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Grimsby Dock Tower
Royal Dock, Grimsby, Lincolnshire, UK
Grimsby Dock Tower
associated engineer
Sir W. G. Armstrong & Co.
date  c1852 - March 1852
UK era  Victorian  |  category  Water Tower/Tank  |  reference  TA277113
ICE reference number  HEW 295
photo  PHEW, courtesy ICE
A landmark brick water tower the design of which was inspired by Siena's medieval town hall and crowned by an oriental minaret. It stands between the entrance locks at the north end of Royal Dock, Grimsby, and supplied the necessary water pressure to power hydraulic dock machinery. Long disused, the Grade I listed tower is occasionally open to the public.
In 1846, the building of Grimsby's Royal Dock began with the erection of a cofferdam around the site. Construction of the dock structures, designed by engineer James Meadows Rendel (1799-1856), commenced on 17th April 1849, and the dock opened on 27th May 1852. The dockside equipment was operated by a hydraulic power system designed by William George Armstrong (1810-1900, knighted 1859), who had developed various hydraulic and hydro-electric machines in the 1840s.
Armstrong’s system required a large head of water to provide sufficient pressure, and to create this, he pumped water into an elevated tank housed in a very tall tower. Believed to be unique, the comparatively low-pressure hydraulic system at Grimsby was one of his earliest applications of water power. In other systems, he used hydraulic accumulators where water is stored under high pressure, requiring less powerful pumps and shorter towers.
The architectural design for the Grimsby water tower was undertaken by James William Wild (1814-92) for the Grimsby Dock Company. It is 94.2m high and of red brick, on a limestone ashlar plinth. The bricks were made on site using clay dug from an adjoining marsh, and it is said that around one million of them were used for the project. The huge tower sits on masonry foundations bearing on timber piles. Its bricks are set in blue lias mortar and its walls strengthened with hoop iron bonds.
At ground level, the tower is 8.5m square with walls 1.2m thick, tapering to 7.9m square and 910mm thick at a height of 61m, at which point the walls are corbelled. At the top is a crenelated parapet with imitation machicolations.
Between the ground and parapet level, each side of the tower features six tiers of three tall slot lights. The parapet encircles a gallery walkway around a narrow square upper tower with two slot lights on each face. This is topped by a second (smaller) parapet of similar design. Above the crenellations rises a short octagonal third brick tower capped by a decorative openwork octagonal iron lantern with spire and finial.
The wrought iron water storage tank in the tower was 65.2m above ground level, housed inside the upper square tower. It held 136,400 litres of water, sourced from a well, 4.6m in diameter and 14.3m deep, located near the present Cleethorpe Road flyover. This well was supplied by a 127mm diameter borehole into the chalk bedrock and a by brick culvert discharging water from seven other bores sunk at intervals over a distance of 91m.
A 330mm diameter 61m long cast iron pipe conveyed the water from the well to the tower, where two 254mm diameter pumps — worked by an 18.6kW horizontal engine (or possibly a pair of engines) — pumped it into the tank. Water issued from the tank at a pressure of 689.5kN per sq m. The level was topped up by smaller pumps as water was used.
In addition to powering the lock gates, sluices and 15 cranes on the quays and in the warehouses, the tower supplied drinking water to ships at berth and houses around the docks. The tower also contained a 68.5m hydraulic lift from the ground to the gallery levels (as well as spiral stairs to the top). The timber lock gates at Grimsby — some 9.1m high and 21.3m (west) and 13.7m wide (east) — were the first ever to be worked hydraulically.
On 13th October 1854, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and the Princess Royal visited the tower, which was opened officially by the Queen. Apparently Prince Albert and their children ascended the lift with Rendel to take in the view.
In June 1931, the tower survived an earthquake centred offshore on Dogger Bank (6.1 on the Richter scale). It also escaped damage in the wartime (1939-45) bombing of Grimsby because it proved a useful aerial landmark. Heritage listed since April 1972, the tower holds Grade I status as "the largest and architecturally most distinguished hydraulic tower in the UK".
However, its hydraulic lift is no longer operational and the water tank has been dismantled. The tower, though is now illuminated at night.
More efficient hydraulic power supplies, using accumulators instead of high-level tanks, were being brought into use elsewhere while Grimsby Dock Tower was under constructed. Although already outdated by the time it went into service, the tower operated satisfactorily for 40 years.
In 1892, its replacement, a 23.8m high accumulator tower, was constructed on the west side of the dock entrance locks, about 62m west of the original tower.
The newer, much smaller tower highlighted the advancement in hydraulic technology from low to high pressure operation. It provided eight times as much power, and used a weight of 332 tonnes to pressurise the water in its tank. Constructedt in brown brick, the square tower has no taper but echoes the design of its earlier companion by using crenellation and imitation machicolations at the top, and four tiers of twin slot lights on each side.
In 1980, the new tower was in turn superseded by an electric-powered oil hydraulic system. It was Grade II* listed in October 1974 (amended June 1999).
Architect: James William Wild
Pipework and pumping engines: Perran Foundry, Cornwall
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH E&C

Grimsby Dock Tower