by Barry Barton

Water Towers of Britain is a timely record of an important part of Britain’s engineering heritage (water towers are steadily being demolished and few are now being built). In 1994 the Panel for Historical Engineering Works decided to form a sub-group to research, locate, visit and photograph water towers of every description throughout Britain and Ireland to produce a definitive record of this subject – about which very little has been published. The author and his colleagues obtained information from more than 200 correspondents and numerous archives. This book will stand as an important reference work for civil engineers, architects, historians, local authorities and members of the public for many decades to come.


The initial uncontrolled expansion of the early industrial revolution resulted in unredeemed urban squalor in which disease was rife. Conditions could only be made tolerable by the supply of clean piped water, and of course sewers. In towns, municipal water supplies with their water towers began to appear in the early Victorian era, followed by rural water facilities. The latter were often under the patronage of country estates until Rural District Councils, and subsequently Water Boards, assumed responsibility for delivering piped water throughout the countryside.

Early water towers, provided by such a range of agencies, were naturally very varied, even though they had the same basic function – storing water at a given height. Strangely, few standard solutions were adopted so the variations in size, shape and form of surviving towers seem endless. This made the author’s task a fascinating one, but it also meant 8 years’ hard work for him and his colleagues on the Institution of Civil Engineers’ Panel for Historical Engineering Works.

The Book

The result of their labours is a book of 240 pages with 83 photographs and diagrams and 25 maps. There are eleven chapters ranging in content from the functions and origins of the water tower, through Victorian municipal towers, early rural towers, early and modern concrete construction, all-metal structures, towers for other purposes, problems, re-use and the future.

The Author 

Barry Barton studied engineering and completed a research project on hydrology for his doctorate in 1970. This was the start of a career in the water industry spanning a diverse number of specialised fields. The 15 years he worked for Anglian Water included 5 years as Divisional Systems Engineer which involved the installation of telemetry and radio base stations in water towers. This kindled an interest in the structures themselves and proved to be the genesis for their study, and ultimately this book.

Water Towers of Britain, published by the Newcomen Society (2003)