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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Cawston, Norfolk (1897)

A chance for members to visit…

The water tower was designed in 1897 by Sir Ernest George based on Dutch architecture of the time, it is the only ten sided water tower in Europe and is built of Cawston red brick, made at the Marshall Howard Brick Kiln. The owner of Cawston Manor, an American stockbroker coincidently called George Cawston, had it built to get fresh water to the Manor.

David Forster attended Cawston College as a boy and first became acquainted with the water tower then when his teacher, George Mumford, took him up the tower via the 85 ft. ladder which remains in situ on the wall of the tower, running through every room.

He became aware that the tower was up for sale through his friendship with Nick Youngs, and was determined to buy it, and so with his inheritance purchased it from Nick’s father, Gerald in 2002.

David has done much of the work on the tower himself, to turn the tower into a home for his wife and two boys. The renovation was actually filmed by Channel 5 for their programme “Build a New Life in the Country”. David has now built an extension onto the tower, to house a workshop and living quarters for when he and his wife become unable to climb the many stairs up to each room of the tower.
Reproduced by kind permission of

The Cawston Remembers project have created this video of David and his water tower:

David and Jenny have kindly invited members of the British Water Tower Appreciation Society to visit their tower — all members should have received an e-mail from us with details… If you have not, please e-mail us at (regardless of whether you intend to come on this visit) so we can update our list and keep you informed of forthcoming activities. Places on this visit are limited, so you need book before you attend.


Monday, 23 March 2015

The Detective's Secret

According to the Sunday Times crime writer Lesley Thomson's latest novel The Detective's Secret is a "haunting novel about loss and reconciliation". It features a fictional water tower inspired by Thomson staying in a friend's converted tower in Paddington and BWTAS gets a grateful mention in the acknowledgements for supplying Lesley with a reading list.

Crime novels featuring water towers in the plot are few and far between but their dark and dank interiors and impenetrable and imperturbable strength and usefulness as a vantage point and for containing secrets is deftly exploited here. The results are well worth reading.

Lesley Thomson's website provides a gallery of images from the locations in which she has set her story.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Lesser Known Architecture touring exhibition offered

"Britain is rich with forgotten architecture: extraordinary buildings, structures and ideas that helped define the landscape of their time and the technology of the future, but which are often unknown to the general public."

Lesser Known Architecture is an ongoing photographic research project by Theo Simpson that seeks to document these structures, bringing their existence (and sometimes their plight) to a wider audience and acknowledges the architects and engineers who created such inspiring work.

 The original Design Museum exhibition, curated by Elias Redstone, featured ten lesser known architectural sites across London nominated by leading architecture critics. These were presented in a series of offset prints and Tank installation designed by Ben McLaughlin, and displayed as part of London Festival of Architecture in 2013. The touring exhibition features 30 framed prints, taking in sites not only in the capital, but across the United Kingdom as a whole.

"Lesser Known Architecture presents an architectural epitaph for a forgotten era."

We doubt BWTAS members are surprised that a water tower is the poster child for lesser known architecture. Should any venues host this touring exhibition being offered by the Design Museum, we would be happy to mention them here.

Download the exhibition proposal here

Photography: Theo Simpson
Guest Curator: Elias Redstone
Graphic Design: Ben McLaughlin
Tour Venues: National Centre for Craft and Design, Lincolnshire 22 November 2014 – 20 March 2015 Available: April 2015 onwards
Space: 50 linear metres approx.
Hire Fee: On request

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Castle Acre Open Day 22nd March 2015

Photographer Dennis Pedersen has always had a thing for water towers. He says he was inspired by the futuristic cartoon The Jetsons and Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. Never did he think that he might one day be the proud owner of one.

Last year he bought a decommissioned Braithwaite type tower just outside Castle Acre in Norfolk.

To his dismay though he found that the presumed fate for the Meccano-like structure by the vendors and local planners was its demolition for its scrap value. However Dennis recognised the tower as an important part of the area's rural heritage and he had a vision that this unused resource could "create an outstanding example of sustainable recycling."

Inspired by the work of the Landmark Trust and the Living Architecture Project, he commissioned cutting edge architects Tonkin Liu to envisage a way to preserve the structure with minimal changes yet allow it to be reused for accommodation. Now he's holding an open day at the tower to show local people and water tower enthusiasts his plans.

BWTAS members have been especially invited to come along and some will be available to explain the engineering history and cultural significance of water towers. Dennis and his architect will be showing a model of a potential conversion and serving tea and biscuits and giving free tours of the tower from 10 AM to dusk. If you'd like to come and have a nosey around or see the plans or show your support, all would be very welcome.

Please note that access to the tank is restricted by ladders and Dennis can only take small groups up there. The risk assessment for any water tower is that heights and places only normally accessible to trained personnel can be dangerous and so your visit will be entirely at your own risk. You will have to be suitably fit if you want to climb up to visit the tank. The site is overgrown and derelict and appropriate footwear and clothing are advisable. No children or persons under 18 may go up the tower. 

Please check this page for updates before you set off as this event is dependent on weather and jobsworth. The tower is .2 miles from the village where there are numerous attractions and facilities. Please park considerately.

This is a rare opportunity and BWTAS is profoundly grateful to Mr. Pedersen for his offer of hospitality.

Sunday 22nd March, 10 AM to dusk
Massingham Rd
Castle Acre

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Tank Battle!!! – The restoration of the Walton Head water tower

The disputed tank at Pannal…       © Carol and Maj Nadry

The subject of "Restoration Man", Channel 4, 8pm Wednesday, 28th January

The story of the turbulent battle to restore the Walton Head water tower, previously featured here on this site, comes to the TV. From the Channel 4 web site: "Yorkshire couple Carol and Majid embark on an ambitious adventure, transforming a brick water tower into a five-storey home. But unexpected costs and legal problems hit the project."

Carol and Maj have transformed a rather ugly 1940's brick water tower, into a good looking dwelling, despite the challenges thrown at them during the course of the project.


Sunday, 11 January 2015

The amazing history of JUMBO the water tower

© Photograph Copyright Brian Light

Brian Light, Chairman of the Balkerne Tower Trust, is giving Colchester Recalled Oral History Group, a talk on the the amazing history of the town's iconic water tower. The talk is this Thursday, 15th January, 2015 and non-members are welcome… The talk will be held in the Music block of the Colchester Institute, room K357 at 19:00. There is a £2·00 fee to cover expenses, but there is free parking there! The Colchester Institute is in Sheepen Road, Colchester, CO3 3LL. Further information can be found by clicking here.

I've had a preview of Brian's slides and it looks to be a very interesting talk, I hope see fellow water tower enthusiasts there…


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Welcome Mix 96 listeners

Wil Harvey, the chair of BWTAS, was on Buckinghamshire's Mix 96 today 28th October 2014. (To listen to an MP3 of the segment click here.)

Listeners wanting more information on the society and how to join, please look here.

To answer the presenter's questions as to what BWTAS gets up to and what people can expect by joining; BWTAS is whatever the members can make of it themselves. We have organised several art exhibitions, water tower visits, lectures, taken part in tv and radio programmes, and responded to hundreds of enquiries from water tower enthusiasts, owners, prospective owners, architects, historians and television researchers on practically every aspect of water tower history and culture.

Email enquiries to bwtas (at) will be directed to the most appropriate person.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Walton Head, Pannal, North Yorkshire (late 1940’s)

© Photograph Copyright Carol and Maj Nadry

This must be one of the last brick, public water supply towers built, as reinforced concrete was being extensively used for water towers at this time. The water tower was built by Harrogate Corporation Waterworks Department to serve the village of Kirkby Overblow. We don't have an exact build date, but know that Harrogate council purchased the land for the water tower in 1946. Some of the internal pipework has “STAVELEY 1949” in relief, and anecdotal evidence suggests the build date as being late 1940's. The brick tower supports a sectional cast iron tank of 37,500 gallons. The tower went out of service and fell into the shabby state above… Eventually Yorkshire Water, who became the owners of the tower, obtained planning permission for conversion to a dwelling, in 2010 and put the tower up for sale. The tower has been purchased by BWTAS members Carol and Maj Nadry who have restored and sympathetically transformed this tower into a good looking dwelling, retaining an industrial look.

© Photograph Copyright Carol and Maj Nadry

We are most grateful to be supplied with these photographs, as the tower is completely surrounded by trees. It is located at O.S. Grid Ref. SE 31393 50880. The tower's conversion should feature on Channel 4's "Restoration Man" at some time in the future.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there… The planning permission that Yorkshire Water obtained, showed the tank removed in the plans, although this was not a specific condition (they had assumed the tank was not saveable). By installing 20 tons of steel reinforcements and spending a lot of money, the tank was saved! They now find that they have to retrospectively apply for planning permission to retain the tank. Unfortunately their neighbours, 120 yards away on the other side of the trees, want the tank removed. Comments on this planning application can be made by the public here.

BWTAS acknowledges Nicholas De Taranto from Tiger Aspect, for some of the information in this post.


Update 17/10/2014: I am pleased to report that unconditional approval to retain the tank, has been granted.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Iconic Bracebridge Heath water tower to be demolished

from Lincolnshire Echo:

Landmark water tower to make way for £40 million Bracebridge Heath development

LANDMARK: The water tower at St John's in Bracebridge Heath.

A landmark water tower will be removed from a village near Lincoln as work on the first phase of a £40 million housing development nears completion.

The iconic 90-year-old tower is in the grounds of the derelict St John's Hospital site at Bracebridge Heath.

And it will disappear later this month as developers transform the former Victorian mental asylum into St John's Village.

Phase one of the 183 luxury homes and apartments, including 77 new-build family homes, in the spacious grounds of the 18-acre site will be completed in August.

And Bracebridge Heath Parish Council chairman John Kilcoyne said the demise of the tower was inevitable.

And it is set to be demolished over the weekend of Saturday and Sunday, July 12 and 13.

"The parish council accepted that the water tower would not survive the development of the hospital buildings into apartments and houses," Mr Kilcoyne said.

"While we would have liked to keep the tower as a landmark, we realised it was not suitable for a residential development.

"It is also not original to the hospital design, being built in the 1920s, and is not in a good condition.

"The concrete would not last indefinitely, and it was felt better to take it down at this point.

"North Kesteven District Council accepted this when planning permission was granted."

Read the rest of the story

What the parish council and the developers haven't said is this tower is a fine example of early reinforced concrete water tower construction, demonstrating with its lightweight form the huge potential of this then new material and the confidence that civil engineers were beginning to have in it. Barton considers the Bracebridge tower "combines a remarkable slenderness with elegance of form..." p73 The Water Towers of Britain

When innovative materials and techniques become available, no civil engineer wants to 'push the envelope' too far but with Bracebridge, Barton asserts that water towers of the 1920's started to have a  "certain resonance with the spirit of the age and gave rise to a number of remarkably bold reinforced concrete structures... which it is doubtful would have been built at a later date".

Built circa 1924, the tower is 125 feet tall with footings remarkably only five feet deep.

The 22ft 8in diameter tank holds 30,000 gallons and is supported on six slightly splayed legs spreading to a diameter of only 23 feet at the base.

According to English Heritage (who reference Barton) the tower was built by Charles Horobin of the Indented Bar and Concrete Engineering Company but it did not meet the criteria for listed status as the attendant laundry had been previously demolished.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bishopthorpe, North Yorkshire (1863-1946)

Photographer: Mrs. Nicholson. (Bishopthorpe Community Archive)

The existence of Archbishop Thomson's water tower, has only recently come to the attention of the British Water Tower Appreciation Society. The fascinating storey of this water tower, built in 1863 and sadly demolished in 1946, is told on Bishopthorpe Local History Group's web site. The tower was located on Acaster Lane between Main Street and Ferry Lane, at what I can best estimate to be at O.S. Grid Ref. SE 59616 47597.