Site Unseen

Jumbo the water tower, Colchester

Share
The first sight which greets anyone approaching Col- chester is a huge red-brick tower that dwarfs even the fine Edwardian town hall.

Walk towards the tower and it seems to fill the skyline. If you pop into a local shop and enquire about this monster, people simply murmur, "Oh, that's Jumbo". Ask for further details and they usually go blank. Here, it seems, is a building with a name, but nothing more. When you finally reach the top of the hill you can only marvel at its dimensions. The ancient Roman gate and wall standing nearby look puny by comparison.

So who or what is Jumbo? Sharp-eyed landscape detectives will come up with a number of clues. The first is the weather vane in the shape of an elephant. The second is Jumbo's height and the knowledge that Victorian water towers were always built on hills. The third clue is the existence of nearby St Mary's church which, like the Roman remains, appears to be child's play.

Put the clues together and you have a Victorian clergyman objecting to the construction of a gigantic water tower and likening it to the world's most famous elephant, Jumbo. Elementary.

The Colchester water tower was opened in September 1883, in order to service a burgeoning town which dates back to Roman times. More than one million bricks went to make up this 131ft-tall structure. The Rector of St Mary's was furious and called it "this tower, this monstrosity, this Jumbo".

Jumbo was the elephantine superstar of Victorian times. A massive African elephant, he lived happily at the zoo in Regent's Park with his companion who was called Alice. But in 1882 the directors of the zoo controversially sold Jumbo to the American showman PT Barnum for pounds 2,000 for exhibition in his internationally-famous circus.

Public opinion was outraged and popular songs were composed and sung in the streets. The most famous went like this:

"Jumbo said to Alice

'I love you'

Alice said to Jumbo

'I don't believe you do

For if you love me truly

As you say you do

You wouldn't go to America

And leave me in the zoo'."

The furore explains why even the other-worldly rector of St Mary's, Colchester, had heard of Jumbo.

By the 1980s, Anglian Water had no further need of the tower. It was taken over by an evangelical Christian group who wanted to be "closer to God". Financial problems now mean that it is up for offer and the listed building may well be turned into offices. A sad fate indeed.

But no sadder than what befell Jumbo the elephant. Like many other immigrants to America, he found the rapid pace of life a bit confusing. In 1885, upset by the lights and sound of a passing locomotive, Jumbo decided to register a complaint. He heroically charged the oncoming train and was no more.

And no one dared tell Alice what had happened.

Jumbo is on the top of Balkerne Hill, Colchester, Essex

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent