Well digging is another dying trade
In the past (before there was a water supply system) one would first look for a place to dig a well and only then build a foundation for a house. This was followed by every householder. There wasn’t a village where there wasn’t at least one well digger. Well diggers say that their work is as difficult as mining, regardless of whether the well is dug by hand (manually) with ordinary construction tools (pick, shovel, ax, hoe, pickaxe, shovel) or mechanically with advanced machines and reduced human activity. Every well digger needs (apart from physical strength) some knowledge of geology and hydrology. Digging a well requires a lot of work, dexterity and skill.
One needs to know the land so that the well does not collapse. If the digger does not know the land, then without a doubt the collapse of the well can happen. Thus, many experienced all kinds of injuries (some fatal). You can only make one mistake in this business. That is why it is necessary to secure everything before starting to dig the well. A meter of excavated well costs an average of 100 to 150 Euros today depending on the type of land, manual and/or mechanical work and well construction materials. It is a special skill altogether.
Digging a well by hand with construction tools requires both strength and time. First, a meter is excavated, a maximum of a meter and a half, and later (if a harder, stony layer of soil is found) barely another half a meter. Mechanical digging uses excavators, augers and other special machines wherever there are conditions for it. The well is roughly drilled using machines, and then finesse is done manually. This makes work much easier and faster.
Well diggers (before starting digging) need to determine the place where there is water, i.e. find the “water node” (flowing water).
The forks show the location of a water node (or wire) that normally has a pool of “standing” water. Descending tens of meters into the land eventually becomes routine for every digger. Diggers descend to depths of 40 meters (or 50 or 60 meters and more) with a steel rope that can carry up to 1,000 kilograms of weight.
Gases and lack of oxygen at depths of 50 or 60 meters and more are the most dangerous for a well digger. This lack of oxygen occurs most during the summer months when the outside temperatures are high. That’s why people once upon a time dug wells only in winter. The well digger’s concentration should be undisturbed and the same both at the top and at the bottom of the well – because the whole job depends on it. Today, less attention is paid to weather conditions because well diggers are artisans whose trade is dying out. Well-diggers are therefore happy to accept any offer because it means profit. There is not much conversation or explanation when digging a well. Diggers are overjoyed when the spring and the water starts bubbling because that is the greatest happiness of their work. usually friends, neighbors and relatives gather around the new well. Then everyone together celebrates that important event, i.e. the discovery of water – because water is the source of life.
The Woodingdean well has been officially declared the deepest hand-dug well in the world. It is located outside the Nuffield Hospital in the suburb of Woodingdean (near the cities of Brighton and Hove) in the United Kingdom.
The Woodingdean water well is 391 meters deep (this hand-dug well is as deep as New York’s Empire State Building).
Woodingdean Water Well is an example of Victorian fortitude and engineering. Back in 1850, Brighton Corporation decided to build a new workhouse at the top of what is now Elm Grove and to add an industrial school for juveniles about 2 miles from Varren Farm.
The corporation decided to dig a new well because the pipe supply from the local water supply was too expensive. That’s how they provided water for this new institution.
The original plan was to dig a brick-lined well 4 meters wide to some 121 meters deep, where groundwater was expected to be encountered. However, after two years of digging, the shaft went 120 meters deep, but no underground (well) water was found.
Believing that they missed the source of water, the contractor (on the well) gave an order to dig next to the side chamber that will be driven some 10 meters to the north. This didn’t work either. So they created several side tunnels to the west and east, but none of the tunnels were successful.
The digging continued continuously for the next two years. The men worked in a terrifying environment. Illuminated by candlelight, workers descended rickety ladders hundreds of feet below ground to dig soil with hand tools, and shovel soil out of the well shaft with buckets. Steam engines pumped air through the pipes down so the workers could breathe.
The heat was so great that many took off their clothes and worked in the circle of the 4-meter-wide well. The deeper the well went, the more expensive it became to dig further.
Finally, at a depth of 391 meters (at a depth of 250 meters below sea level) after four years of digging, water began to break through to the surface of a hand-dug well. It is recorded that at that time it took the workers 45 minutes just to climb to the top of the well, i.e. to get out of that incredible well depth.
Despite the enormous cost, effort and promises that the well would save the city a fortune in water each year – the well was only used for 4 years, after which it was abandoned in favor of a more convenient mains supply.
The school (with which the well was dug for water supply) is long gone, but the well is still there. It is now surrounded by a brick wall. The top is covered with a metal cover to prevent people or things from accidentally falling down.