Ancient spring gives jeweller a goldmine

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For the jewellers Ken and Rachel Hobson, the discovery they made in the courtyard of their shop could be a goldmine. But it has nothing to do with precious gems or metals.

The Hobsons hope one day to be making a mint out of the spring water which rises up from the ancient well unearthed at the rear of their business. But since Pocklington in north Yorkshire doesn't have quite the same ring as, say, Perrier or Buxton, the Hobsons have decided to call their water Di Aqua, short for diamond and aquamarine, and to create a link to their jewellery business.

Six years after their first discovery of the well and following a stringent verification process, the water is being bottled in their back room, and has gone on sale in their high-street premises and at a few local outlets, including shops, pubs and even schools. Only about 2,000 bottles have been produced so far, but if all goes well, they hope to be able to increase production, and would have to produce 5,000 litres a week to break even.

Mr Hobson, 51, said the time lag had been because the couple had been anxious to make sure that the water was of sufficient abundance and quality before putting it on sale.

"It's taken all these years to do it because we wanted to get it right. We started drinking from it the day we found it, but you are not allowed to simply put water on sale without checking the quality. And we needed to conduct tests at various times over the year to make sure it was consistent. And it was."

The Di Aqua water has entered a crowded but still growing market. Over the past thirty years, annual bottled water consumption in Britain has risen from about three million litres in 1976 to two billion litres in 2004. From a handful of well-known varieties linked to Victorian spas such as Buxton or Malvern, there are now 150 different brands in the United Kingdom.

The Hobsons' shop is a converted former public house, the Red Lion Hotel, which closed in the 1960s. The couple, who have owned the business for 21 years, always believed there was a well somewhere in the rear courtyard, but it took several digs before they found the 18ft-deep well, hidden under several sandstone slabs. The well itself has been dated as being dug sometime in the 17th or 18th century.

The couple spent thousands of pounds pumping and storing the water to make sure it was a continual source and that it wouldn't run out. When they realised the well was filling up as quickly as they were taking the water out, they knew they were on to a good thing.

Mrs Hobson added: "It looked pure and crystal clear when we brought some up, and it tasted really nice. We talked about getting it tested, and when we finally did, it came back with good results. It's really high in calcium. We've done dummy tests and told people to taste it and then taste tap water and they can always tell the difference."

The water is put through a particle filter and nitrate reducer before being bottled. At the moment the water can only be marketed as "bottled drinking water" but is expected to be eventually classed as "spring water". It cannot yet be classed as "mineral water" because of the nitrate content, a problem caused by their proximity to the local hills.