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Thursday, 22 December 2011

New application for conversion of Aldeburgh Park Road water tower

Suffolk Coastal District Council have posted notices that two new applications C/11/2792 and C/11/2991 have been received for conversion of the water tower at Park Road IP15 5ET where previous applications (references C/10/3260 and C/10/3261) were refused.

The architects believe the new scheme meets the concerns raised by the council and the members of the public with regard to the previous design.

BWTAS won't take sides on planning issues but it does note that the more thorough historical investigation of the tower that was submitted with this application shows that judgements of 'historic significance' and 'architectural merit' are relative and made according to the information available. We're grateful that the tower does have more historic significance than was first suspected with its connection to the transit system of Brooklyn, USA and the colourful William Fontaine Bruff, an emigrant from Essex to that city who made a fortune there in railways, one was called 'Bruff's Road', who was also the designer of the Aldeburgh tower.

William Bruff - water tower engineer

From and other sources:

William Fontaine Golding Bruff (elected associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 6 December 1864) was the son of Peter Schuyler Bruff, of Handford Lodge, Ipswich. The elder Bruff (1812–1900) was elected as a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 8 April 1856.

A photo of William's dad Peter is here

Peter Bruff was the foremost railway engineer in Essex and constructed the 325 metres long Chappel Viaduct in 1847-9. Bruff formed his own company to extend the railway line from Colchester to Ipswich and he was responsible for the Tendring Hundred Railway and was involved it its waterworks company. While working on the line he began to develop Walton-on-the-Naze as a seaside resort and built its pier, baths and Marine Terrace. He also bought 50 acres of land to found and develop the resort town of Clacton on Sea, Essex, building the pier, the Royal Hotel, the public hall in Pier Avenue and the town centre. Frinton was yet another Essex development interest.

William Bruff was the engineer for the Mid-Suffolk and Southwold Railways in 1865 and it is
likely that the family’s strong presence in Essex and Suffolk as well as their experience of water engineering stood him in good stead when the Aldeburgh Waterworks Company considered the appointment of an engineer. He remained essentially a railway man while he designed and built a water works and the water tower at Park Road, Aldeburgh IP15 5ET. 

In the 1870s he was summonsed to court on a charge of embezzling money from his employers, contractors for the Severn Railway Bridge, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. He appears on a passenger list arriving in New York in 1871. By 1880 he was living in the USA and he became a US citizen. He appears on the incoming passenger list on the Lucania arriving in Liverpool from New York in 1899.

James Blaine Walker in his Fifty Years of Rapid Transit (1918; extract at Appendix B) described Bruff as the most picturesque figure in the history of Brooklyn’s rapid transport system. He "parted his hair as well as his name in the middle. He was one of the early types of the breezy, energetic promoter, and while he spent money lavishly he seems to have had a talent for gathering it in, and is credited with infusing life into the languishing project (Brooklyn Elevated Railway) and bringing about the road's construction. When he finally got the work started he would drive to it each morning in a stylish carriage, with a liveried coachman. He brought bankers into line and for a time funds rolled in upon him at the rate of $90,000 a week. He was elected president of the company in January, 1879."

The railway went through several bankruptcies and reorganisations and W. Fontaine Bruff became legendary for his headlong style in challenging the city aldermen and his rivals which had got him and his workmen arrested when they broke ground for the railway.

It appears that he returned to the UK as sick man and in 1911 was living in south Twickenham under medical supervision.

The Ipswich Journal also records one of their correspondents meeting him in London in 1874. Bruff is chomping on a half cigar and totally absorbed in surveying Temple Bar gate. At that time, the authorities wanted to pull it down as it was impeding the traffic. There were efforts to save the historic gateway and, some years later, it was bought by brewing magnate, dismantled stone by stone, and taken to his country pile in Hertfordshire. After purchase by a trust in the 1980‘s, Temple Bar was dismantled again and re-erected in 2004 at the entrance of the Paternoster Square near St Paul’s in London.

Friday, 2 December 2011

China's water history

BWTAS recently received enquiries about images of Shanghai's metal water tower that we have covered in this journal and so were informed that a second steel water tower was built in Shanghai around 1905 by John Taylor and Sons. A drawing of it can be found in Chelsea to Cairo: Taylor-made water through eleven reigns and in six continents - Thomas Telford, London, a history of the engineering firm by Gwilym Roberts.

Dr Albert Koenig of Hong Kong University and co-author Du Pengfei of Tsinghua University would like to enlist the help of BWTAS members and water tower enthusiasts around the world as they are preparing a chapter on the water history of pre-modern China for a book: The Evolution of Water Supply Throughout the Millennia to be published by International Water Association Publishing. This tome is undoubtedly going to be on a lot of this journal's readers' wish lists. 

The authors know another tower, an Eiffel-type hexagonal plan metal construction, was built for the Capital Water Ltd. in Beijing. Unfortunately, they cannot discover anything about its designer or builder. 

Source: Gong shui zhi in: Beijing zhi. Shi zheng juan. Gong shui zhi. Gong re zhi. Ran qi zhi, (2003) Beijing Shi di fang zhi bian zuan wei yuan hui, ed. Beijing chu ban she, Beijing, p. 168ff.

Beijing water tower under construction, Photo taken by Ernst Boerschmann c.1907.
Source: Robert K.G. Temple (1990) Im Land des fliegenden Drachen: Chinesische Erfindungen aus vier Jahrtausenden. Vorwort von Joseph Needham. Gustav Luebbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. 

This type of tower, with its six legs, seems to sit somewhere somewhere on the road to development of the circular hyperboloid structure. 

It was photographed under construction by the noted sinologist Ernst Boerschmann in 1907, who is well worth looking into as a subject. Between 1902 and 1949 he produced thousands of stunning photographs of China's old and modern architecture and its people.

If you know of any tower of a similar construction, please contact the authors at the email address below* and, if possible, provide the name of the designer.

kalbert (at) 

(*if you're not a spam bot, you'll know what to do)