Mersea Water

I was born in West Mersea in February 1932 and was to drink water from the water tower for the next 33 or so years. My teeth have the brown stain under the enamel which a number of us locals (not all) have who were children during that period.

From a very detailed account published in the Mistral Magazine of 1985 we find that the water tower in Upland Road was built in 1924 and provided mains water to West Mersea. The water came from a borehole under the tower, which was some 450 feet deep and lined part of the way by steel pipes, some perforated. I can remember a single cylinder oil engine with a large flywheel chuffing away, used to pump the water up the tower. The doors facing the road were often open while it was running and we were able to see the engine working from the road. Later, it was replaced by and electrically driven airlift pump, but the oil engine was kept for a while as standby and regularly run.

A well remembered day in Mersea history was the water tower fire in 1931, due to rags left on the exhaust pipe of the engine.

The water was quite salty and those of us who drank it from birth knew no different but visitors to West Mersea didn't like it at all. It made very strong tea. Some brought their own water and some went to the pump behind Fingringhoe Whalebone where there was a spring.

Mains water, along with mains drainage, was laid on for most of West Mersea in the 1920s and 1930s - a big investment. The tower and the whole system belonged to West Mersea Urban District Council and when I built my new bungalow in Firs Road in 1956 I applied to WMUDC for a water supply. Along came the council engineer, at that time Peter Tucker Snr, on his bicycle with a wooden box on the back which carried the tools for the job. We had already dug the trench in the road which was unmade at the time and located the cast iron main. Peter bored into the pipe and inserted a fitting and we had a water supply for the building.

I still have the detailed Invoice: 'Laying water service pipe from Council's main to boundary of land for new bungalow, Firs Road' The parts cost £1 17s 11d, labour - 1 man 3 hours @ 3/11 = 11/9 making a total of £2 9s 8d, to which was added 10% establishment charge 5/- and the hire of 4 guard lamps for 1 night @ 1/- = 4/-. Total for the job was £2 18s 8d (£2.94 in modern language).

East Mersea didn't get mains water until 1952 and that came from off the island in a separate pipe.
West Mersea had to wait till 1965 to be connected to the mainland, when a 10 inch pipe was a laid across the Strood, fed from a small reservoir in Abberton Village. This in turn is fed from Ardleigh Reservoir to the north of Colchester and from deep borehole sources in the River Stour Valley near Nayland. (The big Abberton Reservoir was built to supply water to south Essex.) A second 10 inch main was laid across the Strood in 1978, in case of failure of the original main. In the years after 1965, the original cast iron pipes round West Mersea were gradually replaced with PVC. The water tower is still used to smooth out supply and demand.

The photo is one of Jack Botham's aerial views from around 1962. It is looking southeast with Upland Road upper left to lower right. The large tank behind the water tower can be seen, also the building to the east of it which is still used as part of the recycling centre. There are not many houses in this picture !

Published in Mersea Life, July 2020, page 75.

Read More:
West Mersea Water Tower on fire

ID: ML2020_007_075
Source: Mersea Museum