FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Carshalton Water Tower

Posted in Carshalton, England by folkestonejack on May 21, 2017

In all my wanderings around the British Isles and beyond in search of incredible sights it is easy to overlook the delights that stand on your own doorstep. With this in mind, we made a beeline for the Carshalton Water Tower, a local-ish historical curiosity that I have long intended to visit but somehow have never quite gotten around to. A poor effort on my part, given that only needed me to hop aboard a number 157 bus on a Sunday afternoon!

Carshalton Water Tower

I’m glad we finally made the effort. The Carshalton Water Tower and the historic gardens that surround it have a fascinating story to tell. It says alot that this kept us hooked for almost two hours, much to our surprise. I think that is a bargain for just £3 per person.

Our visit began with a tour of what would once have been the grounds of Carshalton House, a grand house built for tobacco merchant Edward Carlton but with a tortuous history of ownership that led to its purchase by a religious order from Liege, the Daughters of the Cross, in 1893. The daughters established a roman catholic school on the site that still operates to this day.

The water tower and the house were separated by a lake, created in the late 18th century when the fashion for more formal arrangements was being swept away in favour of landscape gardens. It’s a dry-ish affair today, though we didn’t want to test whether any of the recent rainfall remained and crossed by a causeway (a twentieth century addition). Partway across we paused to admire the Sham Bridge, another folly, which is a dam in reality (no water can flow underneath, though painting its underside black with pitch must have helped maintain the illusion in its heyday).

Once we had made our way across to the other side we navigated our way round to the hermitage. Today’s pathway, trampled through the long grass, is probably quite far removed from the circuit that the gentry might once have taken on their perambulations!

Carshalton House still stands at the heart of today’s school complex, albeit somewhat altered from its original appearance

The hermitage is a splendid stone-built folly built into the hillside that dates back to the early eighteenth century and must have been a gorgeous spot to stop and admire the views of the pleasure gardens, lake and the nearby springhead. It has suffered a little over the years from the weathering of the soft reigate stone but recent repairs are already starting to blend in nicely. There’s some pretty neat historic graffiti too.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story was the way that the nuns re-interpreted the landscape. They created an outdoor trail of the stations of the cross and converted the hermitage into a grotto for their pieta – until the weight of the thing threatened to destabilise the structure!

After threading our way back through the long grass we had a chance to see an ancient yew tree that is as good an example as you can see of the way this species self propogates when left to its own devices, by driving its branches down into the ground.

The hermitage

Saving the best to the end, we returned to the water tower to see what makes it unique. The tower was constructed in the early 18th century for Sir John Fellowes and housed a reservoir that was used to supply water to the house. However, it was a pleasure house in its own right with a saloon, orangery and a beautiful bagnio lined with blue and white delft tiles. It’s both a wonderful piece of social history and a fascinating piece of engineering. Indeed, you can still see the water wheel which powered the pumps that lifted the water up to the cistern.

We have to thank the nuns for adding a staircase that provides access to the roof, affording a much better view of the upper structure and a better appreciation of how the alignment of West Street was altered to create the grounds we had just walked.

If you want to visit, the Water Tower is usually open on Sunday Afternoons from 2.30pm to 5pm from the first Sunday after Easter to the end of September. However, if you want to go on a tour of the hermitage as well you need to time your visit for the first and third Sunday of each month. For further information about visiting and any changes to the schedule you should check out the website of the Carshalton Water Tower and Historic Garden Trust.

The view from the rooftop

Our visit to the Carshalton Water Tower was a superb way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thank you to the wonderful guides who brought the story to life for us.

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