Bristol’s Boiling Wells And Quay Pipe

Bristol’s Boiling Wells And The Quay Pipe

An overview by Adrian K Kerton MSc. Jan 2017

The spring at Boiling Wells Lane was for many years a major source of good quality water to supply the city of Bristol. A wellhead was established and water piped to the harbour side. This is an overview of the wells and the pipe.

Some extracts. from various documents.

1376 Oct 1. Walter Derby being Mayor was agreed with Hugh White plumber at his own cost during life to bring the water to the Key Pipe All Saints Pipe and St John’s Pipe at the yearly sum of £10 .

Archives of the Corporation of Bristol, consisting of a single membrane measuring I7 X I0 in., to the folded bottom margin of which the Great Seal (well preserved) is attached by red and blite silk cords braided through holes in the usital manner. Endorsements: De fistula vocata a / ether conductus Aque concessa Fratribus predicatoribus tempore R. Ricardi Secundi.

This legal agreement, made by Thomas Knapp, Mayor, and the Commonalty of Bristol, with the Prior and brethren of the Dominican Friary near the Weir, was executed in the Guildhall.

Confirmation of indenture of 16 Jun 1391 that the Prior and Convent are to have a water pipe or ‘feather’ of the size of a swan’s feather, issuing at the Barres from a pipe belonging to the Commonalty which runs from the vicinity of the mill called Glaspelmull into the Key pipe of the town. The Friars shall never be required to make any contribution towards the cost of maintaining the town conduit from which their “feather ” issues, but they shall have a sufficient supply of water from the town pipe, flowing into a barrel at the Barres, over which they are to construct a stone canopy.  Note This was a distance of 2.5 Miles.

Letters Patent: Confirmation of grant of the Quay Pipe Date 18 Aug 1392. 15 Richard II.
Confirmation of indenture of 16 Jun 1391 that the Prior and Convent are to have a water pipe or ‘feather’ of the size of a swan’s feather, issuing at the Barres from a pipe belonging to the Commonalty which runs from the vicinity of the mill called Glaspelmull into the Keypipe of the town.

A memorandum guaranteeing the grant, with a piece of correctly sized brass pipe attached was given to the Friars.

The Pipe Deed about 16 June 1391. Currently on display in the Mshed next to the Mayor’s toilet. This reference to a Swan’s feather is also cited in the grant of a feather to St. John’s church from the Carmelites fountain of pure spring water from the Park Street side of Brandon Hill to their House on St. Augustine’s – Bristol Cathedral. A memorandum guaranteeing the grant, with a piece of correctly sized brass pipe attached was given to the Friars equal in diameter to the quill of a swan’s feather.

The copper pipe attached was used to indicate the required size of the pipe, equal in diameter to the quill of a swan’s feather. Deposited by the church of St. John the Baptist, Bristol


From Calendared and transcribed in Bristol Charters 1378-1499 (Bristol Record Society volume XI)

“The size of pipe intended is rather vague, and a marginal note and obscure cipher in the Great Red Book do little to elucidate the matter. It was, however, customary to attach a small portion of silver tubing of the required diameter to documents.”

Note the tubing shown is about 3mm diameter, how much water could have been conveyed by the pipe?

The Barres was mentioned in the will of David John Lloyde, proved on the 5 Dec 1601 as situated next to St. James Churchyard. The Barres is not shown on the Millerd Map of 1673 and St. James is a fair distance form the location of the Key Pipe shown on these maps.

Proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists
The Quay Pipe was supplied from the Panni Well (later known as the Boiling Spring) “The Boiling Wells’ are situate in a depression about 100 yds. to the south-east of Ashley Hill Station. They are under the control of the Bristol Waterworks Company, by whom they have been let to the Bristol United Brewery Company.”

Panni Well or Penny Well?

The boiling well was a powerful spring, though it was never hot, its turbulence and bubbling resembled boiling. The spring is still there but has lost much of its vigour.

The pure waters of the Boiling Wells grew fine watercress as a commercial crop – hence Watercress Road. It still grows wild in exposed sections of the watercourse close to the source.

On route The pipe can be seen at a Conduit House in Conduit Place.

Proceedings of the Bristol Naturalists’ Society 1863.
The supply from the Boiling Spring to the Quay Pipe, at one time diverted to Bristol United Brewery in Lewin’s Mead, was reported to be yielding 2 Ml/d. The Boiling Spring itself was still yielding 2 to 3 Ml/d in 1897 (Pearson, 1897)

Glaspelmull or Glasspool Mill was first mentioned in the 1391 patent rolls possibly the property of the Glaspole family. Glasspool Mill. Glasspellesmsylle, in Stapleton, is again mentioned in Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem: 11-15 Henry VI (1432-1437). “Glasspool Mill, a watermill of this name, annual value 5s,held of Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, as of his manor Barton Regis by Bristol, service unknown.” Soon after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1579 ‘Glass Mill’ was acquired by marriage to George Winter esq. of Dyrham Park. In 1731 a distiller, George Bridges, bought the mill, ‘Glafsmills’ from Andrew Hooke.




The railways have already divided the valley, but the elaborate water-works and the site of the watermill which used to harness the energy of local streams can be seen. Most of the watercourse is now culverted, but there are exposed sections under the church path and in Mina Road Park.”

“Much of St Werburgh’s is built on the floodplain of the River Frome and until the middle of the 20th century flooding was a regular occurrence, bringing with it disruption and ill health. In 1962 the St Werburgh’s section of the Northern Stormwater Interceptor was completed. This was an enormous feet of engineering that involved building a 16ft (5m) diameter tunnel under North Bristol.  The process of tunnelling also involved using explosives. It is said locally that there were two other effects of the underground blasting. One was the damage to the foundations of the house on the west side of Watercress Road so that they needed to be demolished (this land is now part of the City Farm). The other was to disrupt the natural conduits in the geology beneath the Boiling Wells spring so that the flow was much diminished.”

The pipe head on the corner of St Stephens street on the Centre.
It was a civic enterprise and was noted in the fifteen century for its particularly fine (pulcherrima) conduit house on the key, ‘sumptuously worked’ in freestone.


At the time of Henry VIII it, the Quay Pipe, “possessed a “faire” canopy, the head of Momus the God of laughter fittingly forming its sculptured ornament.”

There were often restrictions in many cities on the use of water from the various springs and conduits. In Bristol in the late 14th century it was decreed that no brewer or ale-wife may take water from any of the conduits or wells of the town, by day or night, for use in brewing, nor carry it or or have it carried off, upon penalty of 40d. All conduits exist to serve the whole community for its daily sustenance.

Men and women suffering from gout or rheumatism were to be seen bathing their legs in the cooling waters as the waters were reputed to have curative powers including scurvy and kindred sailor’s complaints.

It is probable that Cabot’s ships in 1471 were provisioned with water from the Quay Pipe.

In 1427 Thomas Michell left 6s 8d to repair the common pipe, called ‘le Keypype’.

Sometime between 1534 and 1543 John Leland notes: “The Key Pipe, with a very fair castellet.”

William Worcestre: The Topography of Medieval Bristol
At the Key, in the large triangular space, there is in the middle of the said triangle a very beautiful freestone building, round and tall, built of richly worked freestone, in which is a water-conduit of lead leading from a spring of which the main source is at

John Latimer. Annals of Bristol late 17th century, published 1900
Concerning the Sabbath. All the conduits in the city were kept closed through- out the same day, and the parish constables were required to lay informations against persons carrying water to their homes, in order that the culprits might be brought up on Mondays and duly punished.

The Council being informed in October that the head of the conduit near Green’s Mill, supplying the Quay and Back Pipes with water, was in a defective state, and the supply much impeded, a committee was appointed to make the necessary reparations. (Green’s Mill, of which some remains still exist, was situated about 200 yards to the south of the present Ashley Hill railway station.)
Note Ashley Hill railway station was decommissioned in 1964.

1558 Five shillings was paid for working on the Key pipe

In 1574 workmen were paid 5s 6d to remove a stoppage in the flow, taking out three cats from the Quay pipe, where one was 2 yards long.

Latimer. The Annals Of Bristol [1679-80]
The nuisances arising from the unprotected state of the reservoir supplying the Quay Pipe were mentioned in page 289. The Chamber got rid of the dead cats this year by building a Conduit-house at the spring, at a cost of £164.

The maire of Bristowe is kalendar
1597. Exor. of Mr. Kobert Kitchin, Alderman. The said exor. gaue this yeare 20 marks towards the bewtifyinge of the key pipe.

Bristol Past and Present James Fawckner Nicholls, John Taylor
1643 It seems almost like a prevision of its destined use that these four good men as they sat therein should, amongst other methods for employing the poor, have devoted 20 marks to the beautifying of the Quay pipe that brought the precious water to the city” to provide employment for the poor.

Celia Finnes 1698 Tour: Shrewsbury to Bristol.
There are 12 gates to ye Citty, there is a very Large Conduit by ye Key finely Carv’d, all stone, this Conveys the water about ye town but all ye water has a Brackish taste.”

John Latimer. Annals Of Bristol In The Eighteenth Century.
Another step in the same direction was taken in 1717, when the fish market, held in the middle of High Street, was removed to the Quay, near St. Stephen’s Church. To make way for it, ” the old Conduit was taken down, and a new one of a lesser bulk erected, somewhat nearer to the Aven “

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 sometimes called the Treaty of Aachen, ended the War of the Austrian Succession and the peace was declared at several places around the city including at the Quay Pipe.

1770 The stone canopy was discarded and a fountain-head with cocks and a trough set up at the Tontine warehouse near Eagle house and the junction of St. Stephen’s Street and Colston Avenue.

A report  of Commissioners of Enquiry notes at Quay St. the cistern was open to the public from seven to ten in the morning  and three to seven in the evening.

In 1831 during the cholera epidemic “although the corporation did maintain the Quay Pipe there was a large measure of indifference to the lamentable inadequacy and bad condition of the supply.”

In 1863 the Quay Pipe was  “in good repair”.  Water was last drawn from the pipe in 1932.

The old spouts and ironwork of the Quay Pipe survive at the Bristol Water museum at Blagdon.

In 1936 the pipe head was destroyed for redevelopment

The plaque of the location of the Quay Pipe, Eagle House, St. Stephen’s Street.
From A Chronological Outline of the History of Bristol, and the Stranger’s Guide Through Its Streets and Neighbourhood by John Evans 1824

The Key-Pipe.
The water brought to this point of delivery rises in a withy-bed north-eastward of the Orphan-Asylum, lying between the high land of Ashley Court and the mill-stream that flows from the Boiling Well situated more remotely on the same level towards Stoke–House. In this withy bed are two wells, which overflow into the leaden cistern of a conduit house. Hence the water runs in pipes of lead along the north bank of the mill stream to Lower Ashley House; there it turns under the bed of the brook and crosses the fields south-westward, to a small house, (mentioned in the Perambulation of 1373) at the entrance of a hamlet, erected on the bank of the river Froom within the last thirty years, called Botany Bay. From this conduit or second head, technically termed by plumbers, a horse, the pipe crosses under the turnpike road leading from Ashley Place &c to Baptist-Mills, into Driver’s Fields (so named from a former Keeper of the gaol of Newgate, who held a farm there.) passing close to the White Horse Inn, through the Horse-Fair, over Bridewell Bridge (on which are two branches for supply of the prison and keeper’s house) under Bridewell-lane, the north side of Nelson street to the sugar-house where it turns across to the pavement flanking St. John’s Church, and so onward through Quay-Street, to the final cistern; whence the water is drawn by two cocks, from which, on account of its superior purity, the casks of nearly all the shipping of the port have been filled.

This plan shows the well head near the Railway Tavern but there is no record of a Pub here, though there was the South Wales Railway Tavern in St Werburghs, now “The Farm”. Curious!

Suggested Further reading.
An Analysis of the Supply and Control of Water in Bristol in the Sixteenth Century, based on entries in the Mayor’s Audit Books 1532-1574 by Jocelyn Davis.
A dissertation submitted to the University of Bristol in accordance with the requirements of the degree of MA in History in the Faculty of Arts, September 2015


In this picture you can just about see someone collecting water from the Quay Pipe on the extreme left of the picture at the foot of the building. This suggests the apparatus is that on display in the Bristol Water museum at Blagdon, pictured above.


Rowbotham, View from the Stone Bridge, Head of the Quay 1826
Courtesy of Bristol City Museum.