No one knows for certain where the Romans obtained their drinking water supplies from in the city of Bath. It is fairly certain that they piped water in lead pipes from the hills surrounding Bath mainly on the Lansdown side. The remnants of lead pipe within the present day Roman baths were probably the means by which cold water was conveyed into the hot water bathing establishment.
During Roman times and into the Dark Ages water must have been obtained either from shallow wells in the river gravels or from the springs that were plentiful on the southern Lansdown slopes. As the city grew however, such wells would soon become polluted by lack of sanitation, so the occupants of the city would have to look farther afield for their water supplies.
At a very early date water was brought into the city from springs at both Beacon Hill and Beechen Cliff, perhaps running initially in open paved channels and later taken through wood or lead pipes. These channels or pipes were collectively known as conduits and they supplied fontims or dripping tanks in varying parts of the city, from which the water carriers and the city inhabitants could take their supply.
Water was normally shut off at night by inserting a tamkin which was a wooden plug in the outlet of the fontim. The Beechen Cliff springs was shared by the city with the monastic community from Bruton and by 1230 the city archives mention the fountain near the south gate of the city near the site of the present Woolworths.
It is one of the earliest indications of the activities of the city independently of the monastic authority. The city of Bath was in possession of the Bishops of the Diocese until 1193 when it was transferred to Richard I and although lead pipes were not laid down Holloway into the city until about 1756, the water somehow must have been piped into the city until about 1756, the water somehow must have been piped across the river. There is an item in the Chamberlain’s accounts for 1578 which reads: - “setting a rayle at the bridge to save the pypes of leade” and another entry in 1585 says “for making a pype on the bridge for eyre hole”. This being obviously a reference to a breathing hole which would allow the pipe to be kept free of air and allow the water to flow over the bridge. It was a tradition that water could be drawn from elm pipes by piercing the wall of the pipe with a hollow quill and this became known as a feather. The limitations of flow in the pipes leading to the conduit did not allow for insertion of many feathers for individual houses and in 1667 such rights were let out to a local plumber for this purpose had to be withdrawn as he was totally depleting the supply to the fountain.
The fountains which supplied the City of Bath were in the following locations. Near the old church of St Michael stood two conduits called St Michael’s Conduit and Carnwell. Halfway up Broad Street was Broad Street Conduit. In the present High Street between the present position of Caters and the Guildhall stood St Mary’s Conduit, and further down the Higher Street towards the Abbey stood the Conduit of St Peter and St Paul. Both of these conduits were fed from St Swithin’s well on the slope of Beacon Hill, whereas St Michaels, Carnwell and Broad Street conduits were fed from the Beacon Hill Springs. The last two conduits were the St James’ Conduit near the present site of Woolworths, and the Stall’s Conduit which stood near the present site of Boots at the Weston Street junction, and which were fed from the Beechen Cliff springs.
The Municipal records of Bath for the years 1509 onwards give quite detailed accounts of the waterworks at Beechen Cliff and at Beacon Hill, and in particular to the repairs that were carried out to maintain a flow of drinking water to those conduits, for example, an entry for 1569 to “Willm Colyns for keping the watre for mendinge St James pype” “for mendinge the pypes in Waulkotts Lane in the twelf dayes for clothe corde pyche tallow and rosson”. And again an entry in 1576 “paied to a laborer for mendinge staules pype and to the Belmans sonne to twoo daies labor about the St James’ pype” and another “to Forte for © oe ait the conduite in the Highe Streate for two poundes of Solder”, ‘ seuehtee entry “paid for woodd to moult the ledd” and astly an interesting account in 1595 “paid the good wife Greese of Hollwaie for the cara e of tw the coveringe of the con ayaeee oe loades of stone for It can be seen from these records that a considerable effort he City to maintair 1e supplies to