A victory for Victoriana

Chris Arnot reports on a labour of love. The ornate Hatton Pumping Station is being converted into sumptuous homes
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The Independent Online

Angelo Buratti is trying to break into his own property. Although he looks powerfully built, the strain is etched on his face as he struggles to jemmy open temporary steel doors damaged by vandals. Dedicated vandals, for sure. They must have travelled a fair way to make their attempted break-in and smash a few windows. We are in the wilds of north Staffordshire, surrounded by rolling fields with hardly another building in sight.

Mr Buratti's stylish Italian shoes are slipping on the icy ground as he levers with the iron bar. Luckily, the doors give way before the shoes do and the managing director of six companies triumphantly leads the way into what is widely regarded as the most ornate water-pumping station in Britain. He strides to one of the original arched doors and reaches up to the decorative fanlight to better illuminate the imposing dimensions of the listed Grade II building which he plans to convert into extremely spacious apartments.

"I'm 6ft 4ins and I can only just touch the top of the door," he says in an accent that owes more to Birmingham, where he was brought up, than Perugia from where his father emigrated to work on railway tracks in the Midlands.

From humble beginnings, Mr Buratti has built up an international reputation in the world of construction, land redevelopment and structural repair. One of his companies provided the labour to build part of the British Embassy in Moscow and four hotels at Euro Disney. Another supplied the water-resistant concrete for the Olympic stadium in Sydney. So why has he paid Severn-Trent Water "quite a few millions" for the vandalised, rotting hulk of a structure obsolete for a quarter of a century and on English Heritage's "at risk" list for years?

"I needed to buy it," he says. "This is family on the Italian side." He grins as we take a turn around the sumptuous Italianate exterior. Hatton Pumping Station was built in 1895 to supply the Potteries with water, and the Victorians saw no contradiction between the functional and the ornate. The frontage is a mixture of delicate brickwork, terracotta niches, and local stone carved with fish, dolphins, swans and other aquatic imagery. There are tall, arched windows and, at roof level, great stone urns and a balustraded bell tower.

Whoever is lucky enough to acquire the upper-level apartment in the Beam Well House section of the building will have that tower as a glazed observation post. This would be the ultimate conservatory, offering spectacular views of the lovely countryside, with the main Crewe-to-London railway line visible in the middle-distance and the M6 not far to the rear. Newcastle-under-Lyme is a few miles to the north and Stone a similar distance to the south-east.

There will be 20 homes on the Hatton site, including the solidly conventional three-bedroom houses of the first and second water engineers. Much more adventurous are plans to create two huge apartments in a Forties reservoir tank which used to store 280 gallons of water. The tank is covered by a grassy bank with concrete walls on either side. Holes will be punched through on one side to provide lighting and ventilation and the concrete on the western elevation is to be replaced by a huge wall of glass. "These will be three-bedroom apartments, each covering 3,500sq ft," says Mr Buratti. "That's the sort of floorspace you'd get in a seven-bedroom house."

He has chosen as architects Church Lukas, a company which has been redeveloping part of Nottingham's historic Lace Market. The associate director Phil Rushton has plans for Hatton which have met English Heritage's concerns about retaining the character of the pumping station without resorting to pastiche. "We want to keep as much of the Victorian industrial features as we can, allied to crisp modern structures," he says.

So the downstairs apartment in the Beam Well House will retain its great crane beam, its tall sash windows and four cast-iron Corinthian pillars. But behind those columns will be a mezzanine floor with two staircases either side leading to bedrooms with glass walls that can be "blacked out" for privacy.

Assuming that Staffordshire Country Council gives planning permission at the end of this month, the work would take 18 months. Prices are likely to range between £190,000 and £500,000-plus. The wonders are likely to be behind electronic security gates inscribed with the crest of Mr Buratti's JB Group of companies. "I've put gates on my residential developments since 1993," he says. "When you come home at night, you want to leave your worries behind you."

The travelling vandals of north Staffordshire will have just have to find another derelict building to pick on.


Houses and apartments at Hatton Pumping Station, Synnerton, Staffs, are being developed by Angelo Buratti's JB Group. He can be contacted on 07860-325670.