CAPTAIN EDWARD GOLDSMITH
CHARLES DICKENS’ WATER PUMP
GAD’S HILL, HIGHAM, KENT
After more than twenty years as master and commander of merchants vessels between London, Sydney, NSW and Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Captain Edward Goldsmith (1804-1869) retired to his ancestral estates at Chalk and the house at Gad’s Hill (variations eg. Gadshill, Gads Hill), Higham, Kent, UK. Within months of resuming residence at Gad’s Hill House in mid 1856 with his wife Elizabeth Goldsmith nee Day, and son Edward Goldsmith jnr,, he was the subject of a curious threat about the lack of water to the house of his new neighbour Charles Dickens down Telegraph Hill at 6 Gad’s Hill Place: “Goldsmith or I must fall, so I conceive”, Dickens avowed in a letter to Henry Austin on 6th June 1857.
Captain Goldsmith’s “charitable disposition”
By 1869, Gad’s Hill House was listed in Captain Edward Goldsmith’s will as leased to Mr Andrew Chalmers Dods on a piece of land measuring 6a, 3r, 28p which was undergoing extensions and enlargement, payment for which was to be executed out of the Captain’s other estates, excluding Vicarage Row which he desired to be left to his nieces Elizabeth Rachel Nevin (nee Day, wife of photographer Thomas J. Nevin), and her younger sister Mary Sophia Day, residents of Hobart, Tasmania. Originally named Mount Prospect, Gads Hill House was located at the top of Telegraph Hill with commanding views of the Medway and Thames to the north and Cobham Hall to the south west, hence Charles Dickens’ description of it as “that crow’s-nest of a house” (see letter below). Outside the gates was a beacon and a ship’s bell on a metal stand at the front door. Although Captain Goldsmith was one of the first owners of the house, Mr John Townsend, MP for Greenwich and a Shakespearian actor of note was thought to have built it ca. 1842. Captain Goldsmith’s generosity in easing Townsend’s considerable debts, among other acts of kindness in the district for which the Captain was known, was mentioned by Cecil Fielding in 1882 on page 7 of his publication, A Hand-book of Higham: Or the Curiosities of a Country Parish.
Cecil Fielding on Captain Goldsmith at Gadshill, A Hand-book of Higham: Or the Curiosities of a Country Parish (1882: 7)
The scene of most of the highway robberies is supposed by many to be that piece of the road where you descend the hill towards Gravesend, by the third milestone from Rochester. When one has reached the top of Gadshill we see on the right hand side a villa, which is faced with plaster; this is Gadshilll Cottage, said to have been the old hostelry. The cellars are curious as containing very thick walls, and some years ago a quantity of pipes and coins were found in them; from this it has been supposed that it was the highwayman’s house. The present inn keeps up the name of Sir John Falstaff, in which there is an old tea-tray with Falstaff painted on it, as he describes himself, “A good portly man i’ faith and corpulent, of a cheerful look, and a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage.’ It is dated above and below 1410. Sir William Jenner, the Queen’s Physician, is stated, in the Rochester Journal, to have been born at the Falstaff Inn. Between these two places is a narrow gravel lane which leads up to the top of Telegraph Hill, as it is named, which is the highest point of Gadshill and Higham; turning into a carriage drive we find ourselves in the pretty grounds of Gadshill House, which commands a fine view of Cobham Woods, Borstal, the country round down the Medway, and a portion of the Hundred Hoo. This house was built by a Mr. Townsend, M. P. for Greenwich, some forty years ago, who was unseated for bribery; from him it passed to Captain Goldsmith, who was well known in Higham for his charitable disposition; and from him to his son, whose lessee is Mr. Dods, who has rented it for some years and bestowed much pains upon the gardens and grounds. Above the gateway of Gadshill House we reach the top of the hill, which commands a most ….
A real estate journalist described Gads Hill House in these terms in 2002:
Gads Hill House, near Rochester, Kent. A long, sweeping drive, six bedrooms, magnificent full-length hall, huge reception rooms – what more could a City commuter want in a country residence? Land? There are more than four acres of woodland and gardens, including a croquet lawn and orchard. Somewhere to lay down the claret? There are three cellars and a wine store. And with regular commuter trains from Higham, two miles away, to London, you could still be back to bath the kids.
In 2009,Gads Hill House Telegraph Hill, Rochester, Gravesham, Kent, ME3 7NW was the most expensive house purchase in Telegraph Hill, sold for £1,395,000.
What remains of Captain Goldsmith’s property at Gads Hill.
Gads Hill House with yellow gravel in front and acreage behind
Google maps capture 2016
Captain Goldsmith’s will in Chancery, 1872, Item 7: Gadshill House
Charles Dickens’ Water Supply
When Charles Dickens (1812-1870) settled finally into the house at 6 Gad’s Hill Place, Higham, Kent (UK) in 1857, his attention was drawn to Captain Goldsmith up at Gads Hill House on Telegraph Lane on two most urgent matters – the water supply to his house and the location of the village mail box, both of which Captain Goldsmith seemed to monopolise.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Charles Dickens House Gadshill
Date: 1850s to 1870s (photographed)
Artist/Maker: Francis Frith, born 1822 – died 1898 (maker)
Materials and Techniques: Whole-plate albumen print from wet collodion glass negative
Credit Line: Acquired from F. Frith and Company, 1954
Museum number: E.208:1513-1994
At first, Dickens’ excitement at buying the property knew no bounds. These extracts are from his letters. On January 17th, 1857, he wrote –
[Sidenote: M. de Cerjat.]
TAVISTOCK HOUSE, _Monday Night, Jan, 17th, 1857
MY DEAR CERJAT,
… Down at Gad’s Hill, near Rochester, in Kent–Shakespeare’s Gad’s Hill,
where Falstaff engaged in the robbery–is a quaint little country-house
of Queen Anne’s time. I happened to be walking past, a year and a half
or so ago, with my sub-editor of “Household Words,” when I said to him:
“You see that house? It has always a curious interest for me, because
when I was a small boy down in these parts I thought it the most
beautiful house (I suppose because of its famous old cedar-trees) ever
seen. And my poor father used to bring me to look at it, and used to say
that if I ever grew up to be a clever man perhaps I might own that
house, or such another house. In remembrance of which, I have always in
passing looked to see if it was to be sold or let, and it has never been
to me like any other house, and it has never changed at all.” We came
back to town, and my friend went out to dinner. Next morning he came to
me in great excitement, and said: “It is written that you were to have
that house at Gad’s Hill. The lady I had allotted to me to take down to
dinner yesterday began to speak of that neighbourhood. ‘You know it?’ I
said; ‘I have been there to-day.’ ‘O yes,’ said she, ‘I know it very
well. I was a child there, in the house they call Gad’s Hill Place. My
father was the rector, and lived there many years. He has just died, has
left it to me, and I want to sell it.’ ‘So,’ says the sub-editor, ‘you
must buy it. Now or never!'” I did, and hope to pass next summer there,
though I may, perhaps, let it afterwards, furnished, from time to time….
But serious issues soon emerged “on the great estate” a few months later. On June 6th, he wrote –
[Sidenote: Mr. Henry Austin.]
GAD’S HILL, _Saturday, June 6th, 1857._
MY DEAR HENRY,
Here is a very serious business on the great estate respecting the water
supply. Last night, they had pumped the well dry merely in raising the
family supply for the day; and this morning (very little water having
been got into the cisterns) it is dry again! It is pretty clear to me
that we must look the thing in the face, and at once bore deeper, dig,
or do some beastly thing or other, to secure this necessary in
abundance. Meanwhile I am in a most plaintive and forlorn condition
without your presence and counsel. I raise my voice in the wilderness
and implore the same!!!
Wild legends are in circulation among the servants how that Captain
Goldsmith on the knoll above–the skipper in that crow’s-nest of a
house–has millions of gallons of water always flowing for him. Can he
have damaged my well? Can we imitate him, and have our millions of
gallons? Goldsmith or I must fall, so I conceive.
If you get this, send me a telegraph message informing me when I may
expect comfort. I am held by four of the family while I write this, in
case I should do myself a mischief–it certainly won’t be taking to
Ever affectionately (most despairingly).
In a letter to Henry Austin on 15 August 1857, the water supply problem had been solved with a bore. Dickens wrote –
[Sidenote: Mr. Henry Austin.]
GAD’S HILL PLACE, _Saturday, Aug. 15th, 1857.
MY DEAR HENRY,
At last, I am happy to inform you, we have got at a famous spring!! It
rushed in this morning, ten foot deep. And our friends talk of its
supplying “a ton a minute for yourself and your family, sir, for
They ask leave to bore ten feet lower, to prevent the possibility of
what they call “a choking with sullage.” Likewise, they are going to
insert “a rose-headed pipe;” at the mention of which implement, I am
(secretly) well-nigh distracted, having no idea of what it means. But I
have said “Yes,” besides instantly standing a bottle of gin. Can you
come back, and can you get down on Monday morning, to advise and
endeavour to decide on the mechanical force we shall use for raising the
water? I would return with you, as I shall have to be in town until
Thursday, and then to go to Manchester until the following Tuesday.
I send this by hand to John, to bring to you.
Charles Dickens and Captain Edward Goldsmith were well-acquainted, even on close terms, despite Dickens throwing down the gauntlet in a letter to Henry Austin on 6th June 1857, avowing “Goldsmith or I must fall, so I conceive“. Dickens would have approached Captain Goldsmith as soon as he realized he had a problem supplying water to his new purchase at 6 Gad’s Hill Place. Captain Goldsmith was knowledgeable about springs, bores, pipes and pumps; his own household enjoyed “millions of gallons“, as Dickens complained at the time. Only a skipper of great merchant and passenger ships at sea for months on end would understand pumps, not to mention 20 years’ experience on the driest continent on earth, the Australian colonies, where bores provided the only solution to endless drought. And as a shipyard and patent slip operator, he was handy with machinery. Dickens would have welcomed his assistance as one of his “friends” who had overcome the problem with a bore by July and promised him “a ton a minute for yourself and your family, sir, for nevermore” (letter to Henry Austin, 15th August 1857).
Victoria & Albert Museum
Coloured albumen carte-de-visite, J & C Watkins,
Museum no. 1712:21-1956
A probable cause of the water supply problem for Dickens’ house at Glads Hill Place at the bottom of Telegraph Hill is best explained by former resident Carole Turner in the 1980s of Captain Goldsmith’s Gads Hill House at the top of Telegraph Hill:
The water table at the top of the hill was very high and the cellars of the house regularly flooded. The strange thing was that they only flooded in times of drought not in times of very wet weather. I researched it and there is a suggestion that in drought times they stopped pumping from Higham marshes and this somehow caused the water table to rise at the top of the hill. Presumably properties at the bottom i.e Dickens Gads Hill Place would have had empty wells. There were three wells at Gads Hill House and they were always full….as was the cellar for a good deal of the time! as once flooded the water did not drain away for a very long time. Suddenly in the middle of a very hot summer I would go down to the cellar and find it flooded…quite bizarre.
Source; courtesy of Carole Turner, personal correspondence, 4th February 2016
Floor plans of Gads Hill House 2009
Formerly Captain Edward Goldsmith’s house
Source: http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-20759851.html (2009)
Dickens’ Well Pump
Kent ordnance maps from 1871 to 2005 online show a curious anomaly about the Gads Hill location of Dickens’ well: they indicate that the archaeological site of the well, and a monument erected there to identify it, is or was within the grounds of Captain Goldsmith’s property, Gadshill House on Telegraph Hill rather than further down the hill, within the grounds of Dickens’ property at Gadshill Place on the Gravesend Road. The ordnance map software pinpoints it with the yellow star on these webshots (below). Perhaps there is or was a monument purporting to be the site of Dickens’ well located up Telegraph Hill inside the grounds of Gad’s Hill House, mistakenly placed where Captain Goldsmith’s own well was located, at some point during the early 1900s when so many buildings in the area were marked out and identified with an association to Dickens’ life and novels for the many tourists following the thematic walking trails. But being inside private property. this particular monument has either been removed, if it ever existed there, or is no longer accessible to the public.
Ordnance Maps of Higham and Gads Hill, Kent 1871-2005
The Kent County Council gives this summary accompanying the maps:
[TQ7125 7088] The well-house stood on one side of the new stable yard at Gadshill Place next to the new stables which Charles Dickens built, now converted into classrooms for Gad’s Hill Place School. The well itself was of great depth, variously given as 230ft and 217ft and was dug through the bed of Thanet sand deep into the underlying chalk. It was still in use in 1888 but seems to have become redundant about 1900 when mains water reached Higham.
In 1973, the well pump was relocated to the grounds of the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX. An article published in 1972 , written by A. C. Harrison and J.E.L. Caiger, titled “Charles Dickens’s Well” (Archaeologia Cantiana, Volume LXXXVI 1971, pp 11-14), describes in detail the trouble first encountered by Dickens with the water supply to the house and the well’s construction (after the account by Dickens’ contemporary John Forster); the well-house; and the horse engine driving the pump machinery.
The authors mention a traditional tale that on the completion of the well, Dickens was convinced that the then Master of Watt’s Charity in Rochester had dumped the body of a dead cat into the well which he later retrieved. The original location of the well is identified by these authors as standing on one side of the stable yard next to the new stables at 6 Gad’s Hill Place which Charles Dickens built, a square building with a beamed and tiled roof. The well reached a depth between 217ft and 230ft. In 1957 the structure of the well-house was deemed unsafe and demolished.
TRANSCRIPT Extract p. 13
The terms horse engine, horse gear, whim or gin have all been used to describe a certain class of machine where a horse or pony provided the motive power. The basic arrangement consisted of a lever, attached to a vertical shaft being drawn round by a horse walking in a circle; mechanical power being produced by the gears to which the lever was attached. Early machines, however, did not possess any gears. They were constructed of wood and derived their power from the action of ropes passing round drums and over wheels. Machines of this type were frequently used in the mining industry in this country towards the close of the eighteenth century. The machine that formerly stood inside the well-house at Gadshill Place was sophisticated in design and consists of a vertically mounted axle, with a lever arm, which as they revolved set suitable, gearing, cranks and pump rods in motion. The rise and fall of the pump rods operated the pumps located well shaft. The apparatus was used to pump water up to a storage tank at roof-top level in the main building and this supplied the water needs of  Gadshill Place.
A. C. Harrison and J.E.L. Caiger, (1972) “Charles Dickens’s Well”
Archaeologia Cantiana, Volume LXXXVI 1971, pp 11-14
The Well Pump Relocation to London 1973
Dickens’ well pump was relocated to the grounds of the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX in 1973, per the plaque which reads:
“This horse-powered pump was installed by Charles Dickens at Gad’s Hill Place, Higham, in 1857. It was brought to its present site for preservation in 1973.”
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