The weather this winter has been pants. Relentlessly wet. But now the seasons are turning, the daffodils are coming out, spring is springing and, with a little warmth in the sun, now is the time to take a little walk around a village green and look at some pants.

A pant is a posh pump. The Oxford English Dictionary says it is a word that has been used by northern people to the east of the Pennines – Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and south Scotland – since 1586 to mean “a public fountain or water supply”.

The northern people to the west of the Pennines, in Cumbria or Lancashire, have been using it since 1807 to mean a cesspit or a sump with water running through it – two very different meanings.

And – we’re making up the rules of this game as we go along – North Eastern pants are made of stone, often with roofs on their heads, and usually they stand over a subterranean reservoir from which their metal pump draws the water up.

Breathing heavily with excitement, we reckon there’s a pantheon of pants on village greens in our district.

In alphabetical order, we begin with Aldbrough St John, between Richmond and Darlington, which it has been said has the largest village green in the country.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The pant on High Green at Aldbrough St John - could it once have been a cricket roller?

There are really at least three village greens in Aldbrough – Low, High and Chapel – with a combined area of about 14 acres. That’s a large area of grass, but Great Bentley in Essex claims to have 43 acres and Old Buckenham in Norfolk 40 acres.

While it may not have the acreage, Aldbrough certainly has the pants.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Looking north over Aldbrough St John in 1950. Lower left is Chapel Green with its pant in the centre. Above it is High Green, with its pant visible in the middle and on the right is a portion of Low Green. Picture: Jimmy Blumer

There’s one on High Green, outside the former Stanwick Arms, which is a cylinder of heavy sandstone that dates from the late 18th Century. It has holes in it where the pump used to be, although some say it was in a former life a wicket roller from the cricket club at the far end of Low Green.

From High Green, go over the 16th Century packhorse bridge – which is surely too hipped to be a true packhorse bridge – to Chapel Green, which is overlooked by a former Methodist Chapel, built in 1877. In the middle is a mid 18th Century stone bollard on top of an old well. The cast iron pump draws up the water and discharges it into a sunken pool.

In Wensleydale in East Witton, there’s an early 19th Century pump encased in stone which sits on top of a reservoir dug beneath the village green. The water to the reservoir was presumably piped from one of the several springs around the village – one is called Diana’s Well but is also known as “Slaverin’ Sal” as the water spurts out of a mossy mouth.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The pant at East Witton. Picture: Google StreetView

How big might the reservoir be? Well, on Heighington green to the north of Darlington there is a pant that covers a manmade cistern that once held 10,000 gallons of water. Today, when we have clean water gushing into our homes at the turn of a tap, the average person uses 32 gallons a day, so Heighington was well supplied.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Heighington archive

The pant was paid for by the Reverend Samuel Gamlen, who was vicar from 1815 to 1836. He had water from an ancient holy well, St John’s Well, piped hundreds of yards down Water Lane – there’s a clue in the name – to the reservoir beneath the green.

Any water that overflowed from the pant or the cistern was channelled to the lowest part of the green where a pond was created.

This was an elaborate pant-based water supply which lasted until 1930 when Heighington was connected to the mains. The pipes were disconnected, the pond was filled in, but at least the pant survives as a curio on the village green.

Two of the best known pants in our area are on Reeth’s spectacular green. One is outside the King’s Arms pub and the other outside the Burgoyne Hotel. They are identical and fortunately they have bronze plaques on them recording their story.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The pant, or pump, on Reeth village green. How big is the tank beneath it?

They say: “This water was brought into the Town, and these Tanks erected by the Munificence of Geo Robinson Esq’re of Richmond 1868.”

George Robinson was the village’s principal landowner who lived in the premier house – then known as Hill House, now the Burgoyne – overlooking the green. He also had a home in Richmond.

Finally, to West Auckland where the impressive pant has twice found new life.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Children from West Auckland schools prepare to place their time capsules in the pant in July 2018. Left to right, Olivia, 10 from St. Helen's Primary School, Malcolm, 11, from Oakley Cross Primary School and Charlie, 6, from Copeland Road Primary

It was constructed on the village green in 1848 to supply water – there’s the remains of a lovely lion’s head drinking fountain on the side of it. Last year, regular readers will remember that we discovered such fountains scattered around the globe, but especially in Leyburn, Burton Leonard and Robin Hood’s Bay, that were made by the Glenfield foundry in Kilmarnock.

In 1877, the Shildon and Weardale Water Company, chaired by Darlington’s Henry Pease, opened the Waskerley reservoir to supply the district and the pant was made redundant.

However, it soon recovered, and in 1897 was rededicated as commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – there’s still a stone shield on it marking that date.

In the 21st Century, the pant has gained another new function, this time as a war memorial with a colourful garden planted around it. In 2018, the parish council restored it, and in its voids schoolchildren placed time capsules that are not to be opened until 2068.

Is this the proudest pant in the district? Are there any other pants we should be aware of? Has anyone ever investigated the reservoirs, or cisterns, beneath any of the pants? And while we are on the subject of village water supplies, we are always keen to hear stories of local pumps before they are lost. Email