I wrote this in 2003 and it became a sort of manifesto for a cause that was eventually realised as this
The mysterious water tower
by Nat Bocking
Most people today don't give water towers a moment's thought. At a glance, a water tower is a bland lump of concrete or metal. An anonymous, ubiquitous and uninteresting container, hardly a pinnacle of aesthetic or engineering achievement.
I have long held that the water towers surrounding my home in
Though we take it for granted today, water is the very basis of civilization and was one of the first of nature's gifts to be harnessed. The invention of agriculture in the Neolithic era required an understanding of water management, distribution and storage. Waterworks are some of the oldest structures on Earth. The mysterious lines in the Nacsa
From an aesthetic standpoint, most water towers in
After WW2, the constraints of costs and materials were far too great to emulate the Victorian engineers or adopt the spirit of the Festival of Britain. Water towers weren't intended to capture the public's attention and, for the sake of security of the potable water supply, very little information on their design and manufacture was given to the public. Over time, and especially after several reorganizations and the 1989 privatisation of the water companies, most of the records of who built our water towers have been lost although some county councils such as
Much of the information on our water history still remains only available to the professional engineer or persistent amateur. English Heritage has produced several internal reports on water infrastructure.
Postcript: in 2003 a book 'The Water Towers of Britain' by Barry Barton was published. This culminated seven years research by the water tower sub-panel of the Panel for Historical Engineering Works at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Today, with rising costs of construction and maintenance and a cheaper option of constant-pressure pumping, water towers in Britain are gradually becoming redundant but instead of being demolished they are being maintained for other purposes such as bases for mobile phone masts. Given that many water towers are within residential areas, this is sometimes not without controversy (such as in
Once understood, water towers rarely remain uninteresting and become difficult to ignore. In rural
Starting with the Roman remains of a tower unearthed at Pakenham, East Anglia's water towers have evolved from brick boxes to utilitarian circular tanks on legs to the slender, soaring 'wine glass' form of recent years. Each tower reveals influence of the aesthetics of their time with touches of modernism or Art Deco or more Victorian decorations. Much information can be divined from looking carefully at a tower; its features can be categorised to identify its probable age and siblings. Just a brief study of the towers around me in
When I talk to people living near water towers, they reveal positive emotional attachments to 'their' water towers. Towers are cited as mental landmarks and often acquire affectionate local nicknames such as "The Chessman", "The Castle" or "The Flying Saucer." Poet Laureate Andrew Motion composed a poem about a water tower near his childhood home on the Essex/Suffolk border. He told the BBC "I drive past this tower now and remember making it the target for my walks as a teenager growing up. Whenever I see it, I have a sense that I am re-encountering my young self."
The reliability of gravity over pumps means that water towers will never be dispensed with entirely. Water tower research and development continues in places such as the Middle East where
Simple questions as to when a particular tower was built and by whom are not easily answered. I have asked the Essex & Suffolk and East Anglian water companies as well as the County Records Office for information about the towers around me in the
The time for
The public's interest in other forms of water engineering indicates the need for a water tower guide book. This in itself demands the preservation of a rapidly dwindling stock of historical data on the water supply. People want to know more about water towers and regional tourism bodies and commercial publishers and media should seize the opportunity to fulfil the demand for knowledge.
To contemplate a water tower is to witness mankind's responsible harnessing of the gifts of nature. The United Nations General Assembly in resolution 55/196 proclaimed the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. The resolution encourages governments to increase awareness of the importance of sustainable freshwater use, management and protection. As water towers in themselves don't pollute or squander natural resources but enable the use of them wisely to sustain life, shouldn't they be venerated as monuments to mankind's earthly progress?
© Nat Bocking