Mr Jonathan Woodhouse
The reminiscences of Bob Grace . . .
The engineers who came to work the machines brought their associated tradesmen with them; blacksmiths, iron-founders, bricklayers, well-sinkers and so on.  They mostly came from the Midlands to Tring and made their homes here.  One of the families was named Woodhouse and Mr Jonathan Woodhouse was the first engineer to establish the great engines in the Tringford Pumping Station.  One of these pumped from a depth of about 80 feet (24 metres) from the Wilstone Reservoir and the other one something like 40 to 50 feet from the Little Tring and what we call Startops Reservoir. 

When I was a boy I used to go and watch the last great beam engine working - it ran at 13 strokes a minute and lifted a ton of water at each stroke - and it was very thrilling to stand at the water outlet and see it come up in a great gush (there was no continuous flow as there is with modem pumps). Sometimes fish would come up with the water - this was not a rotary pump it was merely a pump with what was known as ‘clacks’ in it, i.e., little trapdoors that opened when the bucket went down and shut when it began to lift, so quite a large fish could be caught in the bucket, and we were always watching as boys to see if we could catch one. 

Some very brave boys who got inside actually rode up and down on the great beam but I never had pluck enough for that.  The old engine was offered to the Science Museum when it came to the end of its life (it was still working perfectly), but the Museum had not got enough room for it.

No doubt there are some descendants of the Woodhouse family still in the area, but I don’t know anyone of that name now in the town.  Not only did they work for the canal company, but gradually some of them left the canal company and became engineers in their own right in the district, fitting the very first engines in flour mills and then in sawmills and other local industries. 

It is interesting to remember that before the canal came there wasn’t an engine known anywhere, and, of course, the canal also brought the coal to drive these engines (which they consumed in vast amounts).  The coal came from the Nuneaton area and the boats did it as a regular run, they didn’t bother to load back, they went back empty as fast as they could to fetch another load.  The men would stand in the hold and throw the coal up into wheelbarrows and the women would stand on the planks and wheel the barrows into the yard - tons of coal in each load.

[Biographic notes, c.1977] Bob Grace lived in Tring for most of his life.  He was born at Parsonage Farm, which formerly stood on the site of Bishop Wood School.  As a boy he attended the old National School at Tring.

He worked in Tring all his life and eventually joined the family’s corn and milling business which had been in existence for 250 years before it ceased in about 1977.