A valuable piece of Croydon history and town centre landmark could be under threat for want of better maintenance.
According to the Friends of Park Hill Park, the Water Tower, which stands in private land proudly on the hill overlooking the park and Barclay Road, has “some major cracking issues at the top” which could put the 150-year-old Grade II-listed building at risk.
The Water Tower was built in 1867 for the Local Board of Health as a means of providing a reliable supply of clean water for the rapidly growing town. While today we might take our drinking water for granted, this was a serious matter for the local authority until relatively recently: there was a even cholera outbreak in Croydon, linked to the water supply, as recently as 80 years ago.
The Croydon Water Tower has long ago been taken out of use, and was stripped of its internal ironworks and 40,000-gallon cylindrical tank, but as a report to the Institute of Structural Engineers in 1957 said, “… it has been retained by virtue of its architectural merit”.
The Water Tower has tried to show it is cutting edge in the 21st century, having had a Twitter account set up in which it described itself, modestly, as “Croydon’s fourth most historic structure”.
The other three? We would have liked to ask, but the Water Tower hasn’t tweeted since 2009.
When it was in working order, for water supply rather than Twitter, the tower included a viewing gallery at its top, and charged visitors a one-penny entry fee.
The Friends of Park Hill Park believe the time has come to start another public collection for the Water Tower, or to cajole its owners, to conduct the repair work that the building requires.
Their concern was raised after a visit by 21st century structural engineers in the last fortnight.
The Friends of Park Hill Park have posted that Thames Water own the Water Tower, but according to the utility company and Croydon Council, this is not the case.
“It may be Grade II-listed, but this fact does not mean Thames Water need to make major repairs,” the Friends group has posted on social media. “We urgently need to have someone start a campaign to save it.”
The engineering report from 1957 described the tower in detail, “This 30-feet diameter tower is a 100 feet high terracotta brick building in Norman style containing a high level cylindrical wrought iron tank of 40,000 gallons capacity which is supported on cast iron girders with intervening timber joists as cushioning. The ends of the girders are carried on the cylindrical walls of the tower which vary in thickness from 38 to 14 inches, and they are supported intermediately by three central columns consisting of cast iron flanged pipes, which also performed the function of the inlet, outlet and overflow pipes serving the tank.”
The Tower had a further tank, of 94,000 gallons capacity within its basement, and was built just to the north of a covered reservoir which had come into service in 1851, part of a Victorian engineering network which linked to the Pumping Station in Exchange Square, off Surrey Street.
Croydon Council’s borough history website states: “The water was pumped from Surrey Street through a steel aquaduct carrying a 12-inch main into the base of the reservoir. The head of water required to supply the town came from the gravitational pull of being 293 feet above sea level.”
The reservoir and Pumping Station water system was opened on December 11 1851 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner. This was the year of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, so the opening of the municipal waterworks must have been a matter of considerable civic pride.
But such was the rapid growth of Croydon, the reservoir and Pumping Station was still not enough to supply all the water demanded.
The borough’s archive states, “The rapid increase in houses in the vicinity caused difficulties over the water supply in the neighbourhood. In spite of the 125-feet high Water Tower being constructed (which was designed by the engineering firm Baldwin and Latham) provisions for carrying water were still inadequate.”
The apparent discrepancy in the details of the Tower’s height – 125 feet here or the 100 foot mentioned in the 1957 engineering report, depends on from which point the measurement is taken. According to the architects’ drawing, the total height of the tower, from the bottom of the concrete to the top of the turret, is 125 foot, the top of the turret being 100 foot above the general ground level.
The borough records continue: “A new reservoir was built on higher land at Addington Hills and the central site in Croydon was abandoned in 1923. The reservoir was used temporarily in the 1939-1945 war as an Emergency Water Supply for fire fighting purposes.”
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