In medieval Alnwick, most residents drew their water from burns and public wells. Over the years the burns were culverted and, although no longer visible, still flow underground. The wells no longer exist, but Stonewell Lane, and Greenwell Lane recall their names. From the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century, domestic water needs came increasingly from public water fountains or pants.
Pottergate Pant was the town’s first, built around 1611. By 1712 it was no longer Alnwick’s only pant, and it became known as Low Pant. It was rebuilt in 1790, then replaced by the present memorial to William Dickson in 1873. Clayport Pant dates from 1754 and is the town’s oldest surviving pant, while St Michael’s Pant built in 1759, is the oldest that still flows. Both of these pants have their supply controlled by the Valve House on Clayport Bank.
More pants were constructed as Alnwick flourished in the 18th century, but not all remain. Green Batt Pant (1753) was removed in 1882 when the water was declared unsafe. Tower Pant (1752) was replaced after an impact by a coach in 1871, then destroyed again by a bus in 1948. Fleece Pant on Bondgate never worked well, so was known as ‘Jimmy’s Dribble’ until destroyed by a car in 1953. Others can be found in Canongate (Church Pant, 1778) and on Denwick Lane.
By the mid 19th century, pants couldn’t provide enough clean water for a growing population. A cholera outbreak in 1849 resulted in the death of 136 residents. An independent inquiry found that the outbreak was caused by unclean water and poor sanitation. This led to Alnwick gaining a new, clean water supply and proper sanitation. Post-dating the pants, Robertson’s Fountain was commissioned in 1890 by Adam Robertson, a prominent local businessman, and opened a year later, to provided clean drinking water for passers-by.
See also: Canongate Pants