The Maharajah’s Well is, to say the least, a rather unexpected sight in a small village in the Chilterns.
Mr Edward Reade, the local squire, had worked with the Maharajah of Benares in India for many years in the mid nineteenth century. One of his many deeds there was to sink a well in 1831, to aid a local community in Azimurgh. When Mr Reade finally left the area in 1860, he asked the Maharajah to ensure that the well remained available to the public.
A couple of years later, the Maharajah decided on an endowment in England. He recalled Mr Reade’s generosity in 1831 and also remembered his stories of water deprivation in his home area of Ipsden. And so the well in Stoke Row duly came about. It was dug, by hand, and took a year to complete. The Well is 368 feet (112 meters) deep which is more than twice the height of Nelson’s Column. The Well was opened officially on Queen Victoria’s birthday, in 1864.
The well and superstructure cost £353 13s 7d. The elephant and machinery cost a further £39 10s, the project being undertaken by the (still) local firm of Wilder in Wallingford. Finally the cottage cost a modest £74 14s 6d. The well remained in use for over 70 years and did not fall out of use until piped water came to the village. First (slightly unreliably) from Woodcote in 1906, and then from Nettlebed.
Links with the Maharajah continue to this day. When Queen Elizabeth was visiting Benares (now known as Varanasi) in 1961, the Maharajah pointed out that the well was shortly coming up to its centenary. He invited the Duke of Edinburgh to visit Stoke Row for the celebrations. This he duly did, arriving in his red helicopter.
In more recent times the Well Orchard has been used for celebrations including, the Queens Golden Jubilee, and in 2014 the village held a major celebration for the 150th anniversary of the well.
A detailed history of the Well can be found in Dr Graeme Whitehall's booklet “The Mahahrajah’s Well”