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

The Well Trust is made up of Trustees drawn from the Parish and the wider community, with specialist knowledge and skills that can assist with the preservation of the Maharajah’s Well and the wider environment.

The Trust’s aims are to preserve and maintain the Well, and ensure that the Well Orchard is an amenity for the village, respects the history which created it, and remains a haven for wildlife.

The current Trustees are:

  •  Sara O'Byrne
  •  Catherine Hale
  •  Tracey Preedy
  •  Karen Dougherty
  •  Rob Dougherty
  •  Graeme Whitehall
  •  Sylvia Miller
  •  Roger Clayson

 

History of the Trust

The Trust itself has a long history. Once the Maharajah’s Well was complete, it was necessary to find some way of funding its maintenance. The Maharajah donated more money in the form of an endowment in 1863. It was provided firstly to purchase an orchard, to be stocked with cherry trees which would generate an income, and secondly it funded the erection of a cottage for the Well Warden.

In 1866 the Regulations of the Trust were posted. The Warden was to live rent free in the cottage but receive an income of £1 per annum, rising to £2 if the Well’s income exceeded £10. In return, he was to be on duty 6 days per week, mainly to admit people to the locked Well, but also to assure the maintenance of the Well.

In 1972, the Trustees set about raising funds of £30,000 to modernise the cottage and restore the superstructure of the Well. During the restoration, the Charity Commissioners, in conjunction with the Trustees and the Parish Council, revised the Trust Deed. As a result, the Parish Council became the sole trustee in 1983, and so it remains today, with the addition of “lay” Trustees to represent the village and provide support and advice to the Trust.

The last Well Warden retired in 1999, and since then the Well cottage has been a private dwelling rented by the Trust. The only financial support comes from the rental received, not from the sale of cherries, but from the sale of an informative booklet, available on site at the Well. This gives a more detailed history of the Well and some lovely pictures from its past.

Contributions are also sometimes received from village events and well wishers.

The Well needs major refurbishment and repainting every ten years. The lastest refurbishment is being currently undertaken (during the summer of 2017). Going forward, the Trustees intend to put in a programme of more regular maintenance work to help preserve the structure.