Ben’s Spring is one of the fresh water springs that flow from the base of the upper coral rock terrace that make up the centre of the island. These coral rocks were the first to rise above the sea 1 to 2 million years ago.
In 1860 the Barbados Government decided that it was time that piped drinking water was provided for the inhabitants of Bridgetown.
Up to that time there was no piped water. Each property had its own well. In addition there were a few springs in the area, notably in the areas of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Spring Garden. This was a very unsanitary situation as each house also had a toilet well, usually close to the water well.
To get the water into Bridgetown a 12-inch cast iron pipe was laid from Ben’s Spring, in New Castle, St. John, to Bridgetown. The engineers laid the pipe so that the water flowed by gravity from the source to Bridgetown. This was an amazing engineering achievement, as it had to take a route that would not rise above the source height.
Ben’s Spring is approximately 100 Meters above sea level and the distance to town would be about 25Km.
From New Castle it went down to Bath Plantation, passing close Bath Sugar Factory, up to Codrington College, Palmers, Between Oughterson and Busy Park, St. Philips Church, through the St. George valley, running parallel to the Train Line, and into the city.
The Pipe was completed on 29 March 1861. A fountain was built in Trafalgar Square with donations from the public of Barbados in tribute of this achievement. The acting governor, Robert Millar Mundy Esq., officially opened it on the 27 July 1865 on behalf of the government of the island. The plaque on the side says: “This fountain was erected by public subscription to commemorate the bringing of piped water to the City of Bridgetown on 29 March 1861. Opened by acting Governor – Robert Miller Mundy ESQ. on the 27th July 1865 who accepted custody of this fountain on behalf of the Government of Barbados.”
Sections of this pipe are still in use although it is a constant source of leaks. It is over 140 years old, and the route in St. John is known for landslides.
The Barbados Water Authority is in the process of replacing it with a PVC pipe.
Between Codrington College and Consett Bay it descends into a valley before climbing up to Palmers and Thicket. The pressure that the old pipe had to withstand was demonstrated a few years ago when a fitting failed and the water was spouting about 30 meters straight up. I had a look at the damage. The fitting that broke (it was added at a much later date than the original pipe!) was a 2-inch pipe.
This is another example of Bajan ingenuity and hard work. It got fresh water to town without contributing to global warming!