More Info on The Victorian Water Tower
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“The building is really an amazing piece of Victorian architecture and engineering. Apart from its beautiful setting beside a huge freshwater lake and a one hundred acre forest, it boasts a fresh water well inside on the ground floor which is sunk to a depth of 85 ft with a diameter of 6ft. Shortly after I had purchased the Tower, word spread on the local grapevine and the press did a two page feature on the Tower project. The article was read by a TV Channel five fellow who arranged for a visit and their team “went bananas” over it which has resulted in a full scale 45 min documentary which was shown on UK's Channel 5 TV last October caller Build a New Life In the Country. This documentary comprises twelve individual programmes, each programme featuring individuals in the U. K. who undertake hare brained projects and ultimately change their (usually dull and boring) lives. The producer whispered in my ear that my Water Tower project was the most exciting they had come across so far which was rather encouraging! I have to say that my dear wife has been remarkably tolerant over the whole issue - naturally and understandably she thinks I am totally mad but aside from that she is always in the background keeping me going as I face each new phase of the project. The plans were passed and with a flood lit well, accommodation for 12 and a balcony at the top with a rope bridge looping into the trees accessing a beautiful canopy deck, the final outcome should be stunning. As the Tower owner, I have the privilege of enjoying full shooting and fishing rights on the estate. Work on the pan-tiled roof began after fourteen tons of scaffolding had to be erected around the tower and we had to buy the scaffolding as it was prohibitively expensive to hire it and with the world price of steel rising it made economic sense.
The building is a decagon and was built by George Cawston, an American stockbroker who came to settle in England in 1897. While meandering around East Anglia he came across the fascinating little village of Cawston . Realising that he had the same surname he decided to build a large and beautiful manor house in the pristine unspoilt countryside of North Norfolk . The water Tower was built out to the west of the manor house using the famous Norfolk red brick and with a solid oak structure, its purpose was to supply fresh water to the estate. Cawston Manor eventually became Cawston College in 1964, a boys' private boarding school which I myself attended, so I was aware of the Tower's existence back in the early seventies. The Tower became redundant in 1994 after the main cast iron supply pipe fractured on its half-mile course to the College. It was bought for irrigation purposes by a local farmer for the princely sum of £40; however it was only 6 years ago that I saw the Tower hidden in the woods and after discovering that it belonged to my old school chum's father, a deal was struck for me to purchase the tower. There is something incredibly foreboding about climbing down the 85 foot well into the bowels of the earth! Freddie, my youngest son aged aged 15 gave me a hand and using the existing electric bore-hole pump which was put in during 1974 we pumped solidly for four hours at two gallons every twelve seconds. Eventually we saw the well bottom and the huge triple action pump which was originally driven by belts and a line shaft, [we have left the old pump in as a feature.] Climbing down into 2ft of thick mud with the electric pump running to keep the water level from rising we started bucketing, every now and then bringing up wonderfully preserved Victorian bottles, trowels, hammers, various tools etc all preserved in the mud which had been dropped down by various tradesmen during the Victorian era. Having waded around I realised that there was also a further very deep sump of 2ft in diameter sunk into the bottom of the well to a further depth of 40ft, this sump from which the overhead bore-hole pump was extracting would not drain; shining a bright light down showed the water squirting out through the chalk - quite fascinating, but how those Victorian well diggers dug this without drowning beggars belief!
The views from the top of the Tower are spectacular. Standing at roof level one can see the tip of the famous Norwich Cathedral spire in one direction and out across the Norfolk coastline and the North Sea in the other. The tank room, now void of its 400 ton tank has original leaded windows at 360 degrees which are being replaced. There is still much to do and every visit is a revelation with the spotting of interesting wildlife such as green woodpeckers, red deer, foxes, badgers, colonies of rare bats and the occasional sighting of red squirrels. My wife is in charge of bat boxes and all the things to do with Biology which is her field.
My original plan was to complete the renovation of the Tower into a residence within a year but we are now into Year 2. Currently work is about halfway completed. There are nine floors, and there will be an additional “tower” built alongside the original Tower comprising living rooms such as kitchen, dining room etc., and an area cleared around the tower to make a smallish kitchen garden. A friend of mine who is an architect recently completed a fascinating project in which I am myself involved, called The Electric Picture Palace, in Southwold, Suffolk. This is an Edwardian picture/movie house and it has been restored to its original Edwardian splendour complete with red velvet walls and seats and stage with elevating floor to bring the orchestra up.! We show many old movies there and the place is very well known and is always packed. This architect friend has been involved in the design and restoration of the interior of the Water Tower for me to Victorian style but with all mod cons!
I have already had visits from London estate agents who deal in country lets, wanting to put the tower onto their letting books as there is a demand for unusual houses in the U. K. However, we are at present undecided as to what we shall do with the Tower once completed as we have plans to spend much of our time, if not all of it, in South Africa with my family and of course letting potential is only for the summer season in Norfolk . The Tower being so close to the town of Aylsham in North Norfolk is very near to all amenities, shops etc., and stands a mile away from the famous Blicking Hall, country residence of King Henry VIII.
The month of December 2004 brought ghastly winter weather and the builders were desperately trying to put the tiles back onto the roof having previously removed them to lay a new type of insulation used by NASA on space projects. The insulation is only half an inch thick but reflects direct sunlight in hot summer months while keeping 92% of the heat in the tank room during winter. As I said previously, this really is a remarkable building; the sheer structure of it is quite incredible. An example is the walls at the base of which is a solid two and a half feet of Victorian engineering bricks. I attempted to bore my way through to lay the two new sewer pipes and had to dig down inside the tower through 8 inches of concrete and then bore horizontally with a 150mm tungsten drill, which to date has overheated and burnt out two sets of carbon motor brushes! Its an exhausting business physically and took me five hours to get to 20 inches. Tile replacement on the roof has been completed and I only had to buy about 500 extra tiles as some of the old ones were cracked and not worth using again. I was allowed to add two extra conservation roof lights, one facing east and one west which allows me to put a small viewing platform inside allowing spectacular views over the Norfolk countryside. The top balcony is completed and again when installed will be perfect for sunbathing during the summer months. Current summer temperatures (July 2006) are around 35-40 degrees C. The guttering has been completed and is based on the original Victorian type, robust and of cast iron large enough to take the heaviest downpour. This is essential as once the scaffolding is down one will not be able to reach the gutter with a ladder as with a normal house.
The well is now completely cleaned out and has halogen lights fixed at certain positions to light it up as a feature. I have also put two rope lights at the bottom, one green and one blue. When these are turned on the water turns to a gorgeous Mediterranean colour. The specialist glass firm have been to measure up for the glass cap with hatchway which will go over the well, this has to be 52mm thick and weighs about 400Kgs, hence twelve men are required to lift it into position using special vacuum lifting pads. This will allow persons to walk directly over the well on top of the glass slab. Half way down the well is an original small platform used to hold the old pump crankshaft and this I shall use as a wine storage area as it has the perfect temperature all year and access is very easy. I have had to replace two Victorian steel beams just above the water line as the old ones were really dangerous and as new water pumps for fresh water are supported by these, this was a necessary job. The cast iron liner bolts have all been painted red and look really good against the black steel beams and cream coloured well shaft.
The electricity supply was installed in 1937 and consists of a huge lead protected cable buried and entering just inside the door which mates up to a very lethal looking fuse box with the old material type wire insulation which fizzled and crackled in damp conditions indicating that the insulation was stating to break down against the incoming 400volts. Pulling the fuses allowed me to strip out all the old heavy switch gear revealing all the original meter paperwork dating back to the war years and advising “ Save on electricity and switch off unnecessary lighting for the war effort - help the factories” The Norwich Electricity Generating Co 1941. I have now installed a new electric distribution panel to accommodate the huge wiring that will be required to carefully light up each room with special low voltage lighting.
The builders and carpenters have now put all the new floors in. They initially made a major mistake by reading the architect's drawing incorrectly and put two floors in the wrong position much to the amusement of the TV crews who lapped up any misfortune with relish! This has all been rectified and the floors are now excellent. The kitchen is on the first floor above the main entrance and the well, so I have had a glass hatchway put in the centre of the room to allow an unusual view of the well from higher up as well as allowing furniture to be brought up through to other floors. (no skirts allowed in kitchen!). The spiral staircase has been completed by an expert - Donald Price who lives in Southwold, Suffolk and made the staircase for the Electric Picture Palace cinema in Southwold of which I am a trustee - his woodworking skills are fantastic. Donald made me a tenth scale model of the staircase to give me an idea of what the final staircase would look like which was quite incredible. With all the floors in, there is a large void which has been left for the staircase through each floor, I have yet to cut through the main tank floor at the top with oxy/acetylene cutting torch, this is going to be difficult and dangerous and requires cutting a round hole in the ½ inch steel tank bottom, lifting out 1.5mtrs of solid plate and then cutting through a steel girder 16inches by 10inches weighing just over a metric tonne, then lowering this out of the building, I'm fairly confident on this one and lie in bed at night till the early hours working out my ideas.
The Solar Panels
The solar panels have now been positioned facing south east - these are the best available and have been developed by Beijing and Sydney Universities. They gather heat even on the coldest day relying on the u/v coming through clouds, heating the water to 56 deg C in winter and 97 deg C in summer. A large stainless steel hot water tank holds this heat with additional back up from a wood burning stove down below. As the Tower is located in a environmentally sensitive area, it is vitally important for us to be as “green” as possible. I am intending to let out the Tower during the English summer season as it is the perfect place for those wishing to enjoy total tranquility in a beautiful pollution free spot.
THIS LAST UPDATE - MARCH 2005
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