must have been quite a social event and it served the community for 70 years until the village was connected to a piped water supply.

The superstructure is topped off by a bright gilded dome.  This incorporates a circle of glass lenses to allow the light through to show the water line.  Underneath is the winding gear with a decorative elephant on the top. The whole was painted in a mixture of Indian red and other bright colours.

The winding gear and buckets

Next to the well is the warden's cottage and the cherry orchard.  The cottage is octagonal in shape, single storeyed with a chimney stack in the centre of the roof and is now privately owned.

Stoke Row is on a well-known cycling route so the well garden is often used as a pleasant place to rest as is the local Cherry Tree Inn.


  1. How very fascinating I had never heard of this place before. Are you loading your photos via the Google/Picasa service from Blogger, if not this could be the root of your problems? Also remember if you post larger photos you use up your allowance quicker.

  2. i love the story and the cottage is really beautiful. the elephant is so pretty.

  3. What a very interesting account and I love the photos of the well and its amazing superstructure.

  4. Perpetua - I wonder if you have passed that way?

    1. I'm afraid not. We were right in the top north-east corner of Oxfordshire.

  5. I love to hear the stories behind the structures!