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Carnforth: the water tower

A Grade II Listed Building in Carnforth, Lancashire

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Latitude: 54.1297 / 54°7'46"N

Longitude: -2.7734 / 2°46'24"W

OS Eastings: 349555

OS Northings: 470699

OS Grid: SD495706

Mapcode National: GBR 9N2P.CD

Mapcode Global: WH83V.CGKH

Entry Name: Carnforth: the water tower

Listing Date: 15 February 1989

Last Amended: 18 August 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1342135

English Heritage Legacy ID: 355234

Location: Carnforth, Lancaster, Lancashire, LA5

County: Lancashire

District: Lancaster

Civil Parish: Carnforth

Built-Up Area: Carnforth

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Lancashire

Church of England Parish: Carnforth Christ Church

Church of England Diocese: Blackburn

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Water tower. Part of the modernised Motive Power Depot built for the London Midland Scottish Railway in 1938-44, being the last British Rail depot closed to steam locomotives in 1968.


Water tower, operational by April 1940 for the London Midland Scottish Railway.

MATERIALS: welded sheet steel panels supported by a steel girder framework.

DESIGN: the water tank is constructed from steel panels, which are unusually small, welded together to form a shallow, rectangular tank approximately 8m by 16m. This is supported by horizontal steel girders raised up on tall steel posts which are cross braced together. The steel framework for the curved tank roof survives, although the covering is missing. The water tower retains it access ladder and walkways used for maintenance.


In 1846 the first railway station was opened at Carnforth as a simple wayside halt. By 1880 it had become an important junction between the London and North Western Railway's (LNWR) London to Glasgow main line, the Furness Railway to Furness and the joint Furness Midland Railway to Leeds, with all three railway companies having servicing facilities for their locomotives at the junction. With the formation of the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923, Carnforth passed into single ownership, remaining an important junction and centre for the servicing and stabling of locomotives. In 1938-44 the LMS, which led the way nationally with improving operational efficiency, modernised the depot to conform to their standard depot layout developed in 1933, designed to efficiently service and stable large numbers of steam locomotives.

Commissioned in 1938, built in 1939 and operational by April 1940, the 175,000 gallon (795,000 litre) water tower stored water drawn from the Lancaster Canal and the local water main. It in turn supplied water to smaller tanks and water columns at the station as well as to a water column sited at the engine running shed to the north.

Carnforth was the last Motive Power Depot in the country to close to British Rail steam locomotives in August 1968, finally closing to all British Rail traffic in March 1969. However from December 1968, Carnforth became a base for steam locomotive preservation, developing into Steamtown (a museum and steam locomotive restoration facility) and from the late 1990s as the base of West Coast Railways which operates private charter trains hauled by both steam and diesel traction. It is not known when the water tank was last operational.

Reasons for Listing

The water tower at Carnforth is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Efficiency: the London Midland Scottish Railway led the way nationally in improving operating efficiency and developed an ultra-efficient design for their Motive Power Depots, these representing the peak of development for steam traction, the water tower being an important component of the depot;
* Rarity: water towers were once very common features of the railway network, but with the ending of steam traction, most have since been removed;
* Group value: part of a remarkably complete survival of a steam-age Motive Power Depot.

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