Steam and Waterwheel Centre


I am very biased I know but when we were growing up my Dad could do anything. He could mend, he could make, he would ensure things worked properly – he was a marvel. When it snowed he built my brother and I a sledge, he mended our shoes using segs. Anyone remember segs? He kept our car on the road as his father had before him,  I could go on and on. But then again he was pretty typical of his time because if you couldn’t do it yourself, and you certainly couldn’t pay someone else to do it for you, then it just didn’t get done and that wouldn’t do when the television stopped working on the morning of the Coronation when half the neighbourhood was about to squeeze in front of it – off came the back and he rootled around until it got going again. Yes he was a great rootler, tinkerer and, as I used to call him in his old age, ‘an arch potterer’. He would have absolutely loved ‘Steam Up’ day at the Castleton Steam and Waterwheel Centre in Sherborne which took place recently on a glorious sunny Sunday. The sheer joy of getting something to work and then glowing (quite literally in the heat of the engine shed) with pride was evident all around me. The great pleasure that was shared by volunteers and visitors alike in seeing something that has played such an important part in Sherborne’s past brought back to life again is what this opening is all about.

David Williams


The first volunteer I talked to was secretary David Wilkins, who was manning the gate, then in the heat of the boiler room I met Richard Cross. Richard used to manage a 100 man workshop on the Isle of Portland until his retirement and getting to grips once again with engines and moving parts clearly had him enthused as he explained how it all works.


I then met a man who bought his first old penny farthing bicycle way back in 1969 and now has a collection of 200 assorted bicycles.

Jordan Humphreys

By far the youngest person I met was Jordan Humphreys driving the steam engine that his great grandfather had built. I was in awe of, and at the same time greatly heartened at, the expertise that this seventeen year old has amassed while working closely with the older members of  his family. It was so good to know that here was someone who would likely be able to turn his hand to so many things in the years to come, having picked up such useful skills at his father’s knee. This got me thinking back to my dad again as this is just the way that he would have learnt all those years ago.

The exhibition at the Centre tells us of the importance of the pumping station, which opened its doors in December 1869, and finally brought clean water to the inhabitants of Sherborne. A stark reminder of what it must have been like before this is encapsulated in the 1866 cartoon ‘Death’s Dispensary’. There are some deeply disturbing figures for the death rate in Sherborne in the 18th and 19th Centuries. In 1860, a particularly shocking year, nearly 400 people died in the town from typhoid and cholera.


A poem, written by a member of Trent WI, in praise of the pumping station really sums up its significance:

The water in Sherborne was tainted

Early death and ill health were acquainted

So they pumped up deep water

To diminish the slaughter

The Great Wheel, some said, should be sainted.




Please see the website for more information and for details of the monthly opening dates and times

By the way there is even a website for ‘Segs’. Who’d have believed it!

Barbara Elsmore 14 May 2016

This entry was posted in Local History, Sherborne life, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Steam and Waterwheel Centre

  1. Even though we’ve now lived in Sherborne for almost four years and I pass the Centre almost every day, I’ve never been to a ‘Steam Up’ opening – you have inspired me to make sure I go next time!


  2. Graham Bendell says:

    Great article, Barbara – If you had met the secretary 20 or 30 years ago you would have been talking to someone you know now – me! If I haven’t told you before, next time we meet I will tell you about the early days (well, the first 18 years) of the efforts to save the site and make it accessible. Graham


  3. barrybrock says:

    Smashing! Thank you Barbara, you’ve done it again. But isn’t that David Wilkins (rather than Williams) manning the gate?


  4. Thank you Barry and apologies to David Wilkins


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