The Market Place wells are a series of underground chambers originally built to act as a water reservoir, although it remains uncertain if they were put into service.
In The History of Huddersfield and its Vicinity (1898) by D.F.E. Sykes, the author quotes an article written by "Native" (real name John Hanson) recalling Huddersfield in the early 1800s:
Godfrey Berry, a leading man in the town, proposed a scheme whereby a larger supply of water might be obtained. His project was to construct a large reservoir in the Old Market Place, into which the Bradley spout water was to be brought. Then there were to be four pumps, one at each corner of the Market Place, from which the people might fetch water. Godfrey and his colleagues set to work with a right good will at the new waterworks. A large hole was dug, which might be, I dare say, thirty yards by seven. This they built round and arched over, and when all was over, they made the astounding discovery that water would not run up-hill. The project was therefore dropped. A considerable amount of public money had been spent and nothing accomplished. The large vault, however, is still there, and when Huddersfield becomes a bonding town it may come in useful.
During excavations in 1906, the underground chambers were rediscovered and caused much interest. The Huddersfield Examiner published the following:
During the progress of the excavations in the Market Place, Huddersfield, for the new public underground lavatory, the workmen in the employ of Mr. Mark Brook, the contractor, came upon a series of troughs of wells covered over with high stone arches, which carried the surface of the Market Place. The works, which are described as former waterworks for the town, were rather extensive and have been surveyed with great interest by many visitors to the enclosure. At present the work of bricking up the entrance to the un-destroyed arches is going on rapidly as the walls of the lavatory rise, and shortly there will be very little if any of the old works visible.
A curious controversy arises, viz :— Whether these arches and wells are a memorial of a successful or an unsuccessful piece of engineering. The controversy has reached the Council Chamber, for at the General Purposes meeting a recommendation was made than an inscription should be placed upon the new public lavatory indicating that the original Huddersfield water reservoirs for the supply of the town were situated there. This, however, was met by the contention that the engineering was all wrong, and that it would not be wise to commemorate an engineering mistake by the old authorities. So the matter was left over, to be determined when the antiquarians have come to an agreement.
The theory that a mistake was made is supported by a statement in an interesting pamphlet, kindly lent to us by Mr. Smith Carter, photographer, Netherton, who, like Mr. Wigglesworth, has photographed the old masonry. The pamphlet, which is entitled "A Short History of Folly Hall and Huddersfield about eighty years ago" is itself of some age, so that the period with which it deals must be over a hundred years ago. In a description of the Market Place, which we shall give, with other interesting items, in a future issue, the pamphlet says :— "Near where the West Riding Bank now stands was an old public-house commonly called the Dell Hole ; opposite here, in the old Market Place, a large reservoir was constructed, into which the Bradley Spout was to be brought. Then there were to be four pumps, one at each corner of the Market Place, from which the people might fetch water. The digging of the hole, which would be perhaps thirty yards by seven, proceeded right merrily, was walled around and afterwards arched over, and when all was ready the astounding discovery was made that water would not run uphill. The project was therefore dropped. The large vault is, however, still there still, and when Huddersfield becomes a bonding town, it may come in useful."This would be decisive as to the engineering mistake if the whereabouts of Bradley Spout were given. Some authorities have it, however, that the spout was at or near where New North Road now passes the end of Portland Street, a thoroughfare which within the memory of middle-aged residents was known as Dyke End Lane. If this statement is correct, it will be seen that there was no reason for the water to run in any but the natural way to find its way — probably through wooden pipes — to the large stone tank in the Market Place. It will be interesting to learn how the question is ultimately settled. Meanwhile some of the masonry has been destroyed to make room for the new works, and some remains to be covered out of sign again as before.
Two decades later, interest was renewed once again in 1927:
AN ENGINEERING ERROR?
HUDDERSFIELD FIND WHICH RECALLS OLD WATER SUPPLY PUZZLE.
During the progress of excavations in Market Place, Huddersfield, workmen have discovered two stone chambers each containing about three feet of water. The chambers are connected by two tunnels and each has an arched roof.
Similar works were discovered during excavations about twenty years ago and were the subject of much speculation. It was held by some that the spot was the site of the original reservoirs which supplied old Huddersfield with water. Others had the opinion that the works marked an engineering error not without its humorous aspect.
A pamphlet, probably printed about 1800, refers to a reservoir being constructed in Market-place into which the Bradley Spout was to be diverted. There were to be four pumps, one at each corner of the Market Place upon which the public were to draw for their water supply. The reservoir was dug, walled round and roofed over. Then the discovery was made that water could never be induced to run uphill.This entertaining story would be the more easily credited were there reliable evidence concerning the exact whereabouts of the Bradley Spout. It is generally accepted that the Spout was in John William Street, near the end of Brook Street, and that the water was carried by a three-inch pipe down Brook Street to Wells Mills in North Gate. The water supply of the town, it is believed, was obtained from the river and pumped into a small reservoir at George Street.
This final article appears to mistake the writings of "Native" (published in the 1870s) as being from a pamphlet published circa 1800, but correctly notes that the original location of Bradley Spout was on ground higher than the Market Place.
Although the exact date the wells were constructed remains uncertain, a newspaper report of a public meeting held in Huddersfield in November 1844 dates them from the late 1820s. At the meeting, the Committee on Local Improvements reported on a number of suggestions for improving sanitation, including a proposal relating to the wells:
A resolution was also passed, authorising the Board of Surveyors (if consent can be obtained) to bring the surplus of water from Bradley spout to the tank sunk in the Market Place for that purpose, some 15 years since.
Although the article is ambiguous as to whether the originally intended purpose of the wells was specifically to store water from Bradley Spout, it implies that they were constructed but not brought into service for storing water. If the wells were indeed constructed in the late 1820s, then they are contemporary with the construction of Lower Longwood Reservoir (completed 1829) and its service reservoir on Spring Street, Huddersfield. Therefore, the original intention of the Market Place wells may have been to act as a secondary service reservoir and to provide a ready water supply for the inhabitants of the town centre. If this was the case, it remains uncertain why it was not brought into service — perhaps the Spring Street reservoir sufficed.
From contemporary newspaper articles, it seems certain the Market Place received a water supply from Longwood Reservoir. For the stone laying of Huddersfield Infirmary in 1829, a temporary fountain was erected in the Market Place and the water pressure of the reservoir supply was sufficient to throw the water over 10 feet into the air.
What does seem certain from the 1844 meeting is that no previous attempt had been made to connect the wells to Bradley Spout. Ultimately the resolution to do this was superseded by other events — namely the decision in early 1845 to site the new railway station on land to the north of the Market Place, including Bradley Spout Field. In the years that immediately followed, the Ramsden Estate redeveloped the land inbetween and Bradley Spout was instead re-routed to a public supply on John William Street.
Despite apparently not ever being connected to a water supply, the wells appear to have accumulated water, perhaps from rainfall, and this was used in the late 1840s or early 1850s as a source of water to "lay the dust in the streets" during a severe drought.
The claim by "Native" that the builders of the Market Place wells "made the astounding discovery that water would not run up-hill" perhaps hints that the scheme was seen by locals as an expensive failure and worthy of mockery. From the late 1840s onwards, the name Bradley Spout was used for the public supply of water situated in the retaining wall of the viaduct on John William Street and it may be that this was mistakenly seen by some as being the spring's original location — if so, the Market Place was indeed uphill from the that location by around 18 feet.