Forgotten buildings: the tower at the top of the hill

Grand Junction Water Works Company Campden Hill 1857 628.14 CAM

For the Victorians the movement of water around London whether for drinking, bathing or washing sewage away was much more than a simple utilitarian process. It was one of the pinnacles of new technology, and an essential part of the growth of civilisation. The mastery of flowing water was one of the great skills of urban living. So the buildings and structures associated with it whether below or above ground were subject to the same aesthetic principles as any other grand public building. Hence the impressive Italianate tower above which stood at the peak of Campden Hill and dominated the local skyline for more than a hundred years. You saw it first in the Towers of Kensington post but as I looked deeper I found quite a few pictures illustrating the tower’s rise and fall.

The Grand Junction Water Works Company acquired the site in 1843 in order to build a high level reservoir but they added the pumping station and the water tower a few years later. The tower did not contain a tank but a series of pipes into which water could be pumped to gain extra pressure to power its subsequent progress through the water network.

The Tower was a popular local sight and can be seen in a number of pictures by local artists my favourite of which is this watercolour by Elizabeth Gladstone:

Waterworks tower Campden Hill Road June 1888 BG2459

Remember that spire on the left.

The Grand Junction Water Works Company and all its assets were taken over in 1904 by the Metropolitan Water Board. The tower remained undamaged in both world wars. Here it is in 1964 surmounted by some kind of electronic device:

Campden Hill Water Works 1964 628.14 CAM 024

And again in 1969:

Campden Hill Water Works 1969 628.14 CAM 021

This picture shows the space around the works including part of the covered reservoir. The truncated tower of the “strange and wilful” St George’s Church. Aubrey Walk (1863) is visible behind the works and the tower block on the right is the equally wilful Campden Hill Towers at Notting Hill Gate.

Campden Hill Water Works 1965 628.14 CAM 006

This 1965 picture shows the intricate detail of the brickwork.

Inside the works was some impressive machinery.

Campden Hill Water Works 1965  interior 628.14 CAM 005Campden Hill Water Works 1965  interior 628.14 CAM 003

By 1970 the tower was surplus to requirements and the land it stood on ripe for development. As luck would have it our photographer John Rogers was on hand to chronicle its slow demolition. Here the main pipe is exposed.

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 008

This was not one of those Fred Dibnah style spectacular demolitions. Because of the solidity of the structure and its closeness to a residential area the tower had to be disassembled almost brick by brick. Here is the first sign of the secondary pipe:

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 017

A man is working up there with a hand held jack hammer which would have made progress slow. Gradually the double pipe is revealed:

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 019

The pipe falls:

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 002

Finally the base is demolished. It is now safe to use a wrecking ball.

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 014

You can see how massive the walls of the tower were. The crumbling brickwork spills out of the gate.

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 023

The tower is gone. A few short weeks before there was snow on the ground and a family walked up the hill on a chilly February day.

Campden Hill Water Works 1970 628.14 CAM 022

The tower has joined the ranks of vanished buildings left behind as London moves on. But at least its passing was recorded.


“Strange and wilful” is one of those slightly odd descriptive phrases from the Survey of London which I have come to treasure. “Pungently Burgundian” is another. If you come across any yourself in the Survey or any other architectural guides please send them. There might be a whole post based on them one day.

11 responses to “Forgotten buildings: the tower at the top of the hill

  • Extra, Extra | Londonist

    […] The forgotten tower of Kensington. […]

  • woofbarkyap

    Thanks for that, I had no idea about despite a lifelong interest in Kensington, having been born here in 1965 – only just overlapping the lovely tower but clearly not by enough!

  • James Russell

    I was at my last year at Fox Primary School ( just down the road from the tower )
    I remember them knocking the tower down.

  • Mike Abbott

    And what went up in its place? Community housing or yet another faceless office block. Thankfully the same Victorian technology remains intact and safe at what is now the Kew Steam Museum…

  • Bryce Caller

    The Campden Hill tower’s younger brother survives in Brentford, at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum The designer of both towers was Alexander Fraser (1823-1895), engineer to the Grand Junction Waterworks Company. The Kew Bridge tower was built in 1867, to replace an open structure of cast iron pipes which had been damaged by frost. It is taller than the Campden Hill tower, and more elegantly tapered, because unlike the one at Campden Hill it did not contain a chimney. The mighty engines at Kew Bridge, which are still run regularly by the museum, pumped water to the top of the tower and thence to the reservoir at Campden Hill. Both tower and reservoir feature in GK Chesterton’s futurist novel “The Napoleon of Notting Hill”.

  • Audrey Jones

    In 1956 the Campden Hill Water Tower was used to accommodate a giant microwave dish to transmit images from tv studios for outside broadcasts.My boyfriend had a key because he was i/c of many of these dishes all over s.e. England. We used to to up to the top at night, star-gaze (still possible in the 50s) and have a kiss and cuddle in the certain knowledge that we wouldn’t be interrupted. Ah, happy nights.

    • Dave Walker

      Thanks for this – some great Campden Hill stories coming in this week – (see the latest comment on the Towers of Kensington post). I think we may have a picture of the tower with the dish on top.

  • Dominic Compton-Jones

    I was born off Ladbroke Grove in 1963. A few months later we moved to Notting Hill Gate, just behind the Coronet Cinema; then called the Gaumont. I remember playing with all the kids (private & state schooled) in the area, in and around the water reservoir. It was a magnificent playground that begged to inspire our imaginations. Aside from that, it was a wonderful architectural landmark and the developers who got their grubby mitts on it should be taken out and shot. Its replacement by those ghastly 1970’s flats & terraces and, more recently, by the equally ghastly ‘Georgian-esque’ townhouse developments, with such pretentious names as ‘Kensington Hights’. or “Malvern Square’ and the like, are indicative of the short change residents get from the blatantly cynical greed of property developers. Look at the area today; where once stood rows of private businsses (the fist Virgin Record store, the Record & Tape Exchange, W.H.Smith…), has been largely replaced by chain stores & Estate Agents. ‘Video City’ being almost the sole survivor. Dominic C-J. Eternal resident.

  • A Foreign Sojourn

    Late/post Victorian essayist and fiction novelist G.K. Chesterton wrote a book entitled, The Napolean of Notting Hill. It describes and details some interesting portraits of a 1900’s London and more specifically, that Kensington landmark:
    “I was stricken from the sky as by a thunderbolt, by the height of the Waterworks Tower on Campden Hill. I don’t know whether Londoners generally realize how high it looks when one comes out, in this way, almost immediately under it. For the second it seemed to me that at the foot of it even Human war was a triviality…this overwhelming tower was itself a triviality; it was a mere stalk of stone which humanity could snap like a stick.”
    Interesting enough, Chesterton was born near Campden Hill, Kensington.
    Thanks for the insight! Love the blog.

  • johnny haddo

    Reblogged this on theperfumedgardens and commented:
    the Napoleon of Notting Hill, eh_

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