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Sewer War

A Non Profit-making Organisation Devoted To The Interests Of The Gloucestershire Parish Of South Cerney And Cerney Wick

Sewer War

Sewer War - the Battle of School Lane

For six weeks during the autumn of 1961, the rural quietude of Cerney's School Lane was broken by an unlikely standoff between elderly resident Richard Stait and his dog Currants, and the massed workforce of the then Cirencester Rural Council.

Battle commenced on the 9th of October when the 77 years old retired builder, described as 'a ramrod-backed old soldier', defied Council workmen in their attempts to lay a sewer through the back garden of his Berkeley Horns home.

The workmen had proceeded to demolish Richard's pigsty, uproot his damson tree, dahlia and rhubarb beds, as well as his own tobacco patch - all without any proper notice, he claimed. Richard and Currants chased them off but the Council retorted with a 28-day Statutory Notice, insisting the work was essential for technical reasons and citing the Public Health Act for its right to cross Richard's land even without his permission.

But when the workmen dared to return, they found the irate widower ready and waiting to defend his property with a rusty two-foot bayonet attached to an ancient rifle barrel.

Dick Stait
The 'ramrod-backed old soldier' on guard
with his bayonet and rifle barrel
Dick Stait & Currants
Richard 'Dick' Stait (1884-1978
and Currants.

"Over my dead body"

"If I had run away from Kaiser Bill I would have been shot at dawn, and I am not running away from this lot. They come through my garden over my dead body," he told the local press.

"Every time they try and come on to my land I will be waiting for them."

"I am not against the sewer, although I can't afford it connected myself. I was not given any warning they were coming; any way they have not offered me any compensation for the damage they have caused."

The Council workforce made a tactical withdrawal. But, two weeks later, Richard finally laid down his arms, and his protest, under the spectre of a magistrate's warrant.

"I have made my protest to the Council - but, if they are backed by another authority, I shall not stand in their way," he said. "I have written to my MP, Mr Nicholas Ridley, and in a letter...he promises to put my case before the Housing Minister."

"All this has not been for nothing. An official came yesterday to assess the damage to my garden."


Richard was never connected to the infamous sewer, or to mains water. His toilet was a privvy at the end of the garden, close to the pigsty destroyed by council workers, while he drew water from a well by his back door. He always claimed this supply was "much better than the stuff you get out of a tap".

Many of Richard's recollections of parish life are included in the Trust's book 'South Cerney Old and New' available here

Our Sewer War story is drawn from undated local newspaper reports all kindly supplied by Richard's grandson, Roland Wakefield.