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Discuss Historical Question: very large loft storage tanks (old houses) in the Plumbing Forum area at

  1. Svenedin

    Svenedin Member

    My house was built in 1902 and still has a gravity fed system with a cold storage tank in the loft. Nowadays we have quite a small plastic storage tank (50 Imperial gallons) but the old tank was much, much bigger than this. The original tank started to leak when I was a child about 40 years ago. It was galvanised steel and so big that it could not be taken out of the loft through the hatch. It was put in place before the roof was built and lasted over 70 years. It could probably have been patched actually and still be in use. I could calculate the capacity by measuring it but a guess it is 150 gallons at least.

    Does anyone know why such big tanks were used? I am totally guessing but was it because the mains supply was unreliable or very poor in pressure? Might it also have been to try to get a better head on the gravity fed system (the old tank is very deep)? Originally my house had a back boiler which was gravity fed. It used 1.5 inch galvanised pipe for that. Although over the years we have replaced some of the pipe, a lot of my plumbing is lead. The main supply pipe is only 1/2 inch lead.

    Pic of some ancient pipe iron pipe under the airing cupboard floor (no longer in use). For scale all of those copper pipes are 28mm except the one in the corner with compression fittings which is Imperial (1 inch cold to bathroom reduced to 22mm at elbow). The cold feed from tank to cylinder (not in picture) is still 1 inch iron, good flow through that. In case anyone wants to know the 2 pipes on the left are feed and return to cylinder and the one in the middle is hot water from cylinder.

    Last edited: May 25, 2019
  2. Craig Watson

    Craig Watson Plumber GSR Top Contributor!!

    I am just guessing on the size of the tank but from that era, wouldnt the water originally have to be manually pumped into the tank in the loft, this would then feed the whole house so having a small tank wouldnt be practical as youd be filling it more than once a day.
  3. Svenedin

    Svenedin Member

    We have a big water tower nearby built by the Victorians to look like a castle. Originally the water was pumped out of chalk aquifers by huge beam engines. I went to see those with my dad when I was small but even the engine shed is now gone. Where I live had one of the last outbreaks of typhoid in the U.K. allegedly by an engineer relieving himself down a well. Maybe the mains supply could be a bit intermittent and it was sensible to store a lot of water.
  4. Rob Foster

    Rob Foster Top Contributor!!

    It was quite common in Edwardian times for the water supply to be from a well or borehole either private or shared. It would be then a servants job to manually pump water up to a high level intermediate tank to be used during the next 24 hours. Railway locomotives in rural areas were equiped with a steam pump to replenish the water tanks at stations and engine depots. With development of the mains water supply network this method became redundant. Find an old map of your location and see if a well or borehole is marked nearby
    • Useful Useful x 1
  5. Svenedin

    Svenedin Member

    I'll do that. What you suggest seems quite likely. I live on a hill but there is a river at the bottom of the hill (now in an underground culvert) or there were many boreholes into the chalk and many natural springs (which still appear after prolonged rain).
  6. Rob Foster

    Rob Foster Top Contributor!!

    let us know what you find out
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