52 Colchester Water Supply

The early supplies to Colchester were copious springs at the foot of Balkerne Hill just outside the Roman city walls and in the railway cutting  by St Botolph’s Station. These would have supplied the early communities prior to the Romans who later sank shallow wells into the gravel within their walls. These formed the site of the early Waterworks Company formed in 1808 to supply the town. As the population expanded other springs were brought into use, but some under the existing town were affected by the installation of sewer pipes. 

From the first borehole in 1852 at the waterworks site at Balkerne Hill, dug to 40ft then bored to 350 ft, this was supplemented in 1880 by an adjacent well 4ft deeper but with an 18 inch borehole to 384 ft.  Numerous private deep wells and boreholes were sunk at The Cavalry Barracks 550 ft, Castle Brewery 298 ft, Eagle Brewery 197 ft, East Hill Brewery 353 ft, Gas works 250ft, Essex County Asylum at Mile end 523 ft, Parry’s Oil Cake Mills 200 ft, and Sewage Farm at The Hythe 218 ft. and at the rear of the Hospital 32 Ft.

The Water Company initially supplied a few wealthy inhabitants for a few hours a day with fresh water, until in 1880 the Council purchased the Water Company to provide an improved service. They did this by constructing the water tower at the top of the town, it was 85 ft  high and held 220,000 gallons, at a cost of £11,000. It was nicknamed Jumbo as it was the largest tower in England at that time. Unfortunately due to inadequate pumping, and poor construction it held less than half its planned volume and supplied the town for 6 hours a day. The Engineer in charge took early retirement and emigrated. In 1888 after the earthquake which cracked the structure the tank was reinforced but the supply was inadequate until 1895, when a 24 hour supply was attained under pressure. The supply to the Tower was at 70,000 galls per hour to supply a daily consumption of approx 580,000 galls, the population estimated at 42,000. In 1898 the distribution mains were extended to Parsons Heath when the shallow wells were found to be subject to pollution.And in 1898 the total length of mains was 37.5 miles, supplying 7193 houses. There were still 3750 houses supplied from private sources within the Borough. Numerous deep wells and boreholes supplied breweries and manufacturers, as described previously.

The Tower was  in service until 1984.