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  • "Jumbo" was originally applied to the water tower as a term of abuse by the Rev John Irvine, who could not bear the fact that it would utterly dwarf his adjacent rectory (where the Mercury Theatre is now). Irvine took the name from the famous elephant of London Zoo, the amazing story of which you can read here.

  • When Jumbo was completed in 1883, it was the second biggest water tower in England, the biggest probably being the twin towers built by Brunel for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

  • Entirely by coincidence, Jumbo was constructed in twenty months - the gestation period of an elephant!

  • The young Borough engineer, Charles Clegg, originally designed the water tower with a round tank (See drawing below). He was overruled by Henry Rawlinson, Chief Engineer of the Local Government Board, who insisted on a more traditional - and expensive - square tank of cast iron.

  • During the Great Earthquake of 1884, according to a witness, Jumbo "Began to sway from side to side... it seemed to sway several times on its legs." The tower was undamaged but the waterworks committee, fearful of a future catastrophic collapse, ordered more tie bars fitted inside the tank.

  • During WWII, Jumbo was used as a lookout post for enemy aircraft. Plans were made to set up water tanks in Colchester streets if Jumbo were bombed, but the Luftwaffe left it alone.

Round Jumbo
Original design for the water tower (Click to enlarge)

Jumbo Basics

Designed by Charles Clegg, Borough engineer.
Tower built by Everett & Sons, builders of Hythe Hill, Colchester.
Tank supplied by AG Mumford, ironfounders of Culver Street, Colchester.
Overall height: 131ft 5ins (40.05m).
Number of bricks used: 1,200,000.
Steps up to the tower room: 157
Tank capacity: 230,000 gallons (over 1000 tons).
Total cost when built: £11,138.