The iconic white landmark standing tall above the Reading skyline is a welcome sign of home for motorway drivers heading back from the west. But how many people really know why the Tilehurst Water Tower is there or what it does?
To mark the 85th anniversary of the 40-metre high water tower’s construction, we climbed the 169 steps to the top to take in the panoramic view and find out more. On a clear day, the view stretches beyond Didcot Power Station in one direction and Windsor Castle in the other. The River Thames, Green Park wind turbine and Blade are all immediately recognisable.
Tilehurst Water Tower was built in 1932 by the then Corporation of Reading to store and supply water to properties on the high ground which surrounds it. Construction took place in an age when King George V ruled the land, Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald held office at number 10 and Reading FC finished second in Division 3 South, two points behind 2017 defeated play-off rivals Fulham.
Now owned and run by Thames Water, the tower is still providing an essential service – especially as demand for water has increased drastically over its lifetime. It holds a massive 900,000 litres in two 4.5 metre deep tanks, enough to fill around 5,000 bath tubs, and provides around 10 per cent of all the water distributed across the Reading area – serving 12,000 homes and business.
Water resources expert at Thames Water, Alex Nickson, said: “Despite the number of people living and working in Reading growing substantially, we’ve managed to support this growth without the total amount of water leaving the tower increasing, by reducing leaks on our pipes.
“However, the scale of future growth – Reading’s Local Plan proposes an additional 2,600 homes in Tilehurst and West Reading alone – means we’ll need to find new sources of water, as well as making sure we use our water as efficiently as possible. Of course our customers can also help by making sure they use water wisely in their homes and gardens so there’s plenty for everyone.”
As well as fulfilling its primary purpose of supplying water, the tower which most Reading residents look out for from the M4 motorway also plays home to a number of telecoms masts and receivers, such is its lofty position up on a hill.
Thames Water area manager Stuart Hamblin regularly visits the site. He said: “It’s a privilege to go to the top of the tower and see the view, but the climb up the 169 narrow steps isn’t always a welcome job – especially on a hot day! The tower seems to be a very much loved local landmark, and it’s testament to the quality of the building work all those years ago that it’s still such an important part of our water supply network in Reading 85 years later.”
Thames Water has shared a video on social media so others can enjoy the stunning view from the top, as the tower is not open to visitors.
More about 1932
The average cost of a house in Reading was the equivalent of £4,714
Reading’s population was less than 100,000 compared to today’s almost 233,000
Actress Elizabeth Taylor, singer Petula Clark and Fawlty Towers star Prunella Scales were all born
Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame died
The Olympic games were held in Los Angeles
The first Mars Bar was made at the Mars factory in Slough
The BBC made its first broadcast
King George V gave the first Monarch’s Christmas Speech
Weetabix, book tokens and Women’s Own magazine all appeared in shops for the first time
The average cost of a pint of milk was the equivalent of one penny