Heritage consultant Ann Mcewan peeks behind the facades of the area’s oldest buildings.
It rained for the first time in weeks on the day the Cambridge water tower was officially opened on March 11, 1903. But as the mayor provided champagne to mark the occasion, it is possible no-one minded. People drank to the scheme’s success and to the health of the officers, contractor, etc; and Mr Ashley Hunter, the engineer, said it was the cheapest water supply in the colony.
Mr J J Hollands’ tender of £1077 to build the tower was accepted in May 1902.
The local borough council had earlier raised a total loan of £6000 to pay for the tower, pump and engine house, having rejected W Souter & Co’s proposal for a cheaper American steel tower that was not considered tall enough to do the job.
Perhaps cheapest is not always better, as it was reported in February 1913 that Cambridge’s water supply required extra pressure for firefighting purposes. Councillor Wells told a council meeting that it was not possible to raise a loan of £30,000 to pay for a gravitational scheme, but that £4000 might be raised to pay for another water tower in the centre of town.
By September 1913, the council had resolved to borrow £8000 for a new water tower, which would not only increase pressure for firefighting but also extend mains coverage to most Cambridge residents.
Te Papa holds a lovely coloured postcard of the 1903 water tower, coincidentally showing the tower from the same angle as the photograph included here. The tower has been unused since 1926, when it was decommissioned, partly because the spring that fed the tower had become polluted.
Today it is simply a historic landmark set within Payne Park and adjacent to the Cambridge Resthaven rest home. Its handsome brickwork conveys something of a medieval keep and its heritage values are recognised by both Waipa District Council and the NZ Historic Places Trust.
Cheapest water supply: Cambridge Water Tower, Payne Park, Cambridge. Photo: Ann McEwan