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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Croydon Water Tower Blog

Croydon's water tower has its own twitter page!

It's very funny. This is another example of the symbolic power of a water tower in a community. (That comment has been noticed by Croydon's local paper).

Explanatory story here.

Link to the tower's official history here. Piemaster's comment below points out that the official history is completely wrong. He thinks they've got the information for the reservoir, not the tower. Yep, just goes to show. You've got to check everything, even the official sources.

When it was built it had a viewing platform at the top. It appears that now the tank and internals have been removed. Pity, although that means you could probably do a load of neat things with it now.

The twitter blog tells us the tower is very lonely. Well, maybe it will have some more friends soon.

Image from flickr

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Andrew Motion: The Water Tower

The Water Tower

If a drilling rig clanked inland
and made a stand
in some corner of a barley field -

its elephant legs

and pendulous cable-guts
cleaned up and bleached and thinned

by the massage of a summer wind

to four stocky struts,
its platform also stripped

to a whitewashed cell

with eyes turned everywhere at once -
if such a thing were possible

or worth imagining,
this water tower would be the best result.
Or maybe it dropped in from outer space.

Or then again maybe
its white and height are really like
a lighthouse that the sea

shrank back from then forgot.

That doesn't matter any more.
What does is how,

some forty years ago and recently

arrived to settle hereabouts,

I made this tower the furthest

fixed point of a walk

and stood where I am now,
four-square inside the circle

of its influence, and thought

these fields of silver-whiskered barley,

dog-rose hedges, gravel lanes

ash- and beech-tree spinnies

where the roe-deer live their secret lives,

would never seem so nearly

elements which made a grand design

if not for this: incomprehensible

and silent at the heart of things.

Except the silence broke.

It's over there! that's what I heard -

a joke against the ear

as if a bird had spoken, or the air

rubbed hard enough against itself

to squeak - a joke

I put to rest by saying carefully:

there must be men at work

inside the tower. It's over there!

The same words tumbled down again,

by which I understood I must be due

for home,

so barely heard them as I made my way

along those gravel lanes.

These gravel lanes, I mean -

the same today as then, although

I'm killing time in just a visit now,

not life at home

and what was over there

I reached and passed

and moved away from years ago,

and still can't see - as like the wind

parading through the barley

while I leave the shadow of the tower

and finish here

as anything: a single cat's paw

dabbing gingerly one minute,

then a solid blow

which batters down the heads so far

I think they won't recover.

• Commissioned by the BBC as part of Poetry Proms, a new series broadcast on Radio 3 during the interval of every Wednesday's Prom.

Andrew Motion photo © Antonio Olmos

L G Mouchel

Perhaps the most important and influential figure in water towers (and in Civil Engineering in general) was the incredibly prolific Louis Gustave Mouchel.

Both Gawthorpe and Newton le Willows were built by his firm after he introduced 'ferro-concrete' to Britain. This was one of the most influential and far-reaching inventions to shape 20th century civil engineering.

The engineering timelines website has a special feature on his life and work.

Incredible to think he did what he did in just eleven years before dying of stomach cancer at 56.

Friday, 25 July 2008


Gawthorpe Water Tower dominates the skyline and can be seen for miles around. It is located at the highest point of the Ossett-cum-Gawthorpe area, mid-way along Chidswell Lane in Gawthorpe. This huge concrete structure was constructed between 1922 and 1928 to store drinking water for the town, which was pumped from the Pildacre Water Works some 1.25 miles away. The 25-foot trough has a capacity of 200,000 gallons or nearly 1 million litres. The pinnacle of the tower is now also used to accommodate colinear mobile telephone aerials and they can be clearly seen in the picture. Read more here...

.... and a detailed history of the water suppy is here.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Decisions, Decisions: Greenham Common Tower for Sale

It's been a while since BWTAS heard from the architect Stephen Luxford. When Southern Water unloaded a portfolio of properties in 2004, he purchased at auction the Braithwaite water tower at the former Greenham Common airbase and then got planning permission to convert it into a house (first picture). That was a bit of a shock to the local council as they expected buyers would cut it up for scrap and put a traditional house on the plot.

(BWTAS members report that the rising price of scrap metal has hastened the demise of several old Braithwaite towers in Norfolk very recently.)

When Stephen contacted BWTAS, we were very pleased to be able to provide him with evidence of several similar tower conversions and we like to think that this eased his planning application or at least put his mind to rest that it wasn't such an impossible dream. There's nothing new in converting a Braithwaite water tower to become a house. This was done with the 'House in the Clouds' at Thorpeness in 1923 (very last picture below).

Stephen's orginal design created modules that were inserted through the beams, rather like the solution done with the Mouchel concrete tower at Ashford, as seen on Channel 4's Grand Designs (second from last below).

Stephen now reports that he has "now got planning permission for a slightly altered scheme which (you may see as unfortunate!) that clads the existing steel structure. I have however used the new cladding module to relate to the original Braithwaite system and windows to the lower parts punch between the existing cross bracing structure. The original scheme still has consent but it was proving a tricky construction route thus the revised scheme. Due to my own workload I have recently put the tower on the market for sale (with detailed planning consent) – so if one of your members fancies owning and converting their very own tower - let me know! Offers in the region of £100k at this stage. A build cost estimate is tricky because of unusual nature of the build but at £1200 to £1500/m.sq (quite a high rate). it would be in the region of £160k to £200k."

So it's now up to the client; expose the supports or clad them?

There's also another architectural treatment such a tower could have.

The site is listed with Buildstore You have to be a member to view details though as it’s a website aimed at self-builder. There is a pack of information with drawings etc. that Stephen can send if people want to make contact directly.

Luxford Architects Limited

28 Lugard Road


SE15 2TD

T 020 7732 3718

M 0771 498 1978

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Drew Leshko an American sculptor who interprets the work of photographers and makes models of their subjects and rephotographs them. He was inspired by Bernd and Hilla Becher to produce a series of water tower images. We want!

Broadstone Water Tower

Another informative local history site:

The history of Broadstone Water Tower is rooted in the latter half of the 19th century, indeed it formed an essential part of the then embryonic public supply to the wider conurbation of developing Poole. A brief résumé of the early history of Poole's public water supply is useful when considering the demands that brought about construction of the tower....

Stanton on the Wolds

It's quite rare to find a comprehensive history of a now demolished water tower so we are grateful to Stanton on the Wolds Parish Council for providing all the detail about their erstwhile concrete water tower that lasted from1933 to 1985.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Something for children

It seems that it is no longer on the original site but here is a drawing of a water tower that you can download (click on image) and colour in. There at lots of others at

It looks a lot like a continental tower, something like you can find at Kevelaer in Germany which coincidentally is twinned with Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.

Here's some that were coloured in by visitors to the water tower art show.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The 1881 Metal Water Tower of Shanghai

Text collated from various sources.

Up to the late 19th Century the principal source of water supply in Shanghai had been the Whangpoo River or the Suzhou Creek. The water from wells was brackish and unfit for drinking purposes, and the water carried from river or creek in buckets to the various houses was muddy and subject to contamination from sewers or refuse. It was poured into large kongs or jars and settled by the use of alum. Then it was boiled, but even so there was considerable danger connected with using it for drinking purposes. Probably it was the cause, in many cases, of typhoid fever and cholera.

The first proposal for the introduction of a system of waterworks was brought forward at an early date by Dr. M. T. Yates, but largely owing to financial reasons it received no support. The subject was repeatedly discussed but nothing definite was done about it until 1880. The Shanghai Municipal Council then entered into terms with a venture capital consortium (its records of interests in tea plantations and US mines have been located) known as Drysdale, Ringer and Co. and the work of laying pipes was begun. A water tower was erected in Kiangse Road and the pumping of water began in April, 1883. The Viceroy, Li Hung-chang, who happened to be on a visit to Shanghai, accepted an invitation to take part in the ceremony of turning on the water.

It is not recorded where the tower's metal components were founded but in Japan the Kamaishi Iron Works had just been opened in 1880. It is just as possible that they were made in the UK as water towers of this size in wrought iron were starting to appear there and the water company's financiers were based in Britain. Records indicate several British conglomerates bid for the building of the water works, the pipe laying and sewer contracts and other ancillary construction.

Given its size, it was a remarkable example of a prefabricated wrought iron structure. This technology was developed for the rapid building of water towers and related structures needed for railways and was proven with the cast sections to produce the twin water towers for the Crystal Palace at Sydenham. The engineer/architect was John William Hart, M Inst C E who later settled at and greatly developed Kobe, Japan.

The tower was also remarkable for being some of the first usage of reinforced concrete in China where the foundations were set in a concrete plinth costing £4371 or £1 per square foot. After Hart gave a paper at conference about the project there was criticism that the usual iron pilings would have been cheaper but Hart said this was necessitated by the stratum of soft alluvial deposits about 20 feet below the surface which had led to the collapse of a new screw-piled bridge in Shanghai "before a passenger had set foot on it".

A year later the system was extended so as to meet the needs of the Chinese. The object was not philanthropic but based on the ground that disease among the Chinese might spread to the foreign community, and that better native health meant greater safety for the whole population.

Waterworks and other public health initiatives were an avenue the British used to consolidate and expand their power in colonial outposts. General A. De C. Scott addressed the Institute of Civil Engineers when Hart presented his paper with the remarks that "to his mind it was the engineer who stood the best chance of breaking through the crust of prejudice, distrust, and dislike which still formed a barrier to intercourse with Europeans (by the Chinese)".

At first there was no great eagerness on the part of the Chinese to avail themselves of this new source of supply. Their reluctance was due not only to there being a small tax on those who used the water, but to prejudice founded on ignorance. There were rumours that the water was poisonous, or spoiled by lightning, or that people had been drowned in the water tower, and the Mixed Court Magistrate was obliged to issue a reassuring proclamation.

In the beginning there were complaints that the company overcharged for its supply, and this caused dissatisfaction. Although in 1888 it was proposed that the Council should buy out the company, and take the matter of water supply into its own hands, as is generally the case in other cities of the size of Shanghai, it was found to be too expensive a project.

The waterworks have remained a private company known as the Shanghai Waterworks Company up to the present day, although negotiations have recently been completed for bringing the company under the control of the Municipality.

The waterworks were of great value not only for the health of the community but also in increasing the facilities for extinguishing fires, the firemen previously being dependent entirely on the fire wells sunk in various localities.

It appears from the photographs and plans that there was a viewing gallery around the outside of the tank accessed by the spiral staircase. It must have given excellent views over the city. It is said it dominated the skyline for years and was one of Shanghai's earliest skyscrapers. In 1887 the water tower was festooned with multicolored electric lights in celebration of Queen Victoria's Jubilee.

It could have still been a landmark during the childhood of J. G. Ballard as it seems to be marked on the 1928 map of Shanghai but a contemporary photo of it today hasn't yet been located to confirm it still stands. Google Earth indicates it must be a victim of redevelopment.

The Shanghai Water Tower with the water main pipes leading over the Suzhou creek. Erected 1881. Height 130 feet, contents one hundred seventy thousand gallons. Tank diameter 50' depth 12'3". Weight of water 670 tons. Cost of materials and construction £11,849. The makers proudly reported to the 'Civil Engineer' that it had withstood several typhoons and apart from the cost of painting, the maintenance cost was "entirely nil".

Further reading:

A Wilderness of Marshes: The Origins of Public Health in Shanghai By Kerrie L. MacPherson.

John William Hart's 1890 report with plates of the building of the waterworks and tower is deposited at the ICE and is available online with an Athens log in or payment of 24 USD.

Plans image from The Water Supply of Towns and the Construction of Waterworks by William Kinninmond Burton, a Scot who in 1877 was invited by the Meiji Government of Japan to become the first Professor of Sanitary Engineering and lecturer in Rivers, Docks and Harbours at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Read more about his amazing life here.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Pork Pie News

It's a really perfect title for a blog. For those unfamiliar with English idioms, 'pork pies' is rhyming slang for 'lies' but I don't doubt its veracity though as it really concerns itself with pork pies. These are delicacy for which East Anglian pig farmers excel at providing the contents for.

The pie master himself is Ferrers Young who is a frequent face at BWTAS meetings and our official archivist and data manager, so obviously we can't be keeping him too busy. Each entry concerns itself with a walk with fellow pie munchers, often to a pub, a pie review carefully scored and weighted and the occasional water tower along the way. We knew he couldn't resist them. Visit it here.

The image is of the 1953 water tower at Hinton Lodge, otherwise known as Blythburgh just off the the A12 in Suffolk. The pigs belong to Blythburgh Free Range Pork. This tower has identical siblings built around the same time in Framlingham, Freston and Dennington.

Save Bath Road Reservoir

It was on the strength of photos of water towers on that BWTAS came across this site.

Although BWTAS wasn't constituted to be a preservationist society, most of its members take the view that such decisions about water towers cannot be made without all the facts. We don't know if the water tower is threatened but it is fairly typical that it has become a symbol of the campaign.

There are any number of commercial possibilities for a disused water tower and many water towers have historic and architectural value, if only it could be properly researched. As the thousands of photos testify, water towers seem to inspire great numbers of photographers, sculptors, painters and even poets. Their inspirational effect on musicians is well documented.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Conduits of Lincoln

Regular correspondent David Blackburn asks if BWTAS activities extend to conduits. Well, some members do take an interest in them. Here are David's photos of

St Mary’s Conduit and the High Bridge Obelisk

Some of our people take an interest in dams, wells and aqueducts too. Water towers are just part of the water supply system.

The present politics of water (and so its history) are of course vital to just about every person on on earth.

Conduits have a rich history. Here's just one paper on them.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Leweston Water Tower

Image Mr RJ Whittick FRPS from Images of England.
Date Photographed: October 1999

Leweston Water Tower, Dorset

Much has been written of the symbolism of buildings in general and thus in popular memory of the 'twin towers' of the original Wembley Stadium.

Today "twin towers" has a whole host of meanings despite being dominated by the World Trade Center. Petronas, JRR Tolkien and Wembley are some others but it can be argued that their significance is all one.

Somewhere deep in our subconscious, from the time our forefathers erected standing stones, towers in pairs have stood for portals or boundaries for the passage of things; the light of the sun, prayers or sacrifical offerings, onto somewhere else. It can be argued that a single standing stone has one (often phallocentric) meaning whereas two is completely different, although not unrelated. Two towers together seems to make an impact greater than the sum of their parts.

Those that consider such semiotics may be interested to know that the original Wembley stadium's architect evidently had a thing for towers and there are at least two other similar examples still standing. For expediency, two sources have been cut and pasted below:

National Monument Record:

Concrete structure with conical copper roof. Octagonal on plan with angle pilasters. Vertical profile slightly convex. Doorway at ground level with polygonal arch. 3 tiers of narrow slit windows diminishing in height towards top of the tower. Top stage an open viewing platform. External timber winding stair. Interesting example of Art Deco design.

Concrete, Oct 2002 issue:

When Sir Eric Rose purchased Leweston Manor, near Sherbourne, in the late 1920s he decided to improve the water supply on the estate by constructing a water tower. He chose Maxwell Ayrton as his architect who, with Sir John Simpson, had been the architect for Wembley Stadium and the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. Sir Owen Williams was the structural engineer and Sir Robert McAlpine the contractor for this large project. A similar water tower to Leweston at Wappingthorn Farm, Steyning, Sussex was profiled in The Architects' Journal for 14 January 1931. Ayrton and Williams collaborated on this structure so, although Owen Williams' office now has no record of either structure, it seems reasonable to assume that the same team designed Leweston water tower.

The tower was built in Ferroconcrete, which was popular at the time, and is 16.Sm tall, with an additional Sm of timber for the belvedere. The inside face is a 5.7m-diameter circle; the outside is octagonal with walls i50mm thick at their narrowest. Unusually, the concrete is a 6mm aggregate mix with an exposed gravel aggregate finish. The walls are, by modern standards, extremely lightly reinforced with a single central layer of mild steel. Consequently, there was little spalling, which has been repaired with a site-- batched repair concrete.

Another unusual aspect is that the tower had two water tanks, one located approximately around the middle third of its height and the other at the top third. These had 300mm-thick heavily reinforced bases and a central octagonal shaft for access. Inner tank surfaces were waterproofed with 25mm of mastic asphalt. Around the exterior of the tower is an oak staircase, cantilevered from the walls. This was originally secured with bronze tie-roads, and leads to the top-level belvedere, which gives a panoramic view.

Around 1980, Leweston was put on the mains water supply and the tower became redundant. Over the next 20 years, the tower was allowed to decay, but the concrete structure and roof remained fundamentally sound. It was Grade II listed in October 1986, and two years later sold and converted for holiday accommodation.

In 1999, the property was bought by Patrick Firebrace, contracts manager for Concrete Repairs Ltd for the past 23 years. He appointed Roger Mears Architects to improve the earlier plans so they conformed to the Building Regulations. At the same time, he asked his structural engineer brother to justify his belief that the material used in the conversion should be concrete. The floor of the upper tank had to be completely removed as it did not coincide with sensible new floor levels, but the lower one could remain. Two new floors were to be built below it and two above.

At each new floor level, reinforcement dowels were set into the walls with polyester resin. Reinforcement was cut and bent on site and the concrete was a site-hatched Lytag mix of average cube strength 57MPa. This lightweight concrete was used primarily because of its better insulating properties since the new floors and wall would butt up to the concrete tower. It would also impose less dead weight on the supporting dowels and be lighter to pull up the tower.

Before concrete work began, the upper tank was removed by high-pressure water cutting. When the reinforcement was exposed, it became apparent that it had been bent on site as each bar spanned full width with bobbed ends into the wall. It could therefore be left in place, stiffening the top section of the tower until the new floor below was constructed.

After completion of the concrete work and fixing of new metal windows, the inner face of the tower was sprayed with SOmm polyurethane foam. The central shaft of the stairwell was filled with a glass block wall in a frame constructed from precast concrete columns and in-situ concrete beams. Around the bottom perimeter of the tower, an artificial Purbeck stone path was constructed in pattern-- imprinted concrete by Architectural Paving Systems.

There were two years between completion of the tower purchase to the finish of the conversion. During this period, an unwanted civil engineering concrete ruin designed by a leading 20th century architect and engineer has been restored and converted into a comfortable and interesting house.

Source: Concrete, Oct 2002 issue

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Langeoog Water Tower

Some time ago a correspondent sent BWTAS a postcard of a water tower they had picked up on their holidays. They hadn't seen the tower but thought it was nearby. The card didn't name the tower and no one here had any idea where it was but now it turns out to be in Langeoog, (its name means 'Long Island') one of the inhabited Frisian islands in the southern North Sea belonging to Germany. Maybe this is a case of mystery marketing; "this is wonderful, don't tell anyone" is an effective tourism pitch.

Its clean air, low in pollen and particulates, made Langeoog very popular in the 19th Century as a health resort. The 1908 tower is the island's symbol and a tourist attraction. Living on what is not much more than a big sand dune in the ocean, fresh water is evidently precious to the residents. This tower is a European example of what is common in the USA of a water tower becoming the town's symbol and appearing on all its marketing materials and civic insignia.

Cars are not allowed onto the island and with its miles of deserted beaches, open skies and water sports, Langeoog is still a popular holiday destination which is why many photos of the tower appear on sites like Flickr. The rapidly changing light and weather reward the patient photographer. If you want to see what it's like now, there's a webcam pointed at it here.

Herringswell Water Tower

Image © Tony Wilding for Images of England

BWTAS has been asked to remove the contact details for this tower as it is now let to a private tenant.

The once dilapidated but now beautiful estate water tower at Herringswell Manor has been converted into a unique two bedroom detached apartment of approximately 224 m² (or 2411 ft²) with access to the court yard and views over fields and a horse stud from the living room at the top of the tower.

Herringswell Manor has had a variety of tenants in its history. It was once a medina for the devotees of the Baghwan Shree Rajneesh. It was later taken over by an award winning property developer.

The tower is close to Herringswell village about 3 miles from Mildenhall.

The National Monuments Record has these details:

IoE Number:

Date Photographed: 16 August 2003
Grade II listed

C.1907, built to serve Herringswell Manor, the estate of A.W. Ballance. The lower stage of the tower is of red brick, with grand central entrance gateway; moulded and hood-moulded 4-centred arched opening of terracotta with pair of boarded doors. Above is a 4-light window with leaded casements. Above a moulded brick cornice, the upper stage oversails on 4 sides, with exposed joist-ends and diagonal beams on brackets; walling and gables of half-timbering with rough-cast infill. Plaintiled swept pyramid roof in 2 stages, with a set- forward gable at the upper stages framing a clock with bell above. Weather-vane finial. The flanking coach-houses, gable front, with similar arched doorways. Included for group value. The timber-framed and weather-boarded ranges to rear are not of special interest.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Tavira Water Tower/Camera Obscura

BWTAS is British in name but not in its outlook. In the Moorish* town of Tavira in the Algarve, Portugal, there is a delightful camera obscura housed in a redundant 1931 concrete water tower. The Torre de Tavira was founded in 2004 by English astronomer Clive Jackson and his wife Gloria who also run astronomy holidays from their observatory in the Algarve.

Looking over the tower from a construction viewpoint, it seems to be typical of the Mouchel pattern with an Intze floor. There are many water towers in the Algarve region. Like the famous variety of Algarve chimneys, some have Moorish influences in their detailing but most of the larger municip
al towers such as at Portimao are fairly basic as they were built during the economic hardships of the Salazar era.

The Torre de Tavira occupies a prominent position at the top of the town and is right next door to the Igreja de Santa Maria and the town's castle, all are popular tourist destinations.

So what is a Camera Obscura?

When inside the darkened room (the former tank) a rotating mirror in the roof projects the view of the town onto a dished table whilst the guide gives a narrated tour. The view is telescopic, bringing sights far away into v
iew, but it also has a wide field of view as the image is projected large onto the table with incredible precision, like a super high-definition screen.The effect of seeing very distant people, cars, trains and boats moving with such clarity is truly amazing.

For this reason, camera obscuras were very popular in pre-television times. Britain still has several although many have been lost and there is one in the Foredown Tower in Brighton which is situated in a..... yes, a former water tower.

If you plan to visit this tower, try not to confuse it with the Torre Tavira in Cadiz, Spain which is also a great camera obscura too but is NOT in a converted water tower. The tower, in the Baroque style, was part of the Palace of the Marquis of Recano whose first watchman, Antonio Tavira, gave it its name.

Some BWTAS members think there are a number of sites in the UK where concrete or metal water towers are ripe for this kind of conversion. The Jacksons have submitted plans for an astronomy 'Astrotel'. Seeing how well the camera obscura has been done, we wish them every success.

Thanks again to David Blackburn for his image.

Shrubland Park Water Tower

Coddenham, North of Ipswich OS Map ref TM128530

Shrubland Park is one of the finest examples of an Italianate house and garden in England. Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, and Sir Humphrey Repton were the garden's principal designers. A water tower is still in use. It is of square construction in Suffolk white brick, heavily butressed with a battlement top about 80 feet high. The main tank is about 30,000 gallons in cast iron sections bolted together. The tank is filled by a well estimated at 120 feet deep adjacent to the tower. The tower is part of the site of the Old Hall and is it thought the well is even older. The hall was begun in the 1770's and altered and extended in the 1840's. The tower builders went to some length to make the tower an acceptable feature in the landscape.

The sale of the park was announced in 2006 and as far as we know it remains closed to the public.

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


Dame Mary Bolles Water Tower

Heath, Nr Wakefield, North Yorkshire NMR Number: SE 32 SE 20.

For centuries before piped water became generally available there occurred the occasional ambitious and ingenious scheme to bring it to the dwelling of the rich or influential.

In 1505 Richard de Wombwell, prior of Nostell, had conduit pipes laid from a well in Ryhill to take its water to the Priory (now a National Trust property). The well-head, recently restored, remains a feature of the landscape today.

About a hundred years later, this tower was erected above a natural spring and pumped fresh water via a water wheel to Old Heath Hall on the hill above. Mystery and wonder surround it as much today as it did in the 1600's. Both modern and ancient pagans consider the spring sacred and Dame Mary is said to have dabbled in witchcraft. She asked that the room where she died (in 1662) in the old hall should be sealed. When it was unsealed, 50 years later, it is claimed that her ghost appeared and proceeded to haunt the surrounding heath.

Lady Bolles (1579-1662) owned the Heath estate from 1635 until her death at the age of 80, having purchased the Hall from the Kay family. First married to Thomas Jobson of Cudworth and, after his death, to Thomas Bolles of Osberton, Notts, she was created a baronetess by Charles I. Lady Bolles's will, made in the year she died, refers to "the water tower or conduit, which she lately built, with the lead works and iron works belonging to it."

The system was an unusual, perhaps even unique. The spring fed into a cistern from which, in turn, water flowed to power an 18-foot wheel. This provided the force to pump some of the water to the top of the tower from which height it would pass, probably by means of an overhead, lead-lined conduit, to the gateway at the old Hall.

Here, a further building, designed with the appearance of a gatehouse or lodge, held the huge storage cistern. This building, of a similar style and stonework to the water tower, like other of the outbuildings at the Hall, bears Lady Bolles's coat of arms.

How long the system functioned is not known, but it may well have survived into the 19th century, though not, apparently, beyond the 1830s.

Lady Green, whose book, The Old Hall at Heath 1568- was published in 1889, refers to the tower and spring: "This spring used to be a very copious and never-failing stream, but it is much diminished by the sinking of a coal pit that tapped the water bearing stratum; nevertheless, it is excellent in colour and quality."

The spring does, in fact, still flow with perhaps no greater loss of force than Lady Green records.

The tower stimulates considerable curiosity but its real nature is even more striking than its strange isolation suggests since it is a very early survival of English skill in hydraulic engineering.

A video of the tower is here

(Thanks to David Blackburn for much of this information.)

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Water Towers and Music

In 2007 the cult indie band British Sea Power came to Freston near Ipswich to record songs for their next album and shoot a video in the 1950's water tower there. They discovered that it had unique acoustic qualities, like a cathedral, with a sixteen second reverberation. Apparently they found the tower for rent on the internet. The former owners had tried for years to attract investment to convert it into a recording studio before they sold it on to a developer who now hopes to build apartments there. Those plans look interesting. They will have a fantastic view over the Orwell River and have a roof garden where the tank was.

Water towers have influenced many musicians. The American harmonic overtone singer Jim Cole records in a 120' tall metal water tower. "Because of the heavy reverberation, utter silence and pitch blackness offered, singing in a water tower was ideal..." he says.“You hear everything in super slow motion,” and as metal towers can be made to resonate and become an instrument as well, he found in his tower there was between 20 and 30 seconds of reverberation.

In Seattle, the
Volunteer Park Water Tower was made into a 'sonic installation' by an outfit called Audible Semaphore
who composed pieces to accompany the views from the top of the tower.
This tower, although not particularly distinctive architecturally, is a very popular tourist destination and a cultural landmark for residents.

In 1975, the first album released on Brian Eno's Obscure record label was Gavin Bryar's 'The Sinking of the Titanic' which was recorded in a Napoleonic water tower in Bourges, the atmospheric effect o

f the tower's acoustics adding greatly to the watery themes of the music, according to critics.

Do you know any other instances of music made in water towers? Please get in touch.

BWTAS talk at NIAS

Everything you wanted to know about Water Towers but were afraid to ask.

Nat Bocking and Ferrers Young from BWTAS will give an illustrated talk to the NORFOLK INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY SOCIETY on Thursday Oct 2nd (their meeting are the 1st Thurs of each month) at 7.30 pm.

Talks are held in the Stanley Cooper Room at the Charing Cross Centre, 17-19 St John Maddermarket, Norwich.

Admission is free. Visitors or prospective NIAS or BWTAS members are most welcome. The room has full access including a lift and toilets close by. Click here for a Multi-Map

Lendal Tower

David Blackburn sent in these recent pictures of the Lendal water tower in York. The construction is for the conversion of the tower into flats. It's a wonderful location, I hope the occupants won't mind cameras pointed at their windows, this is a very photographed sight in the city.

It is good to see that the history of the tower is on a plaque.

Water towers and wildlife

There are bat boxes in a number of water towers in the UK placed by the Bat Conservation Trust. Now it seems if Suffolk's water towers can have a role in increasing the population of peregrine falcons which are wonderful birds that keep the pigeon population in check. Pigeon droppings and corpses are a real nuisance in water towers. Even though they can be kept out of the water itself, it's a foul job cleaning up after them with access quite difficult in these circumstances. So if falcons can keep the pigeons away, they are very useful to water tower keepers.

The Suffolk Ornithologists' Group helped provide a nestbox on the Orwell Bridge in the 1990s and with that success, is now planning to expand the scheme across the county. It is looking for sites and approaching owners of water towers and other tall structures where the birds can nest undisturbed.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Priors Hill Road Aldeburgh

This is the Priors Hill Road water tower in the grounds of AldeburghCommunity Hospital, Suffolk. Once owned by Northumbrian Water, few details were known about this 1870's Victorian tower but compared to others in the area, it's detailing and build quality is exceptional and worthy of note.

It had been disused since the early 1980's and was becoming dangerous as lumps of masonry started falling off. Then it changed hands in April 2007 for £407,000 (more than double the expected price) at auction which was a surprise to many as it has no planning permission, is Grade II listed and has no right of way but it would make fantastic second home and being Aldeburgh, that is cheap for what could be a six bedroom house on a private road with views for miles around.

BWTAS would like to hear from the owners if they would like to make themselves known to us with complete confidence of their privacy.