The kitchen pump...

In the comments of the previous post, several of you mentioned that you were not familiar with water pumps in kitchens, so I will tell you a little bit about them here. 

The 17th and 18th century Dutch were (and still are to a degree) somewhat obsessed with cleanliness and housewives and maids were forever scrubbing, mopping and washing.  Nowadays I would say 99,99% of households are connected to mains water of course, but before mains water was common, many houses had a water pump in the kitchen.

 Pieter Janssens Elinga, ca. 1670, HermitageSint-Petersburg
No kitchen pump but a maid cleaning...notice also the Delft blue tile mopboard.
Pump systems with a tank and valves have been around since 200BC  when Greek inventor and mathematician Ctesibius invents the water organ.  In the 16th and 17th century many more inventions and developments on the water pump followed in Europe and developments continued worldwide into the present day.  In the local archives I even found a 1588 patent for one by Otto Barentsz. from Amsterdam (?). 

1588 patent water pump ( photo source))
The water in the city canals was filthy with sewage and other waste and deemed unfit for drinking even in the 16th century.  Except for cleaning the stoop and street in front of the houses, canal water was not used.  The water needed for all that washing and scrubbing came from groundwater wells and from rainwater collection.

Even this cleaner water was not generally used for drinking.  Clean (drinking) water was expensive and shipped in from the countryside.  Most people drank a very weak beer.

Kitchen pump with one handle (without internal cistern?).  Museum van Loon, Amsterdam.  
The wells for groundwater were often located in the yards close to the kitchens.  Rainwater was collected in a system of tanks and stored in a tile lined brick reservoir, often dug into the basement areas or into the gardens.  Rainwater tanks could also be found in the attics of the houses.  The poorer households made use of public wells.

17th century kitchen in the Menkemaborg, a country house near Groningen, the Netherlands
The well water and rainwater tanks each had their own pump system, so on some kitchen pumps you could see two pump handles and two large taps, each for a different water system.  Other houses had the systems separated, one in a pump house attached to the kitchen and the other one in the kitchen itself.

Kitchen pump and tap (with internal cistern), Menkemaborg
By moving the pump handles up and down or sideways, water was pumped from the large holding tanks into a small cistern located inside the kitchen pump.  With the two handled pump, the cistern would be divided into two separate areas so the water did not mix.  The tiny brass spout to the left of the big tap (photo above) is the overflow for the cistern.  With the cistern filled up you just turn the tap(s) to run the water.

Wall fountain at the Menkemaborg.  
The tanks in the attics provided water pressure to the floors below and made running water from a tap possible without the need for a pump.   That's what the small taps on some kitchen sinks are for.  Running tap water was sometimes also provided to a wall fountain with wash basin in the hallway.  (see photo above).  

Wonderful (silver?) tap on the wall fountain at the Menkemaborg.
Although not much is known about the personal hygiene in the 17th and 18th century, I have seen fountains for washing hands in several large houses.  The one at the Menkemaborg could be a 19th century one, I don't know, but in the 17th century dolls' houses a number of miniature silver fountains for washing hands can be found.

That's all I know about the kitchen pumps and their water supplies.  Below some photos of kitchen pumps I made in the past for several roomboxes.

Kitchen pump (no cistern), 17th century style roombox No. 1 (by Josje)

Kitchen pump (no cistern), 17th century style roombox No. 2 (by Josje)

Kitchen pump in miniature kitchen (19th century), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Copy of a kitchen based on the miniature kitchen at the Rijksmuseum (by Josje).  See blogpost here.

Kitchen pump (with cistern) from the kitchen mentioned above (by Josje).  See blogpost here.


  1. wonderful miniatures I love them all even the pots and pans lol lol

  2. Thank you for the well detailed explanation of water pumps we are all much more aware of their use and function in households. Love to see how creative you are in making items! Inspirational as always! Cheers, Alayne

    1. Hi Alayne, you're welcome. I had to do a bit of research for this post but I enjoy that. It also leads me to other interesting subjects and somehow I end up buying a stack of books for future reference again. My bookcases are too full already but I can't resist. ;-)

  3. Fascinating, Josje! Thank you for sharing the history and all of the photos! I enjoyed seeing your past projects and learning about these traditional kitchens!

    1. Thank you Jodi! I searched through my own photo files to find photos of kitchen pumps and then I got distracted because I found so many other photos I forgot about. A long process! ;-)

  4. Hi Josje. This was really interesting, the pictures of your own work are incredible.
    I now need to go back and catch up on all the posts I've missed...
    Have a lovely weekend

    1. Thank you Simon! For me that last kitchen was very special as it is an exact duplicate I made of a copy of the kitchen in the Rijksmuseum.
      Oh it is impossible to keep up with all the posts on people's blogs...although there is less blogging now than a few years ago it seems.

  5. You are so thoughtful to share the unique aspects of life in your country. I feel very fortunate that tomorrow I will get a brief visit and canal cruise in Amsterdam as part of the cruise I am on. You make me wish I could stay longer.

    1. Thank you Sherrill. Well, I am sure by now you will be cruising on the canals of Amsterdam, or visiting one of the museums! I hope you have a great time today and maybe we'll get to welcome you back one day. Enjoy the rest of your holiday!

  6. So interesting. I did not know this! Now I'm going to need to look around here and see if I can find something similar.

    1. Yes do have a look out for them. I can't imagine they can only be found here.

  7. Me ha encantado la entrada. Preciosas reproducciones las tuyas.

  8. Thanks for the detailed explanation and for the images Josje!
    As an aside; back in the early 70's I knew a Dutchwoman named Alice, who with her family, moved here to Canada soon after the war, so I asked her if what my mother had told me was true that the Dutch moved all their furniture out of the house onto the sidewalks so they could scrub down the interior. She corrected me that it was not "everyday" as my mother had thought but, yes that was done, and that when she came to Canada she regularly did the same until a kindly Canadian neighbour politely told her " we don't do that here"! She laughed as she recalled that she and her children were Very Relieved to hear that!

  9. Hallo Josje,

    Een prachtige blogpost over de waterpompen. Over de Hollandse obsessie met schoonmaken heb ik afgelopen jaar een interessante geschiedenis gelezen. In 'Aan de rand van de wereld'van Michael Pye schrijft hij hoe de zuivelproductie, die in de middeleeuwen bijna huisvlijt betrof, absolute schoonheid vereiste. En dat deze gewoonte na de reformatie een religieuze dimensie kreeg en zo werd verbonden met zuiverheid en vroomheid. En uiteindelijk een karakteristiek en onze volksaard.

    Daarnaast is het mooi om te zien hoe jij verschillende typen in miniatuur heb nagemaakt.


  10. Great work and the perfect addition to your kitchen.

  11. Hallo Josje, het fijne wist ik er niet van maar nu wel! En die plint van delft blauwe tegeltjes is dan weer zo praktisch bedacht! Hollandser kan het haast niet! Erg leuk om te lezen.


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