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Burlington bell cistern

The Burlington, or bell, style WC cistern is an old fashion, or period, feature found in old houses or houses which have been refurbished to a true Victorian style with high level WC cisterns.

Burlington bellWC cistern
Burington bell style, cast iron, WC cistern

Burlington cisterns were usually made entirely from cast iron (the body, bell, lever etc) and are easy to recognise by the 'well' in the bottom of the cistern in which the 'bell' sits. The down pipe from the cistern to the lavatory pan extends vertically up within the bell - the ball valve in the cistern is set so that the water level is just below the open top of the pipe.

When the cistern chain is pulled, the bell is lifted by the lever at the top of the cistern which draws the water under the bell upwards and into the open top of the down pipe, once the water has started to flow down the pipe, a syphon effect draws the remainder of the water into the down pipe until air is drawn under the bottom edge of the bell.

Apart from the ball valve, the Burlington style cistern does not have any parts to wear and can be is very reliable.

However, they do have their weaknesses, (if they didn't, they would not have been largely replaced by other types of cistern). The main weaknesses are:

  • They tend to be mechanically noisy as the top lever pivots and lifts the cast iron bell.
  • They tend to suffer from condensation on the outside - this is due to the use of cast iron for the main cistern rather than the actual design.
  • They can be temperamental to operate If the water level is not set high enough, as if not enough water is drawn up and into the down pipe when the bell is lifted, the syphon effect will not start. However, this can be corrected by adjusting the ball valve to raise the water level in the cistern as described in our article 'Common problems with lavatory cisterns'.

Although the Burlington cistern does suffer from these drawbacks, a well preserved, and correctly set-up, Burlington bell style cistern installed in a period property does add the appropriate style without having to compromise for modern living.