The water tower at Luffness

Listed at Grade B in 1993 and almost 200 years old, this tall stone tower is missing its original arcaded parapet at the top and the pump that helped it to fulfil its function. But it’s a reminder of a time when the gentry splashed out on luxuries such as running water and gardens growing exotic fruit…

Luffness water tower in September 2020. It can be seen from the minor road between Aberlady and Luffness Mains.

A TALL, NARROW, square stone tower stands in a field near Luffness House. It’s not far from the ruins, tucked away in nearby woods, of a Carmelite friary of about 1300. Could the tower have something to do with the friary?

Well, no. Or at least only to the extent that it may be built on top of the friary’s well and incorporate some of its masonry. It’s actually a water tower, built in the age of indoor flush toilets and bathrooms to supply the house at Luffness – and its gardens – with water at a decent pressure. There is no certainty about its date, but the structure was listed in 1993 and the records accompanying the listing on Historic Environment Scotland’s web portal speculate that it was built about 1825 by an architect named Thomas Brown, who was working at Luffness at the time.

Thomas Brown was from Uphall in West Lothian and had experience on grand houses and estates, having worked extensively for the Hope family at Hopetoun, so he would be an obvious man for the Hopes of Luffness to employ. According to the online Dictionary of Scottish Architects, he also ‘appears to have specialised in farm buildings’, so he would be well qualified to build a practical structure such as this one. In 1825, he is known to have been working on the kitchen at Luffness.

The entrance to the tower; and its interior, looking up to the galleries and ladders.

A water tower is essentially a tall structure supporting an elevated water tank. Water is pumped up from below, from a well or stream, and stored in the tank at height until needed. Gravity provides the necessary water pressure to distribute the water through pipes to where it is needed. Storing water in this way is efficient and convenient, because you don’t have to pump water from the source when you need it: you just turn a tap, and it flows.

While there are no records of the detailed workings of this particular water tower, its age would suggest that it had a manually operated pump. Remains of ladders and landings are evident in the interior of the tower, to enable the maintenance of the tank and its pipes.

At Cammo, to the west of Edinburgh, where Thomas Brown is also known to have worked, there is a round water tower built in 1819 – 1823 that had a 1,500-gallon tank at the top, built of slate and lined with lead. It fed tanks in the loft at Cammo House through an underground pipe some 500 metres long. The tower also had, quite excitingly, a wind pump at the top, driven by wooden sails like those of a windmill.

One of the stone troughs, with spout above; and some of the surviving equipment.

The Luffness tower could not have had a wind pump, since it originally had an elegant Italianate arcade at the top, which is said (in the HES listing) to have remained in place until it was buffeted by gales in 1968. There’s no record of whether it fell down or had to be removed.

There’s a chance, too, that the main reason for building the water tower was not to supply the house, but to water the gardens. According to the section on kitchen gardens in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland: ‘Around 1825, heated double walls were introduced and these can still be seen in many sites in Fife, Tayside and Lothian. A splendid walled garden within a walled garden exists at Luffness and is still used for growing a wide range of fruit outdoors.’

The double-walled garden is said to have been built by Napoleonic prisoners in 1822, shortly before the water tower was put up. It is also said to be where apricots were ripened for the first time in Scotland.

Postcard showing the tower with its original arcaded top, and cows in the park.

Advertisement from ‘The Scotsman’, 1847.

And, naturally, a good, reliable water supply is an advantage agriculturally, too. Until the Second World War, when they were first ploughed for crops, the tree-dotted fields of Luffness Park were ‘grass parks’, leased for grazing, probably mostly by cows. An advertisement from March 31, 1847 in the Scotsman newspaper describes the parks as ‘well watered and enclosed’. There are stone troughs at the foot of the tower on three sides, for watering animals.

Oddly, the tower has never been marked as such on Ordnance Survey maps. It’s shown as a ‘fountain’ on the detailed maps of the 1850s and 1890s, and as a ‘well’ on current maps.

In the south-west corner of the field in which the tower stands, near the road from Aberlady to Luffness Mains, there’s a brick-built tank that seems to be the remains of a twentieth-century water distribution system. Beside it are the pipes used these days, with a diesel-powered pump, to irrigate the crops.

September 8, 2020 • by Dora Roden

View of Luffness water tower from a drone, September 2020.

Drone video footage of Luffness water tower, September 2020.


Luffness Water Tower, listing on HES portal
portal. historicenvironment. scot/ designation/ LB6562

Thomas Brown of Uphall, Dictionary of Scottish Architects architect_full.php?id=200150

Luffness House, Canmore

Luffness, Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes designation/ GDL00270

Luffness, Parks and Gardens places/ luffness

Water tower at Cammo, Midlothian

Water Towers in Norfolk