Colchester: Heritage hopes for famous water tower

Brian Light next to Jumbo

Brian Light next to Jumbo - Credit: Andrew Partridge

SUPPORTERS of a landmark building in north Essex say they are one step closer to their dream of making it a heritage attraction.

The Balkerne Tower Trust, which wants to see the imposing water tower near Colchester’s Balkerne Gate permanently open to the public, is due to unveil an information board on the site next week.

The ‘interpretation board’ is intended to provide people with historical details about the 40-metre tall, Grade II-listed construction, known locally as ‘Jumbo’.

“For the first time ever, the thousands of people who pass this way daily will be able to read about this magnificent building,” said the charity’s chairman, Brian Light.

“Jumbo is unique. It’s the largest remaining Victorian water tower in Britain, and one of the few that has not been converted to a house or flats.”

The arrival of the new signage follows hard on the heels of the removal of hoarding boards, which have obscured views of the foot of the building for almost a decade.

The controversial boards were originally erected as part of plans to convert Jumbo into penthouse flats.

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But while permission for the development expired in 2005, the boards remained and were finally removed last week by council workers following a prolonged legal battle. Mr Light said the removal of hoardings and the introduction of the sign will brighten up the location – a designated Conservation Area – that also contains the Mercury Theatre, the Colchester Arts Centre and the 2000 year-old Balkerne Gate.

Now, Mr Light and his colleagues intend to push on with their campaign to introduce guided tours of the tower.

They say commercial development of the tower is a poor financial proposition and while nothing is being done the building continues to deteriorate.

They have proposed a meeting with representatives of the owner of the building, George Braithwaite, who was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr Light added: “There’s a huge interest in historical buildings at the moment and Jumbo could be a real money-spinner if it was given over for heritage purposes.

“Just look at how much interest there has been in Colchester Castle in recent weeks since it was emptied of displays, while the Roman Circus that was excavated is also being developed as an attraction.

“Jumbo could become another heritage gem for the town.”

n The Jumbo interpretation panel will be officially unveiled by Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, patron of the trust, on Saturday, April 6 at 11am. All are welcome to attend.

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