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Fears for the future of Colchester landmark

Plans to place a restaurant, offices and four homes inside Colchester’s historic water tower have been criticised by the Victorian Society.

courtesy of Nick Barlow, via Flickr

Earlier this week it was revealed that planners at Colchester Borough Council have recommended the controversial conversion plans for approval.

The so-called Jumbo water tower on Balkerne Passage is the largest surviving Victorian water tower in the country and its special architectural and historic interest is recognised by its rare Grade II*-listing. It was built in 1882 to provide water for the town and remained in use for a hundred years.

The water tower has been the subject of planning applications before; most recently in 2001 when a penthouse conversion scheme was turned down by Colchester Borough Council but granted consent on appeal. The penthouse was never built.

Under the current plans the arches will be glazed in, two brick walls of the water tank will be replaced with glass panels and five more floors will inserted into the tower.

'This is too high a price to pay to bring the tower back into use', said Chris Costelloe, Conservation Adviser for the Victorian Society.  'Glazing in the huge arches and putting in five extra floors will cause irreversible damage to this unusual and important building. A more sensitive approach is needed.'

The open arches allow light to penetrate through the structure and highlight the impressive freestanding nature of the supports.

There is an active local trust which would like to take the building on and open it as a tourist attraction. The Balkerne Tower Trust says it would offer public tours of the tower to help to fund repairs.

The Victorian Society has written to Colchester Borough Council to recommend that the application be refused consent.


The Grade II*-listed water tower was built in 1882 (opened 1883) and was constructed using 1.25 million bricks, and 142 tonnes of iron to support the water tank. The tank itself could hold up to 230,000 gallons of water.  The tower was built adjacent to an early nineteenth century reservoir (now the Mercury Theatre) and is 110 feet high (approx. 33m).


Wednesday 7 September, 2011

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Earlier item: The Victorian Society declares Manningham Pool a heritage crime scene

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