This section is from the book "The Principles And Practice Of Modern House-Construction", by G. Lister Sutcliffe. Also available from Amazon: How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Home.
In town houses, the water is usually obtained from the public supply, distributed through mains and service-pipes, but there are still some dwellings, even in our largest cities, provided either wholly or partially with water from wells. Generally, where such a well is retained in use, the occupier is the owner of the house, and the notion that the water of his particular well is better than the town supply has grown up with the family, perhaps from the time when the street was first provided with water-mains. This idea may have had fact for its foundation at the time of its birth, as then the house was probably suburban, and the subsoil-water not fouled by adjacent cesspools, drains, etc, and as the public supplies of some towns were, and still are, far from being pure.
By William II. Wells, Sanitary Inspector For The City Of Newcastle Upon Tyne Chairman Of The Northumberland And Durham Branch Of The Sanitary Inspectors' Association
The use of well-water in towns probably exists to-day from one or all of the three following causes: -
(1.) Reluctance to pay for a water-supply.
(2.) Brighter appearance and greater palatableness of the water.
(3.) Lower temperature in summer.
There are still wells in use in some town houses, the water of which is objectionable both to taste and smell, but these are very rare, and the use of the water is said to be confined to washing the floors of outbuildings and yards. This may be done, where the town supply is intermittent, to assist the cistern-storage, but where the public supply is constant, it is difficult to find a motive for retaining the use of such a well. Perhaps the custom began when the public supply, now continuous, was not so, and has been retained without thought, as the sentry who was once ordered to keep guard over a particular daisy which had attracted a monarch's attention, was, by relief, kept walking to and fro, night and day, long after both daisy and monarch were dead, and the original reason for the lonely promenade forgotten.
In wells of the kind first referred to, the purity of the water, however lauded, should always be questioned, and permission sought to obtain a sample for analysis. The analysis of water is one of the most delicate operations the analyst has to perform for Sanitary Authorities. The sample therefore must be sufficient in quantity, and taken with great care. An old wine or spirit bottle, though well washed, should not be used. It is not large enough, and it may be impossible by rinsing to make it absolutely clean.
A new glass-stoppered Winchester-quart bottle (five pints), or one which has been used only for water-analysis, should be employed. The water must be obtained in the way ordinarily in use by the occupiers of the houses, - by pumping, for instance, if there is a pump, and not by lowering the bottle into the water. It must also be received direct into the bottle, and not first into a bucket or other vessel. The bottle must first be partially filled, and thoroughly rinsed out with the glass-stopper in its place, and must then be emptied and completely filled. The stopper should be tied down or sealed, and a label attached to the bottle, on which all necessary particulars concerning the sample are stated, somewhat as follows: -
SAMPLE OF WATER FOR ANALYSIS.
28 Kingsley Terrace, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Date when taken......
13th February, 1899.
Well, 20 feet deep.
Means of raising......
Inspector of Nuisances.
It is important that the sample be submitted to the analyst as soon as possible after it is obtained.
In small villages the water for drinking and domestic purposes is generally obtained from shallow wells, and raised either by pump or draw-bucket. In obtaining a sample of such water for analysis, a short description of the well and its surroundings should be added to the above label, as for instance: -
Position of Well...
In garden, or in roughly paved yard, or in an outbuilding adjoining the house.
Top of Well.....
Covered, below surface of ground; or (if a draw-bucket is in use) open, raised a foot or so above surface of surrounding ground. No roof over.
Depressed around the well and imperfectly paved, pools of water standing, or well-paved.
No near drain openings visible or sink 4 feet from well.
House, 10 feet; stable, 30 feet: midden, 30 feet
In the office-book, where the taking of the sample is recorded, a copy of the label must be inserted.
Again, there are villages and isolated houses where the water taken bom rivers is used; and in one hamlet known to the writer, where the underground water was too salt for use, no source of supply was until recently available except rain-tubs, and the field-ditches and ponds, from which the cattle also drank. In eases like the last, report to the Local Authority without an accompanying analyst's certificate would obviously be sufficient.
If by analysis or otherwise any well-water has been proved impure, we should, in the case of a shallow well in a town, advise that it be pumped out. and filled with clay rammed solid. No reason is valid enough to permit such a well. once proved polluted, to be used again, however well cleansed.
In a village, however, where there is no public water-supply better than that of the well, the latter must be restored to purity for continued use, or, what is better still, a new one sunk in an unpolluted spot Hut even in the latter event the cause of pollution of the original well, if it is suspected to be a defect in a drain or soakage from a midden, must be searched for and remedied.
The probable causes of pollution in well-water are: -
(1.) Leakage from defective drains.
(2.) Soakage from middens
(3.) Soakage from surrounding surfaces.
(4.) Decomposable matter fallen into an uncovered well.
Where one of the first three causes exists, indications of it can usually be found on the sides of the well.
Leakage from a faulty drain can be tested by pouring paraffin down a sink, or other inlet to the drain; pumping will soon reveal the fact, if the oil has found its way into the water, and the source of the original pollution will have been discovered without either uncovering or entering the well. Other substances besides paraffin may be used; in fact, anything which possesses scent, or will impart colour, and is non-poisonous. Perhaps whiting or Lime-water would do, but if much soil had to be traversed, these substances might be-filtered out. Paraffin, however, has the advantage of rendering the polluted water unpalatable, and bo preventing its use for a time - a not unimportant advantage, for there are people who would continue the use of polluted water during the interval between discover}' of the cause and completion of the remedy, rather than trouble to go far to obtain a purer supply.