'Historic' tower is set for demolition: Lead shot works attracts city's support

Chris Arnot
Friday 30 April 1993 23:02

DESPITE opposition from councillors and conservationists, Bristol is set to lose a part of its industrial heritage built all of 25 years ago.

Outline planning permission has been granted for a five-storey office block on the site of one of the country's three remaining lead shot towers. Over 140ft (43m) of ribbed concrete with a bulbous top, it peers awkwardly over modern offices lining Temple Way in the city.

It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, elegant. Yet a telephone poll by the Bristol Evening Post found that 86 per cent of its readers wanted the tower saved.

An application by English Heritage to have it listed has been rejected by the Department of National Heritage.

Lead shot was developed in Bristol by William Watts, a master plumber. In 1782, so legend has it, he dreamt he saw molten lead pouring like rain in perfect spheres. He woke his wife and informed her that he wanted to build a tower above their house in the Redcliffe area of the city. It was one of the city's first red brick constructions and reached a height of 60ft (18m).

Holes were cut into floors and ceilings to accommodate the molten metal as it was poured from the top into a 50ft (15m) well dug beneath the sandstone cellar. By the time the lead droplets hit the bottom they had cooled enough to form perfectly round, solid balls. Mr Watts went on to become a very rich man with a fortune of more than pounds 10,000.

Alas, he was less successful with property speculation and went bankrupt in 1794. His tower lasted until 1968 when Bristol City Council had it demolished to make way for a road-widening scheme.

The same local authority is now quite keen to preserve its concrete replacement, although production ceased a few years ago. British Lead Mills still uses the site for distribution but through its parent company, Billiton UK, is now looking for more suitable premises.

Outline planning permission for offices came with a strong recommendation from the city's planning committee that the tower be incorporated into the development.

Gerry Hicks, chairman of Bristol Civic Society, said Bristolians were becoming increasingly upset by the loss of their heritage. 'This tower is a nice bit of modern engineering. There's something about it that is different from the run-of-the-mill.'

Jane Asquith, of Gerald Eve, the agents acting for Billiton UK, said: 'Nobody was interested in developing the site with the tower on, even in the boom times. No practical proposals have come forward.'

(Photograph omitted)

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