They’re a common sight. Hidden behind housing, in the middle of a field, at the side of a road. They’re part of the landscape whether you like them or not. What are we talking about? Water towers of course. DailyNord, driven by “liquid courage” (H2O variety of course), set off to take a few snapshots of them, just for you!
122 steps, 20 metres high, 8,000 bolts, 28 tonnes. And once you’re at the top, the town of Calais offers an unusual view of itself. Down below, a primary school, an axe road full of speeding cars this Thursday morning and a little further away, some terraced housing surrounded by blocks of flats. And more water towers on the horizon. Welcome to the Calais’ Channel Belvedere, an old water tower converted into a public promenade by François Delarozière at the turn of the 21st century, on a site where an abattoir used to stand. An almost unique example of an old water tower that has been given a new lease of life in Nord – Pas-de-Calais.
A few weeks ago, DailyNord asked its readers to rate their water towers. Because we really fancied doing a piece on these strange landmarks that can be seen, especially in the countryside, from miles around. For water towers mean much more than a supply of water to your average man in the street– they are homing beacons. Rather than saying “take the third on the left”, locals will say “turn left at the water tower”. Or driving down some long unfamiliar country lane the middle of the night without a NavSat, you’ll follow the instructions given to you and turn right at the water tower.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But we did try to select the most eye-catching ones for you (*) and while wandering up and down the region, we remarked that even if the base is always the same (often in concrete, tall and we explain why here), each one has its own distinctive character much more so than you might imagine at first. Something you can clearly see in the photo selection. You have your slender striped ones (Wimille) and your imposing ones that double up as a traffic sign telling you where you have arrived (Liévin). You have your disguised squatty ones (Mouvaux) with more length than height and your “aww aww I’m seeing double” ones like at Ebblinghem or Douai. There’s also your ‘industrial past’ models like the one at the old mine excavation site of Hersin-Coupigny or at Hérin. Speaking of mines, you even have your polemical water towers like the one at Bruay-la-Buissière crowned with a memorial to miners that some wish to relocate to more befitting surroundings. And don’t forget your ‘one of a kind’ water towers that defy classification like the one at Arques, in brick and slate, or the one at Noeux-les-Mines that looks like “something from out of the future” (according to the editor who has no imagination) or “a giant corn of chips” (according to the photographer who was hungry at the time of taking the photo).
Most water towers that we encountered on our travels were built in the second half of the 20th century “by authorities motivated by sanitary issues” Christine Boutron says, author of a book on the topic. Some water towers are much older however, dating back to the 19th century when rich landowners and industrialists started to construct them: like the water tower at Tourcoing with its medieval architecture inspired design, one of the first to appear in the Lille metropolis (rue de Lille) in 1863. A remarkable edifice, in particular for its “masoned cylindrical tower” to quote Itinéraire du patrimoine, published by the DRAC. If you would like to see other splendid water towers, take a trip out to Bailleul town centre or Valenciennes, place Verte, where the tower in reinforced concrete was built by Hennebique Company, named after an engineer from Pas-de-Calais.
Finally, in our peregrination, we mustn’t forget to mention painted water towers, the latest fashion in ‘designer’ water towers. There are several in the region: at Zuydcoote, Calais, Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and Villeneuve-d’Ascq. Some have even been painted by the same person, Paule Adeline from Eure, who has given a new look to over 150 towers at the request of local councils. A long job that takes at least three weeks on site. “It’s the local councils who contact me: I only intervene when there’s stonework and pointing to do. I take advantage to paint it. The councils choose the design. At Zuydcoote, children’s drawings have been reproduced for example”. Paule Adeline, who has an unusual profession, (there are only about a dozen or so companies that do this in France), will even return to the region in 2014: the water tower at Saint-Michel-en-Thiérarche will be decorated with an oak, the tower at Arras racecourse with a horse and the tower at Ibsergues with drops of water. A personalised paint job that can cost between 5,000 to 30,000 Euros.
In short, our little article, together with our wonderful selection of photos, should have given you a whole new outlook on water towers. And perhaps you will never see them exactly as you did before…
(*) We propose a selection of 24 water towers. We have other photos but the idea is to give you a cross section of original examples.
You can read more (in French) about water towers in DailyNord: la découverte de deux châteaux d’eau de l’intérieur, ainsi que quelques explications sur leur hauteur, notamment.
Le site Châteaux d’eau.free is a mine of informations on water towers in Nord – Pas-de-Calais and France. You’ll find different categories of water tower and numerous photo on the site.
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