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Monday 7 July 2008

Orwell Park School Water Tower

Orwell Park was once the home of the wealthy Victorian luminary Colonel George Tomline [1812 - 1889]. Tomline was an MP and was elected unopposed several times in rotten boroughs which then were commonplace. Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel once said the cleverest men in England were Tomline and his schoolfriend William Gladstone, in that order.

Tomline never married and his wealth, house and grounds were devoted to his patronage of the arts and sciences. He had one of the finest art collections in England including works by Holbein and Murillo and he built up a great library with many first and rare editions.

He purchased the 30,000 acre estate around 1848 or 1850 from Sir Robert Harland. He had the original house demolished and replaced with a red brick Italianate design, the grandest of three plans submitted to him. A rejected design is displayed at the school that now occupies the house. Over the years Tomline purchased vast areas of adjoining land including most of the Colneis Hundred to create the port of Felixstowe.

The house and the water tower were built between 1868 - 1873, firstly by eminent architect William Burn but after his death, most of the design is the work of his successor John MacVicar Anderson. His notable buildings include the mansions of Althorp, Brampton & Blankney Hall, Cheswardine Hall, Iden Manor and many commercial buildings including Coutts Bank in the Strand, the Carlton Club, the Royal Scottish Hospital and Royal Caledonian Asylum. He was president of the Royal Institute of British Architects from 1891 to 1894.

Tomline was a keen astronomer. The water tower is matched by a clock tower and an observatory tower which still has a 26 cm refractor, at the time the largest telescope in private hands. The water tower powered a hydraulic lift to the observatory.

Tomline was thought foolish at first to buy the estate when it hadn't got a reliable water supply (all the wells had turned brackish) but a spring was found in the woods a half mile away from the house. Along with the water tower there were filter beds which fed an underground reservoir and then an electric pump raised the water to a 10,000 gallon tank. From there it was fed to 26 tanks in the roof of the house.

The water tower had been in use up until recentlyand the tank is still intact. When the water supply to the school was switched to mains pressure, a number of leaks suddenly sprang up throughout the school. There's a saying "if it ain't broke...." When visited by BWTAS during the making of an episode of BBC Radio 4's Making History programme, the tower was being used for storage and housed the Ham Radio club. There are, as expected, stunning views from the top.

The school wonders what to do with the tower but are considering turning it into visitor's accommodation which could be let out during school holidays at the going rate.

Photo of Col. Tomline


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