Colchester's Jumbo Water Tower


Colchester's Jumbo Water Tower

The Jumbo Water Tower is a Victorian brick water tower at the Balkerne Gate in Colchester, Essex. It earned its nickname "Jumbo" in 1882 after Reverend John Irvine became annoyed that the tower dwarfed his nearby rectory at St. Mary-at-the-Walls.

The tower was built to supply safe drinking water to Colchester and counter the threat of fire. Various cholera epidemics in the mid 1800s had encouraged the Government to pass laws making local Councils responsible for ensuring public health, water supply and sanitation.

When Reverend Irvine discovered the plans to build this giant building, designed to hold over 220,000 gallons of water, at a height of 85 feet above his home and only 16 feet from it, he was not happy and wrote a scathing letter to the Essex Standard newspaper, decrying the scheme, and calling it a 'Jumbo'.

Jumbo was an elephant at London Zoo, and it had been recently sold, over great public outcry, to American showman and circus entrepreneur PT Barnum.

Despite Irvine's objections, the water tower went ahead - with construction taking around 20 months using 1,200,000 bricks and 819 tons of stone and cement. No doubt Irvine was further incensed when the local council stuck a gilded weather vane in the shape of an elephant on top (though they did, at least, move the water tower further from his house).

Jumbo Water Tower was claimed at the time to be the second largest water tower in England.

After a century of service the water tower became superfluous to the water supply system and was sold off by Anglian Water in 1987. It has had multiple owners since, with various schemes to turn it into luxury flats or to take it into the ownership of a charity and open it to the public.

In 2021, the tower passed into the ownership of a preservation trust who plan to convert the tower into a restaurant, visitor experience and historical interpretation space.

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