Monthly Archives: June 2024

Appleton Water Tower

Appleton Water Tower, Sandringham, Norfolk (1980)

Accounts of the nineteenth-century “Sanitary Question” – the controversy over how to resolve the environmental problems of water-supply, sewerage and disposal of the dead – usually focus on the rapidly expanding, densely-populated towns and cities and their poor, unhealthy and undernourished populations of the time.

In fact, the crises of public health and limited medical knowledge cost the lives of individuals in all levels of society.

The best-known example of a prominent life cut short by avoidable disease in this period is Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1819-1861).  He died, after several weeks’ illness, at Windsor on December 9th 1861, probably of typhoid, leaving a shocked nation and a bereft widow.

His accumulating personal woes would have undoubtedly lowered his spirits and sapped his physical strength – several years of discomfort from stomach cramps, a near-death experience in a carriage accident, the death of his mother-in-law, concern over his eldest son’s liaison with an Irish actress and the strain of being involved in a diplomatic skirmish, the Trent affair.

However, it was the fetid drains under Windsor Castle that almost certainly did for him.

He was not alone.  In the same few weeks of 1861, typhoid swept through the Portuguese royal family, who were Prince Albert’s young cousins,– the Infante Ferdinand (15) on November 6th, his brother King Pedro V (24) on November 11th and another brother, Infante João, Duke of Beja (19) on December 27th.

A decade later, by which time the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII (1841-1910), had married, raised a family and acquired the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, he himself contracted typhoid while staying with the Earl of Londesborough at Scarborough.  A fellow guest, the 7th Earl of Chesterfield, and the Prince of Wales’ groom died of the disease, but His Royal Highness recovered.

It seems that the drains at Londesborough Lodge were no better than those at Windsor Castle.

The Prince quickly enlisted the experienced civil engineer Robert Rawlinson (1810-1898) and a sanitary specialist James Mansergh (1834-1905) to ensure that the newly completed Sandringham House was safely supplied with water and properly drained.

The nearest supply, a chalk spring about a mile away, was twenty feet lower in altitude than the ground floor of the house, and the highest point on the estate was only five feet higher than the roof.

Not only did the supply require pumping, but a greater head of water was needed for fire-fighting.

The solution was to construct a sixty-foot-high water tower, surmounted by a 32,000-gallon tank, overlooking the surrounding landscape and visible for miles.

James Mansergh designed an elegant brick structure in a style he called “neo-Byzantine” in polychrome brick and local stone.

Its two lower storeys provided accommodation for a caretaker, and the second floor, accessible by a private staircase, was reserved for the occasional entertainment of royal house parties who could, if they wished, climb to the top of the tank to enjoy the view.

The chimney flues from the fireplaces ran through the centre of the tank to prevent the water freezing in heavy frosts.

The four foundation stones were laid on July 4th 1877 by Alexandra, Princess of Wales, her brother Prince Waldemar of Denmark, and the Wales’s two young sons, Princes Albert Victor and George (later King George V).

When the water-supply system was completed the following year, the hydrants surrounding Sandringham House were tested by a personal friend of the Prince of Wales, the celebrated Chief of the London Fire Brigade, Captain Sir Eyre Massey Shaw KCB (1830-1908), “to his entire satisfaction”.

The water-supply system was maintained first by the Sandringham estate and later by the local water authority until 1963.  Four years later the Tower was leased to the Landmark Trust which cleared away the surrounding outbuildings and converted the first three storeys into a memorable holiday let  [Holiday at Appleton Water Tower, Sandringham | The Landmark Trust], receiving its first visitors exactly a hundred years after the foundation stones were laid.

156 years of continuing prayer

St Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield

When I run my annual Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe we visit one of only two remaining Christian places of worship in the Lower Don Valley. It’s also the only historic place of worship in the Valley that has been in continuous use since it was built.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Charles Borromeo was consecrated in 1868 to provide a home for a congregation that had been meeting since 1864.

This was the time when the flat rural meadows and gardens of the Lower Don Valley were being replaced by huge steelworks served by rail and canal. 

Housing for the workers, many of whom came from surrounding counties and as far away as Ireland, had to be within walking distance of the works because public transport was inadequate and expensive.

The church was the gift of Mr William Wake of Osgathorpe, and partly financed by gifts of £500 each from the Duke of Norfolk and from Mrs Wake and her family.  The eventual cost was £4,700. 

The dedication commemorates the Wakes’ son, Charles, who drowned while skating on the Serpentine in Regent’s Park in January 1867.

The building was designed by Charles John Innocent (1837-1901) and Thomas Brown (c1845-1881), who went on to design nineteen out of the twenty-two schools built by the Sheffield School Board from 1873 onwards.

Initially only the nave and the presbytery were constructed.  Charles Innocent returned in 1887 to oversee the lengthening of the nave and the construction of the baptistery and two porches to the west and the chancel, Lady Chapel and sacristy to the east.  These extensions, costing £2,400, were the gift of the Duke of Norfolk and Mr and Mrs Wade.

The interior is spacious and light, with a hammerbeam roof.  The screens, choir stalls and pulpit were designed by C J Innocent and carved by the sculptor Harry Hems of Exeter (1842-1916).  The organ is by the Norwich builder Norman & Beard, and dates from 1911.

The adjacent brick-built school was originally built in 1871 and rebuilt in 1929 in memory of the first rector of the parish, Father Joseph Hurst, who served from 1866 to 1905.  It was remodelled in 1964 by Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson, and closed because of falling rolls in 1981. 

After some years of use for Youth Training Scheme activities it became the Diocese of Hallam Pastoral Centre, opening on June 27th 1990.

Alongside the Centre, regular services continue in the church of St Charles, as they have done since 1868.

St Charles Borromeo Church is a destination on Mike Higginbottom’s Heritage Open Days A Walk Round Attercliffe which takes place on Friday September 6th 2024 from 10am to 12.30pm, starting and finishing at the Attercliffe tram stop.  

Call 07946-650672 or e-mail mike@mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk to book.