Room with a view that’s the envy of any rail enthusiast
This water tower is now a contemporary home but its railway heritage is right at the heart of the conversion. Sharon Dale reports.
WHEN Mark and Pat Rand decided to downsize from their historic home they very nearly bought a bungalow.
It was the obvious choice for a couple who are of retirement age though it wouldn’t have brought them half as much pleasure as the property they eventually plumped for.
The cavernous water tower at Settle railway station was just four damp walls and a jungle of giant pipes topped with a huge cast iron tank but its location and potential proved irresistible.
For train spotter Mark, a long-time member of the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line committee, it offered unrivalled views of the tracks, along with the chance to rescue an important piece of Midland Railway heritage.
“We had been on the verge of buying a bungalow but this opportunity came up and we decided to go for it,” says Mark, who paid £208,000 for the grade two listed building in October 2010.
Built in 1876 by the Midland Railway, its 43,000 gallon tank fed steam locomotives until the 1960s and is now the only one of eight Settle Carlisle line water towers to survive.
It had been used as a storage facility and came with permission for a dwelling when the Rands bought it, though they submitted new plans by architect Stuart Green.
“Stuart wanted to buy the tower but his wife wouldn’t let him. He loved the building and pleaded with us to let him do the designs,” says Mark.
The plan was to create an “upside down” home with bedrooms on the ground floor, living space on a newlycreated first floor, a three-storey extension at the rear and a new, prefabricated room on the roof of the tower that would give 360 degree views.
Planning permission took six months, the extension was cut to two storeys and there were 65 conditions that the Rands had to adhere to.
“I was frustrated but it was a blessing in disguise as it gave us time to get the logistics right. We were disappointed they wouldn’t let us take the extension to the top of the tower to meet the roof room but on the plus side they did agree to let us have the roof room,” says Mark, a retired chief superintendent of police.
Having tackled renovations, at their previous home The Folly in Settle, the couple weren’t daunted by the project. Pat was in charge of the budget, which came in slightly under, though the Rands don’t want to reveal the substantial amount they spent. Mark was at the site every day making sure everyone had what they needed including cups of tea from the “Bright Ideas Facility and Daft Ideas Eradication Unit”, otherwise known as the site hut housed in an old caravan he bought from ebay.
He also spent months scraping rust from the metal panels that surrounded the old water tank and repainting them in their original Midland Railway colours.
“I knew it as time to stop when the wind blew the paint horizontally off the brush,” says Mark, who swung 45ft up in a gantry to tackle the job. His antics were filmed for the TV series Restoration Man, which is screened on Thursday, and which will show that all went remarkably smoothly thanks to a crack team of local builders and tradespeople. It also helped that the structure was so well-built it didn’t even need re pointing.
The only issue was condensation on the bottom of the water tank, so that was insulated and other mod cons such as underfloor heating, a heat recovery and ventilation system and rainwater harvesting installed. Many of the walls inside are exposed and some of the pipes have been left as a reminder of the property’s past. The cast iron window frames also remain though their broken panes have been replaced with single glazing. To combat their draughts, the ground floor rooms have been heavily insulated and new quadruple glazed windows have been installed well back from the originals, along with a mirror in the cavity between to reflect natural light.
The ground floor houses a master bedroom suite, utility room, bathroom and an office that doubles as a guest room. On the first floor, there is an enormous living space spanning width of the tower, while a kitchen sits in the rain screen clad extension behind. A floating staircase leads to the top floor and the piece de resistance of this project.
The room on the roof, inspired by Modernist architect Mies Van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, is a glass walled structure prefabricated by the architect’s Hull-based company Commercial Systems International and craned onto the top of the tower, where it sits a metre from the edge. This makes it less obtrusive and allows for a terrace. The Rands are looking forward to relaxing up there after finishing the conversion, which took just six months and was relatively stress free.
The only frustrations came from the conflict between planning and conservation requirements and creating a practical living space. The couple were refused permission to put in a wood burning stove, which means the first floor is chilly, though it looks homely. It’s also got soul thanks to the railway memorabilia that Mark has installed inside and out. It proves that he was exactly the right man for the job. His love of the building and his enthusiasm for its heritage is at the heart of the tower’s successful new life.
The newel posts are old telegraph wire insulators dug up from the garden. The stairs are painted in St Pancras international blue and the steps are made from old sleepers. He also has a permanent search set on ebay for Midland Railway items, many of which are framed. The buffers outside came from Network Rail, as did the cobbles, and his garage is to be fashioned from a redundant wooden workshop at Appleby station, while the gates and fences are original Midland Railway patterns copied by Settle Fencing.
“We wanted to build as much of the Settle to Carlisle line into this as possible,” says Mark, who has no regrets about bypassing that bungalow. “The project has kept me fit and we installed the lift so we can stay long-term. I aim to keep busy too. I will be resuming duties as a guide on the railway,” he says, while surveying pretty Settle station from the top of his tower and noting excitedly that the 13.48 is bang on time.
DOWN THE LINE: Top, the water tower now has two floors and a roof room. Bottom left to right: The tower has been transformed but retains all its integrity; Mark surveys the task of converting the vast space into a home; the derelict tower before work started. The tower has unrivalled views of the Settle-carlisle line at Settle.