cane hill | a pictorial record of the interior organisation of the watertower

Before building operations commenced, a well, 97 feet deep from the level of the road, and eight feet in diameter was sunk in the chalk. From this well is procured and unfailing supply of pure water; this has been fully proved during the present protracted drought, when most of the other wells in the neighbourhood have failed.

The water tower is 107 feet high, and the cistern is capable of holding 34,000 gallons of water. From the hydrants connected with the fire main, jets can be thrown over the highest parts of the building.

So wrote Sir James Moody (Cane Hill’s first Medical Superintendent) who described Cane Hill in his first report to the Court of Quarter Sessions. Water was pumped from the well into the holding tanks in the water tower; there the hydrostatic pressure would provide sufficient to push water around the asylum buildings and throw water onto the highest buildings (in the event for fire). This design was also attractive as a temporary failure of water supply would be buffered by the water stored in the enormous tanks.

Thus was the requirement for a water tower, doubly necessary as Cane Hill was sited on a hill, and existing water mains (if any) would’ve been barely adequate. However Moody’s brief functional description didn’t extend to Howell’s basic architecture for the structure. With only minimal architectural statement (only matched by GT Hine later in his most austere moods) Howell’s water tower was a simple rectangular block, the five stages tapering towards the top, punctuated with two lancet windows on each side at three levels (four on the north-west side), with six lancet windows near the pinnacle. The only flair was limited to: the arching above the top six windows forming a ledge surmounted by the roof’s parapet; red brick courses linking the arches of the lower windows with stone mantles below the windows (both signature architectural motifs of Cane Hill); and the double arched main doorway.

Despite its Victorian brutality and early reputation as an eye-sore, the tower’s sheer force of character as a blunt obelisk punctuating the skyline was enough for it to be considered for local listing.

The incinerator chimney and water tower stand alone after two months of demolition work by Squibb Demolition. Facing north standing in the doorway of G05 north of C12. The rest of this block has gone, as well as the laundry, engineering courtyard buildings and mortuary. © Simon Cornwell 2008