Jumbo’s Restaurant in the Sky Takes a Big Step Closer

After decades of speculation and dashed hopes, plans to renovate Jumbo, Colchester’s unique Victorian water tower, have taken a huge step forward after the submission of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant application which will pave the way for residents and visitors to enjoy the spectacular views across Colchester and beyond that await at the top of the tower.

Photo: Darius Laws

Colchester and North East Essex Building Preservation Trust is working with partners, including the building’s owner Paul Flatman, on the multi-million pound project to conserve and renovate the Victorian Grade ll* listed landmark. The Trust’s plans will see the 34-metre Balkerne Water Tower, affectionately known as Jumbo, preserved and put back to use after 30 years of being vacant.

Trust Chairman, Simon Hall MBE, said: “Everything about the project is big and our Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) application is a step on what will be a long journey to save this magnificent piece of Victorian industrial heritage for Colchester and the nation.

“Jumbo is recognised as the most important municipal water tower in the country and is testament to the skills of the Victorian engineers who built it in 1883. Since it ceased to be used as a water tower in 1987, it has sadly been standing idle and in 1993 it was put on the national Buildings at Risk register.

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

“We have received excellent support from across our communities, Colchester Borough Council and heritage experts as we start the process of seeking funds for our plans. Clearly, Jumbo has a big place in the hearts of many people. This first grant would allow us to develop the plans fully before we source additional funds for the conservation and restoration. A second HLF application could then be made next year to allow work to start. If the second application is successful, the owner will grant the Trust a long lease and we will have saved Jumbo.”

Darius Laws (Con) Councillor for Castle Ward, in which Jumbo sits, added: “I know that every single Colchester Councillor, regardless of political colour, is committed to promoting and enhancing our unique heritage, and Jumbo preserved with a restaurant, bar and hire space in the sky represents a massive opportunity for Colchester.

This also an exciting opportunity to work with the Mercury Theatre, the Church Street Tavern, the Arts Centre and other nearby businesses to deliver a brand new public square at the base of Jumbo – just by the original Roman City entrance to Colchester.”

CNEEBPT/Mike Cameron Photography

If everything goes to plan, it will be at least two years before building work can start to give Jumbo its new lease of life. The present proposals include a split level restaurant. The stunning former water tank, with its unrivalled views, will be used as an intimate hire space for dining and arts, as well as a heritage interpretation area. A new floor will be inserted above the top level of brick arches to house a reception area and small gift shop. Above this, the impressive space of the former engineers’ room will become a bar.

The Trust has pledged to work closely with many community groups, including schools and colleges, to ensure everyone has access to Jumbo and can be inspired by this unique piece of industrial heritage.

So hopefully, within the next few years, the dream for many Colchester residents of at last being able to take in the view from the top of this unique building will become a reality, and Jumbo will live on, restored to its former glory and with a new purpose for the generations of Colcestrians to come.

Simon Crow


Shining a Light on Colchester’s Heritage

If you were in Colchester town centre during the evening a couple of weeks ago it would have been hard not to notice Jumbo, the town’s magnificent Victorian water tower, lit up in purple against the night sky. Sadly the lights have now been switched off, but Darius Laws, the man behind this temporary installation, talks to Colchester 101 about his vision to light Jumbo up permanently, along with the town’s Roman walls and other heritage sites.


If you’ve visited cities like Lincoln, York and Newcastle, you can’t fail to be impressed by the way they light up their iconic heritage at night – whether it’s a cathedral, castle or city walls.

I think it’s a great way to express pride in where we live, highlighting its history and creating a strong sense of ‘place’ for residents and visitors alike. It also brings some welcome magic to a town centre’s nightlife.

I’ve long wanted Colchester to follow in the footsteps of these cities. With our iconic water tower, Jumbo, and our unique Roman walls, we could create an atmosphere of positivity and transform our town into a welcoming beacon that could be seen from afar – and by passing visitors travelling through Colchester station.


That’s why I decided to put the concept to the test by lighting up Jumbo with the help of a professional contractor. It was a temporary installation, and it relied on the goodwill of neighbouring businesses* that allowed us to use their electricity supply – but the results were dramatic. I received so much feedback from residents and visitors who wished we could make the lighting permanent.

Just think what we could do. As well as Jumbo and our Roman walls and gates, we could light our war memorial, our churches, and other landmark buildings. We could project videos that tell the story of our history, from Boudicca to Humpty Dumpty to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.


I can’t think of an easier, more cost-effective way to make a bold statement about the pride we feel in our town, or of a better way to get potential visitors talking about us. It would pay for itself quickly by increasing tourism and bringing more self-confidence to our night-time economy.

By lighting Jumbo for a week, at the cost of only a few hundred pounds, I’ve shown what is possible if we dare to think creatively. If we could even start lighting up our heritage one step at a time, we’ll compete better with other local towns and our future will be a bright one.






*special thanks to the Mercury Theatre & Molloy’s Irish Pub for their support.


Darius Laws

Darius Laws  darius_lighting_up_colchester_walls2