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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk (1935)

Following my last posting of the 1953 water tower built by Wells Rural District Council, I thought I'd feature the 1935 water tower built by Wells Urban District Council. Piped water came to Wells in 1936 on completion of the well being sunk on the high ground to the south of the town and the water tower and water mains being laid. Prior to this it was dependent on 350 wells, many of which were susceptible to pollution. All that remains now, is the brick supporting structure and pumping house. It had a 30,000-gallon, Braithwaite tank with a single internal compartment. Located on a hill at O.S. Grid Ref TF 92240 42645, it had a top water level of 125 feet.

The summer influx of visitors more than doubles the winter population and this supply was sometimes inadequate, so in 1962 it was coupled to the supply lines of the Walsingham Rural District Council.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Southwold Water Tower Appeal

BWTAS has been approached for assistance with information on Southwold's water tower history.

Gillian Bendall is a writer who works for the accomodation agencies Norfolk Cottages and
Suffolk Secrets putting information on their websites.

She has been asked to come up with the copy for an information board to be erected on the site of the 1886 water tower on Southwold Common. This listed tower is a rare survivor of a wind-pumped water tower which once had sails above the tank driving pumps in the base of the tower above the well source. Accommodation for the resident engineer was on the two other floors.

Suffolk Secrets now has an office inside this historic tower and has just completed extensive renovation works and it wants to tell members of the public about the history of this wonderful building.

The idea of information boards on water towers is something BWTAS has proposed to water companies and it applauds Suffolk Secrets for spending the time and money to do this. We're always pleased to oblige people looking for information (except those who expect we can do their work for them unpaid).

Gillian believes a local man died in an accident at tower in 1899 but doesn't know what happened. BWTAS heard a story it was the unfortunate engineer caught by his tailcoat in the pumping mechanism. From the sequence of available photographs, it appears the sails were removed around the 1930's (which may have been following a great storm) and is sure there is more to be said about the construction of the tower but very little information is available.

BWTAS stalwart Ferrers Young dug in his files for us:

The wind pump was replaced with a diesel unit when the sails blew off in a storm, possibly in 1934, when the force of a storm destroyed the head of the pier. The tower was decommissioned in 1937 when the new tower was built.The tower became the lifeboat museum in 1987 when the town council purchased the tower for £100, however the council served a dangerous buildings notice on the tower in 1990 because the tank was in poor condition. In 1991 the tower became listed as being of special architectural interest. Adnams restored the tank in 1992 after taking a lease on the premises, but found the water supply unsuitable, then in 2005 Suffolk Secrets took a lease on the tower and restored the ground and first floors. Located on York Road at O.S. Grid Ref TM 50203 76256, Capacity 40,000 gallons.

Local brewer Adnams were concerned during the water privatisation era for the affordability of their water supply. Unfortunately the well supplying the tower turned out to be brackish so they abandoned plans to use it for their beer but not before spending a fortune on remedial works to preserve the tank on the long neglected tower.

If anyone can help Suffolk Secrets with information about Southwold's wind-pumped water tower, please contact Gillian by email or telephone 07786 837019 or email
g.bendall_AT_ (replace the _AT_ with @)

The 1936 concrete tower next to it isn't totally unremarkable either but perhaps it's for its owner to consider telling its story. Both landmarks feature prominently in the 1988 Peter Greenaway film 'Drowning by Numbers'.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Art Exhibition – Call for Entries

Towers of East Anglia

A small group of ‘industrial’ artists (including some members of BWTAS) are holding an exhibition at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe, July 10th – 19th 2009, and are looking for participation from artists with a similar interest.

The exhibition theme is ‘Towers of East Anglia’, defined as man-made structures where height is a requirement for their function. This would include, for example, water towers, look-out towers, Martello towers, lighthouses, silos, communication towers etc.

The last two BWTAS sponsored exhibitions attracted considerable numbers, wide publicity and enjoyed bouyant sales so we hope local artists of every kind will want to participate in this ambitious project exploring the aesthetic influence of man made structures.

The Landguard Fort is a unique venue and has held many successful exhibitions and it offers a good deal to interest visitors besides great art.

For more information call

Wil Harvey 01502 478248 (, or
Andy Norris 01502 478634 ( or
Clare Johnson 01502 580 199/07986 653 791 (

(note: because of spammers, you must replace the _AT_ with @ in the email addresses)

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Meare, Somerset (1953)

You may wonder why I am featuring this rather small, 122,000-gallon water tower. Last month it was reported on this site that Roy Rowe had died, although we are not aware of any direct involvement in any water towers, Mr Rowe pioneered the use of pre-stressed concrete as a building material. Meare was Britain's first pre-stressed concrete water tower, designed by Sandford Fawcett and Partners. It was built for Wells Rural District Council by the Vibrated Concrete Construction Company, in 1953. The tank, 37’ 5” in diameter and 23’ 9” in depth, is elevated by 80’ on eight reinforced concrete columns and a central service shaft. The tower is pre-stressed vertically and horizontally in the tank. The tank floor has eight curved sections radiating from its centre and is always in compression, enabling the floor to be only 6" thick. The roof and walls of the tank being pre-stressed too are also of 6" thick concrete. The tower can be found at O.S. Grid Ref. ST 46056 41175.

Further information on the construction of this tower and photographs of it being built may be found in issue 21 of Concrete Quarterly - "A village water tower of unusual construction". This is free to download in PDF format.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

When the floods came

After floods inundated Tewksbury, Gloucestershire, in 2007 the receding waters revealed more than damaged homes, property and infrastructure; the deplorable role of Britain's water companies. Read James Meek's report here in the London Review of Books.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Wallingford research request

BWTAS has had a snail-mail enquiry from Gordon Allan, a retired teacher in Monmouthshire, who is undertaking a project to recreate in 1:76 scale (oo gauge) Wallingford Station circa 1938 and would like as accurately as possible to depict the 1912 water tower that stood nearby. This tower has since been replaced by a circular concrete one. Gordon asks "any help would be welcome to enable me, with my meagre talents, to do justice to a fine building."

He wonders if anyone could give him an estimate of the height of the tank and the width and depth of the building and any other details. Please post them in the comments below where he will be looking for them. Anyone wanting to contact him directly, please get in touch with us.

The Occult Tower

With an undeniable hold on popular imagination and inaccessibility adding an air of mystery to their purpose, it was only a matter of time before a water tower linked by rumour with the occult came to the attention of BWTAS.

Legend says that the water tower in Starin Park, Wisconsin USA was once a place for sinister gatherings and that a body was hung near or on the tower. More here. Cue a Twilight Zone music sting...

Two Vintage Views of American Towers

Given the lack of a tank and the height, this structure is more likely a standpipe to balance water pressure rather than an elevated tank.

It is located in St Louis, Missouri, and was built in 1870-2. It is 154 feet high and reputed to be the largest Corinthian column in the world. The neighborhood around this tower is known as the Water Tower District. The tower is not in use. The steel stand pipe was removed from the structure several years ago and sold as scrap iron and the tower was repaired and painted. The shaft of the tower is constructed of brick and the cap is made of cast iron.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Milwaukee's 175-foot Victorian Gothic water tower has overlooked Lake Michigan since 1874. The tower was constructed of Wauwatosa limestone and sits at the east end of North Avenue.

Both images from Vintage views but available elsewhere.

John Robinette

John Robinette is a Memphis artist who has been described as a painter of only three things: shacks, churches, and water towers. He is widely honoured and collected in the USA. He is amongst a pantheon of artists who have tackled the subject; Charles Demuth, Rachel Whiteread, Drew Leshko, Mark Beesley and Claude Pissarro, as well as the photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher who devoted many years to documenting wasserturm.

Seeking a Tribute to the Ordinary in a Water Tower

From the New York Times Hernando Mississippi (near Memphis TN) is seeking landmark status for its ordinary metal water tower. Given the slow decline in the use of these towers (see the East Hampton posting), this is not such a bad idea. The NYT article goes on to say many of the things that BWTAS points out are the benefits of water towers and why they are appreciated. You can read it there.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Gong forever

Melissa Pionzio, a journalist and blogger for the Hartford Courant in Conneticut USA, has reported the demolition of the Gong Bell water tower in swanky East Hampton CT. Local teenagers, doubtless driven by raging hormones, were often inspired to scale the tower to graffiti messages to the person of their desire. Resident Tracy Kemp added that the water tower lasted 25 years longer than Billy's declared love for her.

The loss of this tower was also recorded by a local
photographer R J Phil who noted on his blog "I wonder how many people will even notice that it is gone? When you see something every day, it becomes a part of the landscape of the town; a symbol of the manufacturing history that once was...

At 1:30 today they held a "ribbon-cutting" to begin the demolition of the Gong Bell water tower. The Gong Bell Co. made toys with bells in them during the early and middle part of the 20th century, many of which are very collectible now. East Hampton was (and is) known as "Belltown, USA", due to the number of companies producing bells here beginning in the mid-1800's. The Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. is the only one left in East Hampton (and the the US) now, still producing fine bells after over 150 years.I know that the tower is old and unsafe, I understand the liabilities involved - BUT - I would like to think that the ceremony is a send-off for the landmark, rather than a "good riddance" to something that once stood as a monument to manufacturing in East Hampton, and the US in general. Having grown up here and seeing the tower every day, I will miss it, for it is one more thing from East Hampton's past that has gone the way of the bulldozer. The tower has looked over our town for almost 80 years and has seen a great deal of history come and go - the last train through in 1964, the fire in 1973 that burned down the Gong Bell factory and the commercial expansion and residential development that changes forever the small towns these sentinels protected. Rest in peace. "

Over 30 bell foundries once existed in East Hampton. Gong Bell Manufacturing Company is credited with inventing the first toy telephone and the first foot bell ever used.

The tower had been maintained for fire safety after the factory had closed but the town council now believe "the tower is no longer necessary for fire suppression," said town council chair Melissa Engel in a speech at the demolition ceremony. "Because we now rely on modern day pumps."

It has to be asked, as it can be shown, what if these electric pumps fail? The widespread flooding in the UK in 2008 knocked out electricity substations that drove water pumping stations, causing complete havoc in fire prevention and public health. The beauty of water towers is that gravity never fails to deliver water to anywhere below where it is stored.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Roy Rowe: structural engineer

One of the world's leading experts on concrete structures has died.

Roy Edward Rowe was responsible for helping to develop the engineering expertise that made it possible to build lightweight concrete bridges and elevated roadways that revolutionised Britain’s highways from the late 1950s.
One of his projects was the Aswan Dam. BWTAS have no evidence yet Mr Rowe worked on specific water towers but he literally wrote the books on building bridges and water tanks with reinforced concrete so some credit must go to him for a signficant influence on water towers. Times Obituary
No offence meant but he was also a dead ringer for Alec Guinness no?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Leaning Water Tower of Teluk Intan

The difficulty of storing something very heavy (i.e. water) at a great height is the leverage the mass can exert on its foundations. Water towers are prone to settling alarmingly if their foundations fail. The leaning water tower of Britton Texas is a widely reported (but deliberate) example of a leaning water tower but the tilt in the water tower of Teluk Intan in Malaysia was caused by a stream under its foundations. Wikipedia says:

...erected in 1885 by a Chinese builder, Mr. Leong Choon Cheong. It started to tilt four years after its construction finished due to an underground stream. The tower had a clock at the top, and still rings every 15 minutes now. The clock tower was originally used as a water tower, supplying water to the town area, while also reporting the time to all townfolks. It had also served as a beacon to guide ships into Teluk Intan Port. Currently it is a local tourist attraction, and no longer stores water. The area around the tower was paved with bricks and became a plaza. The main street at the centre of Teluk Intan is also named after Mr. Leong Choon Cheong to commemorate his contribution. The name of the street is "Jalan Ah Cheong"

The image here is lifted from travel blogger Aminyunus
who shares his memories of the tower.