This weekend the remarkable Tees Cottage Pumping Station, on the edge of Darlington, holds its last open days of the year, but the volunteers’ eyes are already looking to next year – the 175th anniversary of the first water being pumped by the station from the River Tees into the town centre.

The Darlington & Stockton Times provides the evidence for the start of the project because it reported that on Wednesday, June 27, 1849, “the ceremony of cutting the first turf was accomplished in a workman-like style by Henry Pease”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Tees Cottage Pumping Station

But where, asks Martyn Brown, chairman of the pumping station, was that first turf turned?

The D&S Times is vague. It says that at 3pm on the day, the shareholders met Mr Pease outside his Pierremont mansion and, “with a select circle of his friends”, they proceeded “to the place appointed for the ceremony, which is situated in a field about half a mile on the road via Mount Carmel. On arriving at the place, and the most suitable ground for the proceedings having been pointed out by Mr Mason, resident engineer, the ceremony of cutting the first turf was performed with a suitable instrument by Mr Pease. “A volley of cheers was then given with great enthusiasm.”

Read more local history stories in our dedicated Looking Back section

You might expect the first sod of the waterworks to be cut at the site of the pumping station, but that is nearly three miles from Mr Pease’s mansion.

The turf-cutting must have been closer to home than that.

In 1849, the water company also built a reservoir on the highest piece of land in Darlington at Bushell Hill, which is 200ft above sea level. The water was to be pumped from the riverside station up to the brick, circular reservoir, which could hold 800,000 gallons, and then natural pressure would cause it to dribble down to the town centre when the wealthy subscribers opened their first taps.

The site of the reservoir is now a public park between the Mowden infant and junior schools. It was drained in 1971, and you can still see that the play area is on a raised circle of grass which was once the reservoir. It is probably a mile’s yomp from Mr Pease’s house (going past the Carmelite priory), so is this where the first turf was cut?

If you have any theories, watertight or not, we’d love to hear from you. Please email The pumping station is open on Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm with admission £5 for adults. If you have never seen the amazing Edwardian beam engine, it is a sight to behold.