The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The hand dug well project: thinking and planning


Shy Anemone de Caen

Shy Anemone de Caen planted in June and flowering in September

The water table is very high in our garden. When John Coe used to mow our lawn he declared that it was the greenest midsummer lawn that he had ever mowed.
“Even in the hottest summers it’s still lush when the lawns in my village are burnt and dry.”
Admittedly he gardens on sandy soil over in Freckenham. That’s why he can grow long straight carrots. Unfortunately I can’t but win hands down on the lawn front.

When the pond was being dug I wanted a deeper area for the fish to hibernate safely overwinter. The men digging the pond found that water started to come up at five feet. I wanted a six foot deep area but the fish survived until the heron arrived. 
So we feel pretty confident that making a small well is possible and would save us £££ on watering our garden. Our water is metered and is expensive. Several cottages in the village have active wells and this cottage must have had one too in the past. If we could discover where this was located it would be a real boon.

There nothing that I enjoy more than researching a new project. I read with awe this account of digging a well in Montana. I have dowsing rods and have used them to find water on several client’s estates so we’ll probably start with these.  We have plenty of rubble for the base and bricks for the sides that I dug up when I was extending the herbaceous borders this year.

Our garden is on a gentle SW NE slope dropping away from the back of the cottage to the end of the garden. It also gently slopes from one side of the garden to the other. This is why our drip watering system from the two 1500 litre tanks sited beside the cottage works so well, gravity takes the water in ordinary hoses to just where the water is needed. The drip feed hoses make the best use of every drop of water and are extremely effective.

But 3000 litres of water runs out very fast in a hot dry spell hence the hankering for a well. By using a diaphragm hand pump water could be fed directly into the same system – this one looks pretty good to me as it continues to siphon water when primed without the need to keep on pumping.

Although in my dreams I fancy digging a hole and finding water in reality it would take me weeks to dig a hole six feet in diameter and heaven knows how many feet deep. So we’ve decided to get someone in to help hand dig the pit as there isn’t wide enough access for even a mini digger in the back garden.

This is a long term project that really needs to be up and running by the Spring. Have you ever dug a well or have any related experience? Any tips would be treasured.

  Leave a reply


  1. Andy Davies

    On the pump front have you thought about a bilge pump to top up the tanks?

    They’re 12v so could be powered from a solar panel or such like

  2. did you find a greater amount of stone anywhere in your garden?
    If there was a well, and it wasn’t too ancient, but still going only a hundred or so years ago, it might have had some kind of stone structure around it. And the remains of that structure might be in your soil.
    Alternatively – old plans in the local library?

  3. almost everyone here in toulouse has a well in their garden if they can as water is very expensive; like you we know that the water table is close to the surface in places as there is a swathe of green in our lawn no matter how hot the weather!
    We havent yet had the funds to dig one, but intend to later on – good luck with your project!!

  4. Magic Cochin

    I was wondering if you’d tried dowsing… I knew it would be a skill you’d have Fiona 😉

    Isn’t it the strangest feeling when the rods move!


  5. I have no experience of digging wells but my parents live in a very old cottage in Bedfordshire on a lot of clay. I remember when I was a kid that they relaid one of the paths in the back garden, really close to the house. When they removed the sheet of concrete they discovered it was hiding a well. Wells are tricky things to hide so it might be disguised like this.

    The other thing the house has is a collection of sheds, one of which is tiny and actually an old pump house. The old hand pump is still there,somewhat rusty! So do you have any very small old outbuildings that might have housed a hand pump at one time?

    Good luck!

  6. Met a well digger years ago,His method was after deciding on the site lay 4or5 courses of bricks in a circle get inside and dig out undercutting the wall so that it slips down lay another 4or5 courses and repeat digging out.Keep repeating untill deep enough this way the sides are shored up as you go.Nowadays they use precast concrete pipes.Enjoy the blisters and backache Danny

  7. Jane Knight


    Get hold of the oldest biggest scale OS map of your village. You may find the well is already marked. Is there any clue in your title deeds?


  8. When I lived in Florida, my neighbor across the street ‘dug’ a well for my irrigation. Digging the well consisted of attaching a well-point to some PVC pipe and attaching a hose to that, and then shoving the well-point into the ground while running the hose. Florida is really sandy, and this pushed through the sand, and then through the clay, and then finally into the underground water. Once the water coming out of the hole was no longer sandy, he knew he’d hit the water.

    I somehow suspect that this method wouldn’t work for one hundred percent straight clay.

    The other thing you could consider is saving rain in a cistern….

  9. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    It’s uncanny, how often we’re talking about the same things you’re writing about. Just yesterday, we started researching hand pumps. We want to put a pump up by our chicken coop, so watering the chickens, turkeys, and garden is more convenient and less expensive.

    What we’ve found is that there’s a range of solutions from people doing it with PVC pipe and a flip-flop (to make the valve), to expensive stainless steel pumps and wellheads. One of the big determinants of cost is whether you want the pump to withstand freezing. If not, there are inexpensive solutions, particularly if you’re only drilling down a few feet.

    Since we haven’t done it yet, I can’t be of any actual help. But I’m convinced you can do it, and do it frugally. Please keep us posted!

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