from "The Lost Gardens of Heligan"
weeks previously, John Nelson, Orlando
and Julie had explored a valley to the west of
the gardens, in search of a little rectangle marked
on the OS map with the word 'RAM' beside it. They had
found a curious three-sided wall of stone in the middle
of some beautiful, mature woodland. Thinking that was
all there was to see, they had come home.
Doble arrived, immensely tall and enthusiastic,
in a massive American combat jeep. We scrambled down
into the valley, which was about a mile from the gardens,
and over some forbidding walls into a boggy area. There
we found the odd three-sided wall the others had described.
of RAM pumps in the Gardens
under repair in situ
by Julian Stephens © Heligan Gardens Ltd
long narrow walls should have enclosed the access steps
down to the RAM chamber, but they were filled to ground
level with mud. Charles pointed excitedly and said:
'Eighteen feet down, you will find a doorway into a
little room, and in there you will find three RAM pumps:
a two-inch, a three-inch and a five-inch. They are capable
of pumping nine and a half gallons of water a minute,
to a height of three hundred feet, over a distance of
a mile and a half, using only the water power provided
by the stream which feeds them.'
were deeply impressed. We decided to explore further,
using a map which Rob Poole had brought with him. This
indicated that we were at the merging point of two valleys,
each containing a stream. As we headed north we came
upon a tiny arch-fronted building with a domed roof.
Alongside it was a trough. 'This is the catch pit,'
said Charles. 'The streams are dammed further up the
valleys above us on both sides, and their overflows
are directed here, down four-inch ceramic pipes. The
water is channelled from there down individual pipes,
called drive pipes, which are directly connected to
the back of each hydraulic RAM pump. The angle of fall
on the drive pipes has to be a minimum of fourty-five
degrees, to deliver the power to the pumps. There are
three levers inside the catch pit, each working a simple
on/off valve for a drive pipe, thus giving maximum control
on the RAMs you have in use at any one time. For every
nine gallons that go down the pipe, one gallon is pumped.
The other eight provide the power and then disperse
into the stream.'
if the story hadn't been so fascinating, we would still
have needed large amounts of water for the garden and
the system seemed ideal regardless of its historical
interest. To cut a long story short, we managed to obtain
some funding from the Countryside Commission
to help with the restoration of the RAMs.
main problem was that the stream which ran alongside
the house had broken its banks and filled the house
with mud which had seeped in under the walls. First
the banks of the stream were restored. Then the stairwell
had to be painstakingly dug out by hand, bucket by back-breaking
bucket. Sure enough, the little slate steps revealed
themselves, one at a time, until, eighteen feet underground,
they stopped at a doorway leading to the RAM chamber
- which was filled to the brim with stinking mud. Until
the mass of mud was removed, the work had to be carried
out in almost pitch darkness, because there was so little
room. Eventually, amid much excitement, the team felt
the RAMs under their hands. Charles Doble's son, Ben,
cleared the drains from the RAM house back to the leat
some way downstream, to stop it flooding. It would be
1994 before the dams were rebuilt and relined, the drive
pipes renewed and the RAMs overhauled. The restoration
being completed by the company that had built the original
system in 1880. Unbelievably, the RAM spares were still
one-inch supply pipe from the RAMs led back up to the
gardens and fed a 40,000-gallon stone and brick built
reservoir. This had supplied all the water needs of
Heligan house and the staff cottages, as well as those
of the garden itself.
When the RAMs were installed, Orlando and Julie returned
from Devon to start them up with due ceremony. There
was a rush of water and the slow thump began. Up at
the top of the garden, a party waited for some minutes
before the first dirty water began to appear in the
reservoir; and when it ran clean, we opened a bottle
or two in celebration. It is difficult to describe to
outsiders how good it felt. It was primative and private,
almost tribal. We now had our own independent water
supply - the lifeblood for our garden.