Photo gallery: Caister water tower: A beacon on the coast for 80 years

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 September 2012

The ice cream shaped structure looms over fields, a constant giant on the horizon.  Picture: James Bass

The ice cream shaped structure looms over fields, a constant giant on the horizon. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012

For decades it has dominated the skyline of Caister-on-Sea, a beacon on the horizon for weary locals returning home from travels.

The ice cream of the East Coast

CONSTRUCTION of the uniquely shaped water tower began in the late 1920s and it was officially opened on October 18, 1932.

At the time it was the tallest water tower in Europe, a title it held until recently.

It was owned by the Great Yarmouth Waterworks Company, later to become the East Anglian Water Company, now Essex and Suffolk Water.

During the second world war it was painted in camouflage colours to make it harder to spot for German bombers, colours it retained until very recently when it was repainted along with structural reinforcing work.

These types of water towers are no longer built, as electric water pumps are favoured. However, the man in charge of maintaining it, Jon Burton of Essex and Suffolk Water, is adamant the simple but effective engineering - with the high volume of water storage and height - helps maintain and support the modern systems better.

The local police force used the tower to house aerials to supply signals to their walkie talkies.

School trips used to be taken up the tower, and access to the grounds were not restricted; housing has since built up around the structure.

It will remain a strategic structure for the foreseeable future, maintained and inspected.

But few may be aware the 49m tall water tower that can be seen from the Acle Straight and looms above houses like a sturdy but fading oak, has such a rich story to tell and is nearing an anniversary that will put it among the oldest surviving examples of its kind in the world.

Found by Covent Garden Road, the reinforced concrete structure - that locals refer to as ice-cream shaped - will see the 80th anniversary of its official opening on October 18.

Much has been written about the historical significance of Caister’s Roman fort, but the water tower claims a place in the psyche of those who live in the village today.

Julie Reynolds, who runs Reynolds Coaches with husband Charles remembers her childhood impressions of the massive structure.

"It is one of those things you take for granted but if it suddenly disappeared you would miss it."

Julie Reynolds.

“I used to imagine Red Indians lived up there, there were rabbits and wild hares, and so many primroses around it. Not so much now,” said Mrs Reynolds.

“My mother went up there as a child on a school trip. It is one of those things you take for granted but if it suddenly disappeared you would miss it.

“You know you are nearly home when you see it from the Acle Straight or on the train. You say to people ‘I can see the water tower,’ and they know you are coming home.”

Built during the late 1920s and early 1930s, its grand opening was on October 18, 1932, and was attended by proud company directors, shareholders and local councillors.

Despite its age, the tower continues to hold 3.5m litres of water, servicing the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston areas, as well as the villages between Ormesby Treatment Works and Caister.

In it’s early days, it was owned by the Great Yarmouth Waterworks Company, but over the years has transferred to Essex and Suffolk Water.

At the time it was built, it was hailed as the largest water tower in the country, built to give water pressure to the area as well as elevated storage, effectively becoming the massive equivalent to a loft header tank in a house.

At times, when water usage in the area is at a peak, the huge volume of water and gravity-aided water pressure from the tower is vital in sustaining the water supply system for nearly 89,000 people.

Communication masts are housed on the structure.

Great Yarmouth Borough councillor for Caister South Ronald Hanton was a police officer and told how the police force made use of the tower’s height to house their aerials to supply signals to their walkie-talkies.

“I don’t know if the local population are aware of it’s history, I think it is a feature that is there and people accept it without any interrogation,” he said.

Mr Hanton added: “In that respect it is iconic as a landmark.”

During the second world war it was painted in camouflage colours to make it harder to spot for German bombers, colours it retained until very recently, sparking the imaginations of local children.

Local historian and author of books on Caister, Colin Tooke, revealed: “When the sun reflects in it, it lights up a golden colour, it is not an ugly structure.

“I think most people share that impression, but I should think the majority take no notice of it, as it has been there so long.”

The man in charge is the current Essex and Suffolk Water treatment works manager based at Ormesby Water Treatment Works, Jon Burton, who confirmed the water tower was the biggest in Europe until recently.

Mr Burton could see the tower out of his window as a boy growing up in Caister, and he has been charged with its care for 20 years.

The ice-cream cone shape is rare among water towers and the particular shape of the tower is unique.

Mr Burton, who once abseiled down the tower, said: “I have never seen a water tower designed like it to be honest. The floor of the actual tank area is a dome, when you look up at it.

“When you look into it, it is like a polo mint, with an inner and outer tank.

“It is maintained the same as all our water structures. It could have another 20 to 40 years left in it, and beyond. It is something special.”

He added: “The tower has been a part of my life since I have been on this planet.”

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