Barker’s Pool

A prominent street with a name that has been familiar for centuries. In Barker Pool, or Barker’s Pool as we now know it, we have the first attempt to give the inhabitants of Sheffield a constant supply of pure water.

The tradition is that one Mr Barker, of Balm Green, in 1434, took steps to make some sort of reservoir for the storage of water supplied by springs.

All we know for certain, is that in this year, there had been a “Barker of Balm”, and that there had been a William Barkar in 1379.

“Barker Powle” is mentioned in a deed of 1567, and in 1570 the Burgery was ‘amerced’ in the sum of 3s. 3d., paid as a fine, or rent, to the Lord of the Manor, for the pool.

From this date until 1786, the cleansing and keeping of the pool was acknowledged as one of the specific charges upon the town property.

Indeed, we can bring it to a later date than this, for after the pool, superseded by a more efficient water supply, had been removed as a nuisance in 1793, the Town Trustees put up a pump nearby which remained, although unused in later years, until 1876.

The pool was an oblong, walled space, about 36 yards by 20, not quite right-angled, for it was slightly wider at its upper than at its lower end, and ran across what eventually became the entrance to Division Street.

It appears that Barker Pool was, on occasion, used for ducking undesirable characters, for in the constables’ accounts for 1654, there is a charge for bringing the cucking stool (from Lady’s Bridge) up to Barker Pool. (Cucking stools or ducking stools, were chairs used for punishment of disorderly women, scolds (troublesome and angry people who habitually chastised, argued and quarrelled with their neighbours) and dishonest tradesmen.

We get our best description of the part the pool played in the local economy from the autobiography of Samuel Roberts in 1849.

In it, he gives a vivid account of the excitement caused amongst residents in the streets down which the channels passed, when periodical flushings afforded a general clean-up of the town: –

“All the channels were then in the middle of the streets which were generally in a very disorderly state, manure heaps often lying in them for a week together. About once every quarter the water was let out of Barker Pool, to run into all these streets into which it could be turned, for the purpose of cleansing them. The bellman gave notice of the exact time, and the favoured streets were all bustle, with a row of men, women and children on each side of the channel, anxiously and joyfully awaiting, with mops, brooms, and pails, the arrival of the cleansing flood, whose first appearance was announced by a long, continuous shout. Some people were throwing the water up against their houses and windows; some raking the garbage into the kennel; some washing their pigs; some sweeping the pavement; youngsters throwing water on their companions or pushing them into the widespread torrent. Meanwhile a constant, Babel-like uproar, mixed with the barking of dogs, and the grunting of pigs, was heard both above and below, till the waters, after about half an hour, had become exhausted.”

Barker Pool was also used when fires broke out in the town, water being let out of the reservoir, and leather buckets hung in the Church and Town Hall for residents to use. By 1703, the Town Trustees had improved on this by providing a fire engine.

And that, as they say, is the history of why we call it Barker’s Pool all these years later.