Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Draining the Landscape: Part Two

Let’s not waste any time summarizing the last part of this article, shall we, and just get straight on with it? I don’t believe in unnecessary cruelty, especially if it’s self-inflicted. Anyhow, farmers couldn’t always afford tile pipes so instead they sometimes made do with turf blocks. (Go and look them up if you’ve forgotten all that stuff we wrote some time back about them already.)
Laying ‘tile pipes’ required another specially designed tool. It was known as a ‘Pipe Layer’. It consisted of a long handle with a large metal hook on the end. (Abu Hamza would have been proud.) In fact, the design was so obvious and simple, I can’t even be bothered drawing one up. Let’s just say that the hook was inserted into the pipe and then the pipe was placed in the narrow trench.
The pipes themselves were generally laid out in a ‘Herring Bone’ fashion (as demonstrated below).


And before anybody complains, I don’t know whether the pipes ought to be overlapping or not. This was the way they were laid out for me to copy, all right, so let’s leave it at that.

The smaller pipes, apparently, gathered the water from the field and drained it into the larger pipes, which in turn drained out into the dyke.


MAINTAINING THE DRAIN


You might have noticed that there’s no hilarious pun in that particular subheading. That’s because I’m losing the will to live.

Once all the pipes were in place and the soil replaced, all that needed to be done was to keep the drains in working order. ‘Drain Rods’ came in handy at this point. Drain rods could interlock and be extended to almost any length. A number of add-ons were also available.
The first of these was known as the ‘Wheel’ (see illustration), for what I can only hope, for the sake of my reader’s intelligence, will be blatantly obvious reasons. The wheel not only helped to feed the rod through the narrow drains but also dealt with the majority of blockages by simply battering into them. Usually a good hard crack would break down stubborn soil that was clinging to the walls.



In situations where the ‘Wheel’ was ineffective the ‘Bullet’ (yes…I’ve just had another look at that illustration and feel it necessary to forestall any possibly x-rated comments) stood a better chance of working. Acting in a similar manner to a harpoon, the ‘Bullet’ would pierce the blockage and drag it free. (It’s enough to make your eyes water, isn’t it?)



A simple scouring tool was the ‘Flu Brush’ (illustrated below), also effective for removing blockages and resembling a sawn-off loo brush.



Incidentally, I’ve no idea how accurate the colour scheme is for these illustrations. I drew the pictures up years ago and just decided to colour them in to make this article a bit more interesting. (Leaving them out altogether, along with the words, would probably have been a better idea.)

If none of the attachments just mentioned were successful then the ‘Plunger’ (see drawing etc.) could be used.

‘Drain Plunger’s acted in much the same manner as common household plungers. A simple ‘pumping’ action was generally enough to create a vacuum in the pipe and eventually, under the pressure, the blockage would work itself loose.


One other handy attachment was the chimney sweep’s brush. Although, obviously, the sweep’s brush hadn’t been designed for field drains it still came in useful for their day-to-day maintenance.

So, there you have it -- the complete A-Z of Victorian tile drainage. (Somebody shoot me!) Now you’ll be able to impress all your mates down the pub.

27 comments:

Jayne said...

Silly question - how far below the surface were the pipes or did they sit just flush with the ground level? (pun not intended).
I'm sure that wheel was last seen marking out the hockey pitch at St Trinian's....and the Bullet...!

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

Judging by the number of manky old field drains we've hit during excavations, I'd estimate about a foot or so.

As for that bullet...I don't think it was seen on the St Trinian's hockey pitch. That's not to say it wasn't hidden somewhere in the school, of course...

Anonymous said...

My brain is about to stop working... I recommend this post as a method of tranquilisation.

anonymous... :0)

JahTeh said...

Was this a general drainage system for all farm areas or did they have different systems for really boggy acres?
She asks almost intelligently, having just arrived from the Egyptian desert.

WV is canape, yes I'll have some if you're serving and a g&t would be nice.

Brian Hughes said...

John...er...anonymous sorry...I offered it to the NHS but they turned it down on the grounds that the patients might end up in an irrevesible coma.

Witchy,

In really boggy areas they added 'U' bends. (See...see what I did there?) As far as I can tell it was standard practice wherever they used it...just that in some areas they had bigger dykes. (Don't even go there.)

JahTeh said...

Wouldn't touch it with a 'Drag'.

Brian Hughes said...

Dykes and drags...sounds like Blackpool on a summer night.

John said...

So does Rossall School have Victorian plumbing or Mediaevil Plough lines? Would one really look like the other, regardless of coincidental shape?

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

I suspect Rossall School has both 'cos if you check the original photograph I posted way back when you'll notice the herring bone pattern of the drainage and the fainter traces of mediaeval ploughing underneath.

John said...

How convenient! They could have just laid the pipes in the deep furrows and covered them over. Smart, them people.

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

John,

I didn't mean directly underneath. Just generally underneath, underneath. The drains form a different distinctive pattern. The ridge and furrows are less pronounced because they're older. It's a bit like a drawing done on tracing paper with another completely different drawing on a separate piece of tracing paper with several sheets of tracing between them...er...if that makes sense.

Jayne said...

So before the terracotta pipes were mass produced in the year of our Lord Umpity-10 did they just have the open ditches throughout the fields for drainage?

Brian Hughes said...

Jayne,

I've no idea. I only write what I'm told and, in this particular instance, didn't enquire any further. They did use dried out torf blocks at some point in time, however. I vaguely remember being told that. Or was that just the cheapskate farmers who couldn't be bothered forking out for proper drains? Can't remember now...

Ozfemme said...

Thank you. There was so much I wanted to know about the Victorian pipe drainage system but was too afraid to ask....

RVB said...

The Victorian system is quite interesting...if my history is right (it usually isn't, mind), the Victorian Era as a whole had some technical aspects in day to day lives.

Jayne said...

OMG!
Reuben LIVES!
Drainage systems brings the unexpected to the top....

WV = flyopple....isn't that the name of the new St Trinians flick Ravishing Rupert is making?

Brian Hughes said...

Bella,

You're welcome. (I'm thinking of running a seminar on Mid-Twentieth Century Telegraph Poles next year if you're interested. I've decided on Watford Services as the venue.)

Reuben,

There was plenty of far more interesting Victorian technology that I could have written about...but I like to be different and see how much tedious drivel I can produce before people start yawning.

Jayne,

It's this new job of his. It's cured his insomnia.

JahTeh said...

Why can't we have a Q&A post?
I haz a queshun?
I've been watching horror and adventure movies lately. What! you think drains fill my life to the full!
Anyway they're always running around with flaming torches of wood with something wrapped around the top which never seems to burn away. I had a wood candlestick and when I wasn't watching the candle burned down and set it alight.
So what did the Celts/Saxons/Normans/etc use that didn't burn down and take their arms off?
Damn, that would have been a good post and I gave it to you.
*kicks self*

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,"So what did the Celts/Saxons/Normans/etc use that didn't burn down and take their arms off?"

Common sense, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

tar pitch!!!

Ann oDyne said...

G'day Hughsie - right there in the first para you suggest
"go away and look it up" ... which is what I did when the previous post mentioned those mediaeval ploughlines ... and I never got back here.

Are you just trying to save me getting bogged-down in the post?

Ann oDyne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Hughes said...

Anonymous,

You're welcome, but don't call me Pitch.

Annie,

To be honest I just couldn't be bothered rehashing all that stuff about torf delving etc. Victorian field drainage is mind numbing enough as it is.

JahTeh said...

Anonymous, Hi Carol, if that's you.

What if they didn't have tar?

Answer the question Fleety, you're just sitting there all day scarfing pasties, it's not like you're in Parliament padding up your expenses.

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,

Okay, if you really want to know...torches using pitch would only burn for half an hour at best (which is fine if the windmill's only a few hundred yards from Frankenstein's castle), so most mediaeval illumination devices were actually made from natural fibres soaked in rendered-down animal fat and then wrapped around a stick. To reduce the risk of arson, wall mounted torches were surrounded by iron baskets.

Now, where's me cheese and onion pastie?

JahTeh said...

You're too fat, eat an apple.

Brian Hughes said...

Witchy,

If God had meant us to eat apples, he'd have given serpents voiceboxes.