Thurrock during the 18th -19th century had a number of commercial water wells, alongside the numerous domestic house wells. In Fobbing Parish, Vange Well, No. 5, (TQ78 7009 8623.) survives as a ruin, this wellhead once formed part of a series of wells operated by Farmer Cash.
The mineral water was first obtained from a well sunk to the rear of Hovells Farm House, Vange in 1899, this farm house still stands, although much altered, is believed to have stood on its present site for around 400 years and a Mr King was the owner in 1899. The water drawn from the well at this time, although seemingly clear, was found to have a peculiar taste and smell and when boiled left sediment at the bottom of the container. It was decided not to use the water. Evidently Mr King used the water the following year (1900) for his cattle, when there were very dry conditions, the cattle thrived on the water for three months, and at the end of this period they were found to be in exceptional condition.
This news came to the attention of one Mr Edwin Cash who was the owner of a plot of land on higher ground to the south of Hovells Farm house. Mr Cash was the licensee of the 'Angel' in Islington, a quite well known public house of the period (1901) and possibly had a future commercial venture in mind as he approached Mr King with the intention of having a sample of the well water tested at his own cost, this was agreed. The water was found to be high in mineral content.
At a later date Mr Cash is reported to have sunk a well on his own land to tap the Hovell's Farm water source. Although Mr Cash was successful, this well produced water from around 1902; it was not until 1919 when he retired from the 'Angel' that he decided to develop his commercial interest. Mr. Cash sank another well alongside the first, it is believed about this time a large wooden ex-Army Hut, surplus from the Great War, was erected close to the two well heads. There is evidence that the hut was also used to store glass bottles, and to actually bottle the mineral water for sale. The bottles were made of thick glass, some of which may have been embossed just below the neck. A paper label featuring a signed reproduction photograph of Edwin Cash, verifying the authenticity of the product was also attached to the bottles. Neither a complete sample bottle nor label has been located at present.
Mr Cash obtained a further analysis on the water from Dr. John C. Thresh - Consulting Medical Officer for Health for Essex. The analysis of the water and a comparison with Hockley Spa Water was obtained, the findings of which were published in the medical profession's magazine 'The Lancet' of December 1922. The national newspapers had previously reported the medicinal value of the mineral water as early as 1920. A large number of people reportedly visited the wells at this time and the bottling plant was stated to be very busy. It was advertised as "Sold in all local chemists".
It was around the early part of 1920 that Mr Cash advertised his business address as; Vange Wells, Vange Corner Estate, London Road, Fobbing. A further bottle label of March 1923 indicates the company was registered and was advertised as; The Vange Water Co. Ltd, Foster Lane, Cheapside, London, EC2. There is also oral evidence of a large hoarding with an arch like construction, painted with the caption 'Vange Magical Well's' which was sighted alongside the A13. In 1923 the Gray's and Tilbury Gazette advertised 'Vange Water' sold in all local chemists, priced at 2 shillings and three pence per bottle. In May 1923 Mr Cash pursued a libel action against the Westminster Gazette, which apparently suggested that his well's had run dry. Mr Cash disclaimed this, as the supply to visitors was limited to 10 gallons per day, so as to leave 90 gallons for sale through chemist shops. Westminster Gazette withdrew the action along with an apology, and a promise to pay towards the cost of the action.
Two further wells had been sunk during the period 1900 to 1923. No. 3 well collapsed and No. 4 did not yield water, so a fifth and final well was sunk. No. 5 was successful and an elaborate structure designed to give the impression of a domed 'Classical' temple-like made of brick and rendered, with a domed roof was built over the well head as a feature, the derelict remains of which still stand today.
The Vange Water Co. Ltd. ceased trading possibly in late 1924. It is believed this was due to suspected contamination of the waters by drainage from a sanatorium for tuberculosis treatment of young people mainly from the London area. Sighted higher up the hillside, the sanatorium continued in use for some years after cessation of business by Mr Edwin Cash. In 1931 Mr Cash died and the land was sold to the proprietors of 'KRUCHEN SALTS'.
In 1999 the Thurrock Heritage Forum, who aim to raise awareness to Thurrock's rich heritage and interface with the Council on heritage concerns, researched this site as they felt it warranted a 'listed building' status as stated in their report:
"The site is one of special interest within the context of local and county industrial archaeology. It appears to be unique in preserving evidence of a medicinal water 'spa', linked interestingly to the old London - Southend holiday motor-route (A13) of the 1920s. It possesses a near- complete pump house built in 'classical' style, thus reflecting an image of the 'spa' tradition, which had flourished earlier, in the 18th - 19th centuries.
The site is directly adjacent to an attractive council-owned country park location and already has an extensive visitor-usage. During the present brief survey, some 20 people stopped to look at the pump house, and more than half had some level of awareness about the building's purpose and history. Its potential as an 'interpretation' site is high and restoration to a meaningful and vandal-safe condition would seem to be quite achievable.
It is recommended to the members of the Heritage Forum that application should therefore go forward for listed building status to be granted to the pump house and its important curtilage, with a further view to considering means of grant-aid for necessary works of stabilisation and restoration to be carried out as soon as possible." R. Bingley, August 1998.
This application processed by Thurrock Council's Planning department was not successful.
- Archives in Local History Studies area Thurrock Library;
- Archives in Thurrock Museum;
- Based on report by Mr. R. Bingley & Mr. R. Offord of Thurrock Heritage Forum.