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Jumbo profile

A BRIEF HISTORY OF JUMBO

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1858
Less than half of Colchester's streets have a water main. Town wells are shallow and contaminated. People store water in open jugs and basins. Dysentry and diarrhoea are common.

1875
Public Health Act. Local Councils are made responsible for public health.

1880
Council buys private waterworks from Peter Bruff at an inflated price.

1882
New water tower commenced, using local builders and ironfounders. The 1.2 million bricks are made locally, although the tank panels are cast by a foundry in Newcastle. Name 'Jumbo' is coined by Rev John Irvine as a term of derision, after the London Zoo elephant. The tower is hugely controversial, with the town's business elite divided along party lines.

1884
The Great English Earthquake, which results in extensive damage to many buildings in the area, causes negligible damage to Jumbo.

1888
Tie bars added across interior of the tank.

1895
New pumping station and Paxman-built pumps installed at the foot of Balkerne Hill. For the first time, 90% of households receive a constant supply of water. However the Council is burdened with huge loans which are not finally paid off until 1930.

1908
The heavy concrete-and-iron guttering is replaced by lighter cast iron guttering, and steel walkways added to the outside of the tank.

1948
Jumbo's roof in a poor state, with cracked tiles and lumps of mortar falling into the tank. A new roof of boarding clad with copper sheet is fitted.

1974
Ownership of waterworks, including Jumbo, is transferred to Anglian Water as part of local government reorganisation.

1983
Centenary celebration of the completion of Jumbo.

1987
Jumbo ceases to be part of the water supply system, and is sold on the open market to a property developer for about £100,000.

1988
Jumbo bought by an evangelical Christian group for use as a 'prayer tower'. During this period the tie rods in the tank are removed. A huge banner proclaiming 'Jesus is Lord' is mounted on the tank facing the High Street.

1995
Jumbo bought by Square Foot Properties for around £86,000, who plan to enclose the legs in glass and convert the tower to a block of flats. This plan is rejected by the Council, who commission a study on possible uses for Jumbo.

1996
The study examines various commercial and public uses for Jumbo, and concludes that public ownership is the 'principal option'.

1997
A further study proposes Jumbo as part of an 'arts core' for Colchester. Faced with conflicting advice, the Council takes no action.

1998
Jumbo bought by Victory Gate Properties, who submit a plan replacing the tank with a luxury glazed penthouse.

1999-2000
The proposal is refused by the Council. The same owner, re-named Jumbo Colchester Ltd, submits two similar applications with limited public access to the roof space and the observation tower. Amid much publicity and controversy, these are also refused.

December 2001
A Planning Enquiry allows two of the schemes with limited public access.

April 2003
An application to upgrade Jumbo's listing from II to II* is approved. Only 8 percent of listed buildings are grade I or II*.

February 2006
With no work having started, and less than a year before permission is due to expire, Jumbo is sold by auction for £330,000 to a local developer.

For recent developments please see the Latest News page.

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[Text copyright BTT Ltd 2007. You may quote from the above but YOU MUST acknowledge this web page as the source]

[top of page]

King Coel's pump
King Coel's pump in about 1770, at the corner of High Street and North Hill
[Chelmsford and Essex Museum]


Jumbo's official opening
Jumbo's official opening, September 1883


Original Jumbo
Jumbo with original heavy guttering and no parapets (pre-1908)


Old Reservoir
The clay reservoir in front of Jumbo, since replaced by the Mercury Theatre


Workmen on Jumbo
Workmen atop Jumbo in 1935