Croydon, a town of modern towers has a much older tower that once was so high above the skyline that it was open to the public to climb up and see the view.

This is an old water tower built on land owned for centuries by the  Archbishop of Canterbury’s Croydon Palace, but in 1813 it was leased out as farmland, and as the town was growing fast at the time, in 1850, just over an acre was sold to Croydon’s local board of health to build a water reservoir.

Built at the top of a hill overlooking the town, a large circular brick water tank was built into the hill and was formally opened in 1851. Designed to hold enough water for the town to last 18 days, within just a few years the town was already able to empty half of it in a single day.

To enlarge capacity, in 1867, a tall water tower was built. Designed by the board of health’s engineer, Baldwin Latham, it’s in a Norman style with a bartizan or overhanging turret – so looks not unlike a castle tower. A 94,000 gallon water tank in the base was connected to the existing reservour, and to increase water pressure, a 40,000 gallon water tank was added at the top, using gravity to add to the pressure on the water pipes.

However, a larger reservoir was built nearby in 1888 and that eventually made the water tower redundant, so it closed in 1923, and the reservoir next to the tower closed in  1971 and was filled in.

OS map 1941

The tower has now been closed for just over a century, although at the moment, stuctural work is being carried out by Croydon Council, who owns the tower.

Today there’s a garish pink wall around the base of the tower where it’s been sealed off for structural repairs, although there is a small window in the wall on one side to peer through.

You can also see the echo of the old reservour in the ground as well, as a sunken circle next to the water tower on the southern side.

Sealed off and empty, the tower was for a while a public viewing platform. It opened in June 1889 on Sunday afternoons for a few months, until something happened — not been able to find out what — which saw the council urged to close the tower until the internal staircase was widened and a railing attached to the top. However, it seems that didn’t happen, but they did start to limit how many people to go in at once to reduce overcrowding.

Candidly, these days if you want a view of the London skyline, then the tops of some of the local blocks of flats would offer more to see, but if the tower could be reopened as a heritage and viewing gallery, it’d be popular for its historic importance.

As it’s barely 10 minutes walk from East Croydon station, it’s pretty easy to get to — if only at the moment to wander around the base of. And maybe sigh whistfully about what the inside might look like.

If you want to visit, winter is best, as the trees are less leafy and less blocky of the view at the moment.


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One comment
  1. Ed freemantle says:

    Should have been open to the public years ago. All that missed revenue

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