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Urgent survey ordered at 137-year-old iconic water tower after structural damage found

PUBLISHED: 14:55 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:55 02 September 2020

Colchester's historic Jumbo water tower. Picture: STEVE BRADING

Colchester's historic Jumbo water tower. Picture: STEVE BRADING

STEVE BRADING PHOTOGRAPHY

Colchester’s treasured 137-year-old Jumbo water tower is in need of urgent repair after cracks and other signs of structural damage were found at the Victorian landmark.

David Balcombe, left, director, North Essex Heritage and Domenico DAlessandro, architect, Historic England, inspect the inside of Jumbo. Picture: STEVE BRADINGDavid Balcombe, left, director, North Essex Heritage and Domenico DAlessandro, architect, Historic England, inspect the inside of Jumbo. Picture: STEVE BRADING

Historic England and the Architectural Heritage Fund have each given £20,000 to support an extensive survey of the “nationally important” Balkerne Water Tower - more commonly known as the Jumbo - after the signs of deterioration were found.

The site, which dates back to 1883, is one of the tallest water towers in England - but has been empty for more than 35 years.

North Essex Heritage has long has ambitions to bring it back into use and proposed to turn the Grade II Listed building into a heritage centre, gift shop and restaurant a couple of years ago.

However, the plans had to be put on hold after failing to win Heritage Lottery Fund money at that stage.

David Balcombe, left, director, North Essex Heritage and Domenico DAlessandro, architect, Historic England, inspect the inside of Jumbo. Picture: STEVE BRADINGDavid Balcombe, left, director, North Essex Heritage and Domenico DAlessandro, architect, Historic England, inspect the inside of Jumbo. Picture: STEVE BRADING

MORE: Future uncertain for Jumbo after heritage funding bid is rejected

There was also a failed bid to create housing on the site in 2013.

It is hoped the new survey, also being supported by Jumbo owner Paul Flatman - who bought it for £190,000 in 2014 - and Colchester Borough Council, will determine to true cost of protecting and restoring the fabric of the building - and bringing it back into use.

Simon Hall MBE, chairman of North Essex Heritage, said the survey was an “important step in understanding the implications for the building’s future”.

Urgent surveys are to be carried out on Colchester's historic Jumbo water tower. Picture: STEVE BRADINGUrgent surveys are to be carried out on Colchester's historic Jumbo water tower. Picture: STEVE BRADING

He added: “We are delighted and very grateful to have the support from our funders, who recognise the national importance of Jumbo and the need for investment in its future.

“It is essential we are able to obtain grants and have continued support from local authorities to secure Jumbo’s renaissance.

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“It’s difficult to imagine a more important project to save an iconic heritage asset.

“North Essex Heritage trustees are determined to secure the conservation of this building of national interest and these surveys are a key part of refining our knowledge of its condition.

“Needless to say, Jumbo has deteriorated since it became redundant as a water tower many years ago, but we have exciting plans to breathe new life into Jumbo that will also boost local business, tourism and culture.”

The survey itself will be hi-tech and sophisticated.

On Tuesday, September 8, the tallest cherry picker platform lift in the UK will be brought in to allow experts to gain access to all parts of the 40-metre high building.

A laser scanning drone and highly sophisticated photographic equipment will also be used to get a full picture of the damage.

Tony Calladine, regional director for Historic England in the East of England, said: “The Jumbo water tower is a significant and much-loved local landmark in Colchester.

“As the tallest and most intact municipal water tower in England, it is a nationally important heritage site.

“We’re pleased to support the project development phase for the building, enabling urgent temporary repairs and the first steps towards a long-term sustainable future for this remarkable structure.”

Matthew Mckeague, chief executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund said: “We at the Architectural Heritage Fund have supported North Essex Heritage’s efforts to develop a sustainable use for Jumbo for a number of years.

“The surveys our £20,000 grant is contributing towards are essential to secure its immediate future.

“Further work can then get underway to help realise the potential of this heritage asset to add to the mix of attractions in the historic centre of Colchester.”


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