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Monday, 30 May 2011

Take a little, give a little more back

Water tower hunters are incredibly grateful for the modern tools of online maps and user-contributed maps available today. In the old days, desk-based research consisted of painstakingly poring over paper maps grid square by grid square, noting any instance of 'wr twr' with the certain knowledge that many towers that were marked therein didn't exist any more and many more towers stood majestically but entirely unmarked.

The reasons for this are varied; sometimes they were simply misclassified or missed by the cartographer when the photo survey took place. Or their omission was for reasons of security of the public water supply or that their presence indicated activity which someone would prefer the public knew as little about as possible. Besides their appreciation, unimpeded access to accurate data on water towers has been the raison d'être of BWTAS.

To find towers in the first place, there is now a dizzying array of resources such as Geograph, Flickr and Panoramio that enable people to post for example their travel photos and pin them to a map with exact coordinates. These sites have thousands, perhaps millions, of water towers images as they never seem to fail to attract attention of photographers however, there is the drawback that such user-generated content does vary in quality.

The iconic water tower in Thorpeness, Suffolk known as 'The House in the Clouds' is variously marked up to a quarter mile from its actual location and by many names such as 'The House in the Sky' and, though a minor detail, it is often described as a converted tower when it was purpose-built to be a home that happened to have a huge tank on top. Such mis-information then gets parroted by other web-hunters and also makes its way into printed tourist guides and becomes a 'meme' that is impossible to correct.

What's still missing from the web though is some way of recording all the other 'meta' data about a water tower along with its location and images of it from various viewpoints. BWTAS are not aware yet of a resource - except for Britain's listed structures - that allows recording of all the pertinent details of British towers that could be searchable by form, date of construction, materials, designer, owner and so on along with its location coordinates and images. It would be very handy to have something that could hold all the various kinds of water tower data, from addresses to the ISBNs and reference numbers of sources. If you know of such a tool, please comment or get in touch as many people in the water tower fraternity think Britain's water infrastructure deserves an online database like the Defence of Britain Project.

In the meantime, the BWTAS committee would like to encourage our members and the world at large to show gratitude for the availability of these free resources and so when we take a little, to give a bit more back by contributing to what's out there. As there are so many resources, a bit of discrimination should be considered as to what is worthwhile to support. In the UK the site Geograph has a 'critical mass' of water towers and so new towers should be added there as it is quickly becoming a definitive list.

If you know of a water tower-related museum, heritage site or a water tower open to the public, it would be helpful to get it listed under 'attractions' in the databases Sat Nav manufacturers pre-install such as the Tele Atlas GPS POI database. POI databases are becoming more and more important all the time and have become the de-facto Yellow Pages ® while people are on the move.

The process is easy, just point your browser to the multi-language Tele Atlas Map Feedback web site and follow the 3 easy steps to somewhere listed or have an incorrect listing changed. This site allows you to enter a location by coordinates or post code but the coding of the point of interest for a water tower is limited to 'other'. One drawback on this site is that it doesn't provide much evidence for locating the precise location. You can drop a pin anywhere on the map but it's best to already have the location coordinates written down before you use the site to enter them.

While you’re adding a heritage site to Tele Atlas you can also add it to the NAVTEQ POI Database too. This site has a lot more detail and the maps can switch between satellite images and graphics so you can be sure you are pinning the right place. At the time of writing only one water tower at King Faisal St, Al Foutah, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was listed there.

And, if your community is plagued by HGVs getting stuck in narrow lanes because of reliance on the driver's sat nav, (which is common issue vexing parish councils in Suffolk) then you can record the actual road restrictions on the NAVTEQ site as well, which should re-direct inappropriate traffic away in the future.

Although you are basically working for free for entity who are profiting from your effort, if you have a vested interest in water towers in some way, then it's well worth the trouble to let other people know exactly where these points of interest are.

For more esoteric data, perhaps purely to record the existence of a structure which the OS Map has omitted, an extremely useful resource is OpenStreetMap, a free editable map of the whole world. It allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth. This site is hosted in London at the UCL VR Centre for the Built Environment.

Here is an incredibly nifty video showing how quickly mapping of the Earth has been done by crowd-sourcing since the project began in 2004.

OSM 2008: A Year of Edits from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

At the time of writing this there were only fifty or so towers marked on the Open Street Map, mostly in the USA. Whilst the learning curve to be a map contributor here is steep, it is a short hill. Most importantly, this resource has enormous credibility and is being used in developing countries and by governments to assist all manner of planning and development which mapping for would otherwise be impossible and unaffordable. Just as the reigns of power were snatched from his hands, erstwhile prime-minister Gordon Brown released the British Ordnance Survey base map to OSM to enable the mapping of the United Kingdom.

Water tower fans should be contributing OSM because people are able to use the data in print publications and websites for free whereas it typically costs £50 to license OS data in a small leaflet or website. So for a body wanting to publish a pamphlet of a local heritage trail, that cost, in practise, rather impeded such initiatives.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Tell me, where do you come from my Cotton Eyed To (wer)?

In 1915, when its population was about 1600, the city of Cotton Plant Arkansas USA was the birthplace of one of the greatest ever Americans, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

A fine documentary recently shown on the BBC about Sister Rosetta opens with views of the water tower, bearing the proud name "CITY OF COTTON PLANT". It's a fairly ordinary water tower and it never supplied water to the home of this great American artist.

It turns out that the present steel water tower was built with funds from the PWA (Public Works Administration, an agency of Roosevelt's New Deal) in 1935. It replaced an earlier water tower which would have been serving the city at the time Sister Rosetta was born.

At the age of six she was taken by her evangelist mother Katie Bell to Chicago to join Roberts Temple, Church of God in Christ, where she developed her distinctive style of singing and guitar playing. 

At the age of 23 she left the church and went to New York to join the world of show business, signing with Decca Records. For the following 30 years she performed extensively to packed houses in the USA and subsequently Europe, before her death in 1973.

In 2008 the state governor of Pennsylvania declared that henceforth January 11th will be Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in recognition of her remarkable musical legacy.

The present Cotton Plant water tower - beside the town's derelict one room jail - is being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with local significance under Criterion C as a good example of a 1930s water tower. The Cotton Plant Water Tower is also being nominated to the National Register under Criterion A for its associations with the activities of the PWA in Woodruff County during the 1930s. The Cotton Plant Water Tower is being submitted to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple-property listing “An Ambition to Be Preferred: New Deal Recovery Efforts and Architecture in Arkansas, 1933-1943.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Company noted in its first map of Cotton Plant that the small, eastern Arkansas city had a four inch main running a short distance along Main Street. This water main served eight one inch hydrants used solely for sprinkling the unpaved street. One water tower, sixty-three feet above ground, held 23,000 gallons of water to help keep the dust to a minimum in this quickly growing town. This first water tower was behind a blacksmith shop north of Main Street and west of Ammon Street in the middle of the block. Though the population, 900 in 1908, reached 1,661 by 1920, the city continued to maintain this simple water system and 23,000 gallon tank. More information from Arkansas Historic Preservation Program

Cotton Plant was first called Richmond and was sparsely settled as early as 1840. William Lynch was the first man to build a store in the area, settling here from Mississippi in 1846. After unsuccessfully seeking application for a post office by the name of Richmond, the town settled on Cotton Plant in 1852. Lynch’s store attracted others and soon the village became the center of economic activity in this relatively isolated part of Woodruff County. It was not until 1887 that the town was formally incorporated.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Everyone comes to Ric's

Dining at Ric's Grill in Lethbridge, Alberta is truly an extravagant experience; located 150 feet in the air in a converted watertower, Ric's Grill guarantees a dining experience that is so unique, it is the only one of its kind in all of North America. 

From the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record:

Lethbridge, Alberta builder spends $2 million to turn water tank into restaurant

PAT BRENNAN, correspondent, LETHBRIDGE, Alta.

Builder Doug Bergen always marvelled at his town’s water tower while growing up in Lethbridge, Alta. It was the tallest structure out on the wide open prairies south of Calgary. So, he was shocked when he learned Lethbridge proposed to scrap the retired water tower.

Bergen, an architectural technician and developer, persuaded the town to sell the water tower to him and more than $2 million later he opened it as one of Canada’s most unconventional restaurants.

He believes it is the only restaurant in the world built into a water tower 12 storeys above the ground. “The town council fought me all the way on this project. They made me jump through some very unreasonable hoops, but on our opening night in 2004 the entire council was there for the free booze and food,” said Bergen.

City engineers claim the tower, built in 1958, had outlived its usefulness and it sat abandoned for several years after a new community reservoir replaced it. “The town’s public works feared it was unstable and should come down, but I had consulting engineers check it out and found it was still strong and sturdy. The municipal guys wouldn’t even climb up the tower’s ladder to check inside the tank,” said 44-year-old Bergen.

“It’s been an iconic structure in Lethbridge and southern Alberta and if I was going to keep it alive I wanted to make it a place that the public could visit and use.”

It took him two years to find a tenant, but eventually Ric’s Grill, a chain of nine steak and seafood restaurants in Alberta and B.C. moved in and has become a popular tourist attraction in Lethbridge.

Bergen designed the 9,000-square-foot restaurant with two levels for eating and a third as a lounge in the bulbous water tank, which used to hold 500,000 gallons of water 36 feet deep. He had to hoist nearly 1,700 tons of washed gravel into the water tank to replace the weight of the water to keep the tank from swaying in the prairie winds.

He cut 32 windows into the side of the tank, plus skylights in the top. A catwalk was built around the outside of the tank so maintenance crews can wash the windows. An elevator was installed in the 8-foot-diameter central shaft of the tower to carry customers up to the restaurant. Eight narrower legs support the weight of the tower. Bergen added large banners between each of the legs, which he rents out as billboards.

A 60-foot-tall transmission aerial was added to the top of the water tower.

Everything but the customers and the Alberta beef steaks had to be lifted to the restaurant by mobile cranes. Steel floors were crafted to create the three levels.

Douglas J. Bergen and Associates designs and builds real estate and commercial projects in Southern Alberta, such as vacation cottages in the Crownest Pass in the Rocky Mountains.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Save the Sudbury water towers campaign

Mind we are talking Greater Sudbury, Ontario.

When plans were afoot to demolish two iconic water towers known as 'Pearl Street' and 'Pine Street' respectively in Canada's Nickel City, a group of local artists put up an impressive resistance; not by sit-ins and petitions but by mounting exhibitions illustrating the towers' value as cultural objects far beyond their municipal purpose.

Built in 1956, the two towers stayed in use until 1998 when they were decommissioned. Standing tall on sites overlooking the city, the towers turn an otherwise unremarkable cityscape into an interesting panorama.

The present outcome appears to be that the city has voted to remove Pine Street but in 2010 a developer bought Pearl Street and plans to convert it, meantime exploiting its landmark value by erecting 'art boards' (plain speaking: billboards) to raise the revenue to fund this. Many ideas are floating around for turning it into a heritage centre, an art gallery or viewing platform or all three. A feasibility study has been undertaken of various proposals citing the successful redevelopment of other surplus water towers.

This was all started in 2009 by Joel Kimmel, an illustrator originally from Ottawa who became fascinated with water towers on a trip to New York in 2005. He loved them so much that he moved to Brooklyn and roamed the streets beneath the towers for two years. In 2009 he moved to Sudbury where he immediately chose the water towers as his favorite landmarks.

Joel and his chums got 50 other artists and photographers in Sudbury and lovers of water towers from around the world to submit their artwork to be displayed on their website and in an exhibition held in 2010 that raised awareness and showed the City of Greater Sudbury that the people love their towers. Take a look at the blog for some great pictures, then and now.

Whilst the blog hasn't had many updates recently (gosh, we can empathise with that), the very active Facebook group has over 600 members.

Water tower facts:

Pearl Street:
Built by Horton Steel Works Limited, Fort Eriein.
Volume 1,000,000 imperial gallons (3.8million liters- about 17000 bathtubs!)
Height to Underside of Bowl – 76 feet (about 23 meters)
Overall Height - 112 feet (about 34 meters- ? This may be wrong)
Diameter of Bowl – 96 feet (about 29 meters)
Height of Bowl – 36 feet (about 11 meters)
Centre Cylinder – 8 feet diameter
Tower Legs – 4 ft 4 in diameter at 75 ft spacing
330 Tonnes of Steel

Pine Street:

Volume 500,000 imperial gallons (1.9million liters- about 8,400 bathtubs!)
Overall Height- 131ft (about 40 meters)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Church Langley, Harlow: The 'M11 Water Tower'

Considering the number of times it is mentioned to BWTAS, the editors of this blog have been remiss in telling readers that the Church Langley water tower near Harlow has had its own website for some time.

Famous for its prominent position next to the M11 motorway and a frequent site for charity abseils, this striking 'bowl in hand' form tower was completed in 1993, making it one of - if not the - last public supply water tower constructed in Britain. 

The site's author is one of the original construction workers and would like to hear any stories about the tower.

Joni Mitchell's words save historic water tower

From the Warrington Guardian 16.5.11:

Warrington Borough Council turns down plans to demolish historic Garnett's Water Tower

By Vicki Stockman

A TOWN centre landmark has been saved after councillors threw out plans to demolish the water tower attached to Garnett’s Cabinet Works (see BWTAS 'war over Warrington').

Developers PTS Property had wanted to knock down the Cairo Street based tower, which is a prominent part of the borough’s skyline, due to safety issues after building had decayed.

But with no details about what would go on the locally listed Bridge Street Conservation Area site, except details in the planning application that a car park could go on the land, councillors refused permission to demolish the entire site.

Cllr Geoff Settle (LAB - Poulton North) said: “I don’t want to be looking back in 12 months time only to be quoting the words of Joni Mitchell saying: "don’t it always seem to be you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’.”

The committee voted unanimously to refuse the applications.

Mike Batley, speaking on behalf of the developer, told councillors approving the scheme would help reinvigorate the area.

He said: “It gives a great chance to put something back in a conservation area.”

And he added details that a car park could go on the site, mentioned in the planning application, was just an example of what could go on the site and not planned.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Rosalind Stoddart: Open Gallery and Sale

Rosalind Stoddart, Independent Cultural Engineer and Artist, has announced an open gallery and sale at her Northamptonshire water tower  on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 September 2011 showing her work ranging back many years with everything for sale.

Cakes and tea will be sold too.

Profits go towards the art projects she will be running next year:  BB and his world.

Opening times 11am to 4pm both days.

The Water Tower
Benefield Road
NN14 3JA
United Kingdom

Tel: +44(0)1536 370108

Those with an interest in the cultural value of water towers, please note the text bolded (by me) below from the website of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art

FCA was founded by artist Rosalind Stoddart and architect Patrick Duerden towards the end of 1998 as an art gallery exhibiting paintings, sculpture and artists prints for sale. Their motivation was their own abiding passion for contemporary visual art, primarily non figurative work in the tradition of British modernism. Alongside this abiding interest, Rosalind perceived that there was no exhibition space for the most exciting and forward looking of artists in Northamptonshire, nor anywhere in the County to see the work of nationally and internationally important contemporary artists. Rosalind’s vision was to promote the work of the best up and coming artists by showing their work alongside that of established practitioners. She received early encouragement and support from David Holmes, who for many years had run a gallery in his own house in Peterborough before relocating to Cornwall in the mid 90s.

When Rosalind bought the Water Tower from the Fermyn Woods estate in 1994, it was as much for the opportunity to create a large artists studio as it was to realise its potential for domestic use. With FCA’s first exhibition, it was apparent that the building was also eminently suited to use as a gallery, and that alongside the art, the building itself helped to draw visitors to the venue. The garden that was created around Rosalind’s site specific sculpture Enclose completed the profile of the Water Tower as a visitor attraction.

Rosalind once described her practise to the BBC:

"My work encompasses painting sculpture and printmaking. It is often colourful and bold and on all scales from very small to very large.

I seek to emphasise the relationships of abstract form, colour, line and the balance and rhythm of these elements in composition.

My work often is autobiographical because the shapes are arrived at intuitively. Looking inwardly in this way is central to my artistic practice. My work is often site specific.

I trained as a painter at The Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing and at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts.

In 2000, I had a solo exhibition of large sculptures at Lyveden New Bield - the National Trust property near Oundle, Northamptonshire. This was part of a Year of the Artist residency.

I live and work in East Northamptonshire from where I also run a gallery, Fermyn Woods Contemporary Art."

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Utscheid water tower for sale (now sold)

Post Script

In July 2011 ownership of the water tower was transferred to Dr Quintin de Jong, Dipl. Ing. 

Regular readers of this blog might notice we have featured a lot of German water towers. This is not by design, more an outcome that Germany in the time of its kaisers was on the cutting edge of water infrastructure, often employing British engineers, and now recognises their cultural heritage more than we do in Britain. There is more than one water tower society active on the continent.

One of our members has passed on a email from  Maurits and Saskia Campert, a Dutch couple from the Hague, announcing that their holiday home, a water tower in Germany's spectacular 'Eifel Country', near the Luxembourg border, is coming onto the market soon.

Their website has all the details with interior and exterior photographs.

The database of cultural assets in the Trier region (auto-translated from German) says:

High above the valley located in the beautiful Eifel Utscheid village and standing on the highest level is a 16-meter-high circular water tower built in 1956 in red sandstone  by the district water company. Professor Oswald Ungers bought the tower for 1DM (while the land is on a renewable 30 year lease) and converted it in 1993 into an apartment and temporary gallery.  The tank and the mechanicals have been removed.

The Camperts sent along more details but BWTAS cannot accept responsibility for their accuracy:

Wasserturm Utscheid Buscht 
Water Tower Utscheid 
Château d'eau Utscheid Eifel 

Zum Wasserturm 1, 54675 Utscheid, RP. 

In the German Eifel at 15 kilometers from the Luxembourg border you find our water tower, which was bought in late 2006 by us from Professor Ungers. This is a monument, "Kulturgut” classified as a "Technisches Denkmal" in the Rhineland-Palatinate, Region Trier. 

It is ideal as a quiet retreat for two adults without children. 

Located at 320 meters altitude in the hills and only 200 meters from a forest in the municipality Utscheid with its 500 inhabitants.  All facilities are found nearby in Mettendorf (5 km.),  Neuerburg (10 km) and Bitburg (15 km.). Vianden (Lux.) and Echternach (Lux.) at approximately 18 km. 

The tower was built in 1956 (original building plans available) and served as a water tower until 1963. In 1993 it was converted into a house by Prof. Oswald Ungers of Cologne. 

The costs amounted to DM 200,000 (100,000 euros).

The tower is 15 meters high with 5 levels connected through concrete steps against the outside wall with 4 flights of 13 steps. It has a new slate roof. The tower is built of 70 cm thick red sandstone blocks. The outer diameter at ground level is about 7 meters and the inner diameter about 5.60 meters. The content is about 300 m3. 

On the ground floor is the storage room, guest toilet and central heating. On the second level is the fully equipped kitchen with two large steel windows. The next level has a view into the kitchen.

The fourth level is for the bedroom with 200 x 200 bed and bathroom with separate toilet. Here are two large steel exterior windows with hardwood double glazed windows inside. There is a Enev-Air ventilation system. The floors are separated by wooden folding doors. 

The showpiece is the 'tower room' with unrestricted views to 60 km in the four directions (e.g. on Golf Club Süedeifel and Segelflugverein Südeifel) by four large steel exterior windows with hardwood double glazed windows inside. The property is available fully furnished. 

The total floor area is approximately 80 m2. 

The whole tower is heated by a 24 kW boiler Vaillant 242E (suitable for 500 m3) with a buried gas tank of 5000 liters capacity and with cast iron radiators on all floors. Hot water is through the same system. When heated to around 10 degrees through the year, the consumption is about 3000 liters. The system is sufficient for continuous occupation through severe winters.

The tower stands on a plot of 200 m2 (17 x 12) with a lease from the municipality. The ground rent is 500 euros per year until 2023 and can thereafter be further extended for another 30 years for the same annual amount. There is parking for two cars. 

The other fixed costs (insurance, local taxes, etc.) are minimal. 

Sewage and telephone (DSL possible via  parabolic antenna) are installed. There is a paved road to the door. 

Buyers without chain only need apply. Because the sale concerns a monument, permission from the authorities for the sale must be obtained so need for a "good standing"  is inevitable.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Aldeburgh Park Road: application refused

Suffolk Coastal District Council have advised a BWTAS member that planning permission to convert Aldeburgh Water Tower into two residential units with a ground floor extension with planted sedum roof and glazed rooftop studio has been refused.  We are sure the neighbours are relieved.