Through the keyhole of a converted water tower in Moorhaven
- Credit: Archant
As quirky homes go, a water tower on the site of a former asylum is certainly up there – quite literally. Chrissy Harris climbs to the top of a very impressive restoration project
The golden rule of tower living is to make sure one never goes upstairs empty-handed, otherwise it’s a long way down to get that pen/cup of tea/spare toilet roll/magazine you’ve left eight floors below.
It’s something Pete Craske learned the hard way after moving into his iconic, 60-ft high home in Moorhaven, near Ivybridge.
The Water Tower is at the heart of this unique village, made up of a series of Victorian buildings that once formed the Plymouth Borough Asylum.
The institution, later called Moorhaven Hospital, closed in the early 1990s and by 1998 the site had been transformed into a settlement of some 120 homes.
Today, Moorhaven is a thriving community and Pete is up there, overlooking it all from his square column of Gothic stonework.
“I just fell in love with it right away,” he says. “Just the thought of owning a tower, well, it was just amazing. Once in a lifetime, something pops up that is just perfect. It’s not often you get the chance to buy a tower.”
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Sheer enthusiasm was enough to help Pete, 50, see beyond the state of the building when he first looked around in 2016.
The fact that you had to have torches at the ready had been enough to put most potential buyers off.
Then there was the water pouring down the walls and the foliage growing inside.
But surf coach Pete, who runs a surf school in Polzeath, Cornwall, was instantly smitten. “I thought to myself, I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it, or how I’m going to do this, but I am,” he says. “The place had been for sale for about a year and had just been shut up. I bought it, went inside and just opened all the windows for a week and the whole feel just changed. It came to life so quickly.”
With eight rooms on eight floors, the Water Tower, built in 1885, had already been partly renovated but Pete certainly had his work cut out.
The priority was the roof, which had blown off in a storm. Up went the scaffolding and then it was all systems go to make this historic building watertight.
“I basically cleaned every single stone by hand and gave the whole building a coating of face cream!” says Pete, explaining how the property was scrubbed, re-pointed and then sealed with a silicone-based gel.
“You only get one chance at something like this, so you’ve got to get the groundwork right,” he adds.
Pete then helped to reorganise the layout, adding bathrooms, changing the location of the kitchen and even creating a state-of-the art cinema room.
Each floor has been given a different feel and you’re not quite sure what to expect as you round the stone stairs, up, up and up, until you reach the “library” at the very top – a fantastic room with panoramic views of Dartmoor and the South Hams.
The outlook really is something else and even though you expect to see for miles from the top of a tower, the sight of fields, moorland and a glimpse of the sea at Mothecombe Beach in the distance is a real breath-taker.
“It’s so special,” says Pete. “And of course at night, you get to see all the stars. It changes all the time.”
Pete says he tends to start off downstairs in the kitchen area and heads up top as the day progresses, particularly in the summer months, where the bedroom and living room balconies let you drink in that view.
“Every room you walk into, when you get round a corner the surprise just makes you smile,” says Pete, adding that he can’t ever see a time when he’d want to sell this place.
“It just feels really homely.”
Does the whole asylum thing bother him?
“Not at all,” he says. “I love the fact that it’s on a site like this. If it was on its own, it would be a very different property. I quickly warmed to the fact that this building is part of something.
“People here tell me they love the fact that the tower is living and breathing again and I’m pleased to have been a part of that. I just love living here.”
Plus, it’s better than going to the gym.
“I’m getting used to all the stairs,” says Pete. “It takes a long time to get to know your way around and I still end up forgetting things I’ve left downstairs.
“But I’ve learned it’s probably best to keep a pen in every room.”
You can enjoy a romantic getaway at the Water Tower. See my-watertower.com
The history of a unique village
Moorhaven was originally the Plymouth Asylum and opened in 1892.
The site included the main central buildings with the superintendent‘s house, lodges, mortuary, gasworks and various farm and maintenance buildings. It was constructed of brown, locally quarried stone with limestone quoins and brick window surrounds.
The NHS took over the hospital in 1949. During the 1980s, a decision was taken on a national basis to dispose of most asylums. The hospital closed in 1992 and was put out to tender in December 1993. The successful bidders, Jonathan Mathys and Andrea Peacock, were responsible for developing the village that stands on the site today.
About 400 people live here in the former hospital’s Victorian buildings and there are 65 acres of landscaped grounds. The hospital’s central block – now a line of terraced houses – is roughly a quarter of a mile long.
Soon after its completion in 1998, Moorhaven was praised by SAVE Britain’s Heritage as a model example of property enterprise and preservation.