One of the area's most intriguing towers is open next weekend, along with the village gardens around it. Chris Lloyd reports

INGLEBY ARNCLIFFE is a small village that lies in the shadow of the Cleveland Hills. In its midst stands a stone tower, with castellations at the top and gargoyles at the eaves.

At the tower’s base is a large, studded, locked door, but the letters on the lintel explain: “Sir Hugh Bell built this tower as part of a water supply to Arncliffe and Rounton, AD 1915.”

And then, coming from the top of the tower, you hear the gentle sound of trickling water, and it all falls into place.

Next weekend, the water tower celebrates its 100th anniversary. Its door will be unlocked to reveal its treasures, and it will be the centrepiece of the village’s open gardens. There will be classic cars, a scarecrow trail, a first look inside a restored Victorian glasshouse, and a big chance to have a nosey around a fascinating, historic place.

Sir Hugh, the Middlesbrough ironmaster, lived with his second wife, Lady Florence, at the Rounton Grange mansion at East Rounton – a couple of miles west of Ingleby Arncliffe, across the A19. Their initials – “H&FB” – can be seen in the artfully laid cobbles in front of the tower.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The 1915 water tower at Ingleby Arncliffe. Picture: STUART BOULTON. (28192150)
The 1915 water tower at Ingleby Arnclffe. Picture: STUART BOULTON

Sir Hugh was thrice mayor of Middlesbrough, and during his first term of office, he presided over the municipal acquisition of the Stockton and Middlesbrough Water Company. It was renamed the Tees Valley Water Board, and he became its first chairman.

Perhaps this was the inspiration for his water tower.

The story goes that during the First World War, as all of life’s necessities started to run short, Sir Hugh feared that even the water supply might be interrupted.

So he commissioned the renowned Arts and Crafts architect Walter Brierley, known as “the Yorkshire Lutyens” to build the remarkable tower, which would look equally as at home on a Scottish baron’s estate as it does in a Teesside ironmaster’s village.

A natural spring less than a mile away, but about 1,000ft up the Cleveland Hills, is connected by a pipe to the tower. The height of the spring forces the water to the top of the tower, from where it could cascade down to standpipes in the case of an enemy-made emergency.

But it is probably a folly. It seems doubtful that Arncliffe did ever run dry and so the tower was never forced to supply water in anger. Still today, though, it feeds a couple of cattle troughs and is connected to an estate cottage.

And it is an impressive, intriguing adornment of which any village would be proud – especially when the large door swings open to reveal the treasures inside.

The first item to come trundling out, on toe-crushing wheels, is a red, manual fire engine. At the front is a bar, which a couple of burly firemen would have used to pull it through the streets to the scene of a blaze. On the sides are longer bars, which six firemen – three on each side – would then have pumped up and down, sucking up water through a hose from a nearby source and spurting it onto the flames.

Under the engine’s lid are the remains of the instructions, revealing that it was made by Merryweather and Sons of Longacre and Lambeth in London. This gives us as a clue as to the pump’s date: the Merryweathers only had a workshop at Lambeth between 1862 and 1879.

A Paddington Bear-type label hanging from the engine reveals that it once guarded Rounton Grange, the Arts and Crafts mansion built in the 1870s for Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell. On his death, his son, Sir Hugh, inherited the mansion, enlarged it at the start of the 20th Century and then closed it down in the 1920s as an economy measure. During the Second World War, it was used as a Prisoner of War camp and then, when the National Trust couldn’t save it, it was demolished in 1953 – rendering the fire engine homeless.

The second treasure in the tower is older. It, too, is on grinding wheels, but it moves more stiffly, due to its age. It is a bier – a barrow on which a coffin was drawn on its occupant’s final journey. It, too, must have a local connection, although today it bears nothing heavier than old rolls of firemen’s hose.

The tower and its treasures will be on view next Saturday and Sunday (June 27 and 28), along with 15 village gardens, including the newly-restored glasshouses of Arncliffe Hall. The original ironwork in the glasshouses reveals that they were made during the great glasshouse craze of the mid-Victorian period by W Richardson of Darlington. They’ve been derelict for a couple of decades but have been restored by local craftsmen, Les Sutton-Haigh and Glyn Temple, in time to be open, like the rest of the village, between 1pm and 5pm on both days.

There are teas and stalls, cars and scarecrows. Passports to all the attractions – £4 for adults, children free – will be available from the village hall. Ingleby Arncliffe is about five miles south of Yarm on the A19, or five miles west of Stokesley on the A172. All proceeds go to village charities, including the upkeep of the tower.