A gilded elephant stands on top of the cast iron machinery of this unique Victorian well at Stoke Row, Oxfordshire, an amazing gift from an Indian prince.
The 368-foot deep well, under its domed canopy (made by a foundry in Wallingford), was paid for by the Maharajah of Benares (now Varanasi). He had met the young Edward Reade, the local squire, who spent many years in India where among other work he helped to sink a well for a village in Benares. He told the Maharajah that drought conditions also occurred on parts of the Chilterns.
Moved by Reade’s stories of water shortage in Ipsden (the parish which then included the settlement of Stoke Row) – the water had to be fetched by hand from miles away – the Maharajah paid for a well to be dug in Stoke Row, at a cost of around £400, as well as a small well-keeper’s cottage and a cherry orchard. The cherries from the orchard provided an income to help pay for the well’s upkeep.
The well is 4 feet in diameter, dug by hand mostly through chalk, and is deeper that the height of two Nelson’s columns. It took a year to complete and was opened on the Queen’s birthday in 1864. The well was in use for over 70 years and was a huge benefit to Stoke Row as a community.
Prince Philip’s visit to mark the well’s centenary in 1964 is still remembered in the hand-coloured red helicopter on every copy of the village newsletter, the Stoke Row News.
In 2008 the canopy was re-painted to restore it to its original Victorian glory.
The Stoke Row village website has a section on the Well with images.
The illustrated guide to the well is available on site (where there is also a box for donations). This is derived from a full history of the well, written by Laureen Williamson in 1979 and updated in 1983. A DVD tracing the well’s history is also available from Stoke Row Stores.
Dipping into the Wells by Angela Spencer-Harper is a history of two Chiltern villages, Stoke Row and Highmoor, and includes photographs and personal memories of this well and the one in Highmoor. Published by Robert Boyd Publications, Witney, 1999.See http://www.oldplace.free-online.co.uk/dw.htm for information on purchasing.
What you can visit
The well is free to visit and is clearly visible from the main street through Stoke Row village. Visitors to the well are asked to park in the village hall car park opposite. The well-keeper’s cottage is now privately occupied.