Forge Lane Water Tower by AEW Architects & William Blackshaw

Andy Critchlow bought a cylindrical, Grade II-listed water tower on a hill in Congleton, Cheshire, at auction without even seeing the inside of the property…


Can a humungous pile of bricks from 1881 be considered ‘contemporary’ in 2011?

Perhaps yes – if you get the right combination of elements.


When you think of ‘water tower‘, at least in the current North American context, you may picture something like one of these:

Collingwood, ON, CA (built 1962)

Woodbridge, ON, CA (built 1981)

Bradford/West Gwillimbury, ON, CA (built ????)


War-Of-The-Worlds Aliens. Big. Hulking. Ugly. Utilitarian.


Kingston, ON, CA

Kingston, ON, CA (built 1895)

But they weren’t always so. The industrial revolution and evolving scientific knowledge spawned methods to improve water processing and delivery, including massive towers as part of systems to deliver clean, cholera-free water to growing urban populations.

Something of a marvel, they were often designed as artful and proud public works with architectural features of their time, including arches, windows and fine detailing – works of architectural, industrial art. Even towers designed to deliver water for rail transportation, or other, related structures involved in water processing were crafted with an artful eye.

Moving forward, these structures typically became obsolete or redundant and left derelict. Yet their size and structure – designed to support tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons of water – their artistry and individuality have resulted in a loyal following and even protection under law.

British Water Tower Appreciation Society






Consider an historic “listed building” (in the UK context as reference). “Listed” conjures images of heritage country homes, castles and ancient monuments with artistic and historical significance – grade-A properties restricted as to modification and use. But ‘listed’ buildings also include farm buildings, mills, bridges and yes, water towers and other industrial inventory. Some listing classifications allow latitude for the design of additions and re-purposing. However, there are hundreds of thousands of listed buildings in the UK, often falling into disuse, disrepair and decay.  Few have the wherewithal to take one on. Finite resources cannot mend them all.

So, what do you do with a large, redundant, derelict, legally restricted building with an appetite for cash?


When a young architect needs to assert themselves, establish a personal foundation and gain some recognition, they will often launch a personal, signature project to get “out there”, make a statement, be unique and get noticed. Often they do it on a limited budget, which sometimes involved commandeering the family budget, the family home and family labour. They get busy, get creative and often, it seems, get contemporary.


Forge Lane Water Tower, Congleton, Cheshire, England, UK

Massive younger sibling lurks …

1881. Engineer, William Blackshaw. Cylindrical and built of red and yellow brick with bands of blue brick. Of 3 stages, each with semi-circular headed openings with continuous head bands, arched over openings; decorative brick frieze; modillion cornice surmounted by thin iron railings. (Crown Copyright)
English Heritage Building ID: 55842
“Architect George Clarke meets Andy Critchlow, who bought a cylindrical, Grade II-listed water tower on a hill in Congleton, Cheshire, at auction without even seeing the inside of the property. Andy and his girlfriend Ana Perkins intend to turn it into a modern family home over nine months, but the intensity of the work threatens to have an adverse effect on their personal lives. The presenter also finds out how the building once saved the lives of the people it overlooked.” – Brief from “Restoration Man”, Channel4 television. [ Channel4 40D Episode ] [ Channel 4 4oD Scrapbook ]

Channel4That’s certainly one way to get noticed. In fact, Restoration Man, Channel4’s Grand Designs and the BBC’s Restoration Home have all featured historic, listed water-works to great success.

Andy Critchlow sells his home, bunks with his girlfriend at his parents and carves out a signature, sustainable project from 19th century bricks.  And stairs. At only 15m tall, Forge Lane Water Tower employed the loft of a hilltop perch to power the water supply rather than outright build-height, but it could still stand the benefit of an elevator.

Forge Lane Water Tower  is the first in a series of tours by to water-themed properties inspired by World Water Week 2013, featuring residences reflecting our use of water and marking progress in the use, storage and processing of water for health, transportation and recreation.


Forge Lane Water Tower
by AEW Architects & William Blackshaw
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Congleton Water Tower by AEW Architects 53.165990, -2.228202 Congleton Water Tower by AEW Architects


Original Street View Date: March 2009


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Property Location

Congleton, Cheshire, England, UK
Cheshire, England, UK


Forge Lane Water Tower by AEW Architects & William Blackshaw

From the architect:

AEW Architects Director, Andy Critchlow, has converted a derelict Grade 2 listed Water Tower into his home. As well as a personal goal, the project was undertaken to demonstrate AEW’s approach to conversion, sustainable refurbishment and use of renewable technologies. Andy purchased the property, without internal viewing, at auction in January 2010.

The Tower standing 15 metres high and 11 metres in diameter was decommissioned by United Utilities in the early 2000’s and stood empty and decaying since. Conversion of the listed building has created a four-storey, five-bedroom family home with a top floor sun room that looks out over seven counties. In order to promote sustainable conversion the project was filmed for the latest series of Channel 4’s, Restoration Man which was aired in January 2012.


Architects: AEW Architects, Andy Critchlow
Status: Completed, 2011
Value: £300k



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