The water system at Tyntesfield was a very unique and at times
baffling system. The Gibbs Family spent a great deal of time in hot countries
and so knew the value of water. Their system was designed to run with the
minimum of wastage and with the maximum benefit to the estate. All properties
had a rain water catch tank underneath or outside the cottages, which was fed by
the rain on the roof.
The main pumping system was at one time three water wheels feeding massive
underground tanks, pumping as far as half a mile to the height of 500 ft. This
was fine as long as the bore hole that fed it all was in good supply, and it was
only in the 1976 drought that it actually slowed to an alarming state. Since the
National Trust took over the estate, the pump houses were sold off but the
supply was kept going until such time as Bristol Water was installed.
It was during a hot spell that one senior manager panicked because the bore
hole was becoming low, even though every man and his dog tried to explain that
it was normal and we could survive as Bristol Water mains were in the process of
This was not good enough and so it was decided that a temporary feed from
Bristol Water would be installed to feed the old main. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Or you would have thought so. After all we had the top brains from the building
department on the case and lots of outside specialists costing more than a dozen
MPs fiddling expenses.
A break tank very large and expensive had to be installed to ensure the
quality of water. On looking at the proposed site, the warden and myself
informed the management that the tank would not work as it would be too low to
feed the connection point.
Little Pig, Little Pig, may I come
in? Only if you can defy the laws of gravity!
It was politely pointed out
that we had not the qualifications of the National Trust’s finest and we
shouldn’t get involved. It was at this point I was on the verge of asking if
they could change the water into wine at the same time, but thought against this
at it may have come across as being negative.
I then pointed out that we did not
own the water pipes under our land because the executors of the will had put in
conditions keeping ownership. To my amazement the senior surveyor proclaimed:
“Would we buy an estate and not own the pipes under the ground? I don’t think
so!” Well this was a phrase that returned to bite him sharply in the
Soon came the day of connection.
The executors were asked to turn off their supply to the estate. They then
informed the Trust – No way! That’s our pipes. If you want to use them you buy
them. After many months they did. As the Trust had just spent £10k on a tank to
fill them – the tank already nicknamed the Folly – the race was now on to supply
temporary water before we had permanent water.
And so the day came to switch
supplies with all asunder patting themselves on their backs. Then came nothing.
Not a drop. It was now very evident as they looked up the hill to the connection
point that the water was not man enough to climb the gradient. I suspect that
the two underling’s words suddenly started to echo in their ears – “It’s too
low. Water won’t run up hill!”
Having gone this far, the engineers
were called back to put the problem right. This was done by making the water run
down hill (a novel ideal) to a different point in the mains. The total cost of
the extra works was probably in excess of the warden’s and my pay, but as this
was the National Trust it was all par for the course.
By now the supply for Bristol Water
was well under way and with the embarrassment of an earlier failure still in the
air, another stunning idea was to fit water filters in all the properties at a
cost of £17k.
Very soon after Bristol Water was
connected the filters were taken out and thrown in a shed to gather dust. When I
asked about the wisdom of wasting money, the reply I got from the surveyor who
ordered the filters was: “If I knew the connection to Bristol water was going
ahead I wouldn’t have bothered. No one tells me anything.”
In my view, I think the give away
clue to what was happening was lots of diggers on site with miles of blue pipe
being put in the ground. Of course this could have been mistaken for positive
lay lines being installed. God we could have done with some.
While all this was going on the
management in their divine wisdom decided to feed the water to the main house
and several other properties off of the fire main by bypassing a tank that
gently feeds everything by gentle gravity.
Now as you can imagine old cast
pipes that have been serving faithfully with 40 psi would now be more than
doubled in pressure. I told them of my fears. I told everyone. But it seems they
knew better as I was told politely to shove off and let them get on with
I could tell that once again I was
being negative and so I decided to let them get on with it. Then came the leaks.
Lots of them like a plague. As soon as I repaired one up popped another two. The
whole system was now leaking like a sieve and I ran around trying to hold back
By now most of my days was taken up
stopping leaks and it must have been an embarrassment to the property manager
that I was constantly in shorts and flip flops soaked to the skin. The beach
towel draped around my shoulders and a plimsoll line tattooed on my legs was a
testament to my determination
Then one day I bit the bullet and
made the suggestion of fitting a pressure relieve valve, at the cost of £ 45.00.
Until that point I vowed I wouldn’t make any more clever suggestions again, but
as my doctor was concerned about the trench foot I had developed I thought it
I shall now brush over many minor
acts of incompetence by the management and move on to my next very large
encounter with gross stupidity in the case of the leaky saw mill
It was while the saw mills were
being converted into the learning centre the contractors encountered many old
pipes leaking due to the excavations taking place. These pipes played no vital
role as they had been capped off years ago and the main stop tap that fed them
was rusted solid. Specialist plumbers suggested that a new one be
I took the main contractor to one
side and he agreed to have his machine excavate for the plumbers free of charge
and the plumbers would install the valve. The contractors would help me install
a new inspection pit and reinstate the ground. This would all be in the space of
a morning at virtually no cost apart from my time to oversee the project. What
could be simpler?
Well my line manager could. After
involving all management and given the go ahead by the top manager herself, my
line manager refused to excuse me from a meeting where I was forced to sit and
watch others talk about what they had achieved for the year. During the meeting,
staff were excused for taking deliveries, making phone calls, but not me. I had
to sit there and so the contractors gave up waiting. So did the plumbers. So did
I. The work never got done and the leaks continued. Never in my life had I come
across such a stupid little person that was not only vindictive but cost the
National Trust so dearly.