WATER TOWERS FOR SALE
Sunday 18 June 1995
The only other water tower opportunity in the offing is the proposed redevelopment of the Balkerne Tower - nicknamed "Jumbo" - in Colchester, Essex. The Grade II listed structure, which was built in 1883, consists of four brick arches and a central access shaft that supports a massive tank chamber topped by a decorative cupola. The tower once stored 225,000 gallons of water weighing over 1,000 tons.
Jumbo was sold at auction in February to London-based Square Foot Properties Ltd, which is proposing to turn the gigantic building into a series of apartments. In "volumetric terms", the tank alone could accommodate up to 30 flats, but Square Foot says that, to preserve Jumbo's sense of scale, they plan to halve that number. The scheme is currently at pre-planning stage.
On a smaller scale, already-converted water towers don't seem to excite the same response as the un-touched originals. An eccentric water-tower house on the southern edge of Bristol's Avon Gorge came up for sale recently, but after months on the market - and several price reductions - it eventually fetched considerably less than the pounds 275,000 asking price. Despite nationwide publicity, the building went to the vendor's next-door neighbour.
Built in 1868 and a relic of the defunct Bristol Waterworks Company, the 45ft stone tower is topped by a crenellated tank chamber which gives it the look of a mock-medieval castle. As such, it is one of several water- tower structures prettified by fancy brickwork and neo-Gothic details - or simply disguised as something else. (It's a pity the Gas Board wasn't able to make use of this trick).
There is a privately owned water tower in Wapping-thorne, Sussex (designed by Maxwell Ayrton in 1928) that looks like a fairground helter-skelter. But the best known of the fantasy water towers is the so-called House in the Clouds in Thorpeness, Suffolk. Built to serve the incumbents of a sedate holiday village founded in the 1920s, it looks like a weatherboarded villa, complete with pitched roof and tall chimneys, and is raised over 40ft off the ground by a slim pedestal. This sham house was the originally the water tank (now a games room) but the supporting stalk was designed to be used as a five-bedroom holiday home - and is still available for let. Call 0171-252 0743 for details.
The Landmark Trust - a charitable organisation which gives new life to distressed buildings - helped pioneer the re-use of these lofty structures when it turned Appleton Water Tower in Norfolk into a holiday home in 1977. Designed 100 years earlier by Robert Rawlinson, the octagonal tower was built to provide a private water supply to the Sandringham Estate. The lower section originally housed the Sandringham's land agent, and although the facilities were rough and rudimentary, the Trust had only to improve, rather than to create, accommodation.
Appleton is distinguished by decorative cast-iron railings which encircle the top of the tank, and by two staircases - one of which is housed in a slender, Italianate second tower with a viewing platform at its summit. "Squeals of delight as we explored the tower," is one of the comments written in the guests' logbook. For information on staying at Appleton Water Tower, contact the Landmark Trust on 01628 825925.
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