Elsewhere within the Virtual Museum – http://virtualmuseumofbath.com/2015/10/09/wake-up-to-water/ – is an interview with a local architect called Robert Delius who – earlier this year – won the Royal Institute of British Architect’s ‘Imagine Bath’ competition.
Robert – who is Head of Sustainable Design at Stride Treglown – looked at the visual ways in which the city could make more of its prize assets. It’s hot and cold supply of natural water. He – like me – wants to see water playing a bigger role in the city’s urban landscape.
While this is an exciting look at what could be part of Bath’s future – l am grateful to Bath historian and writer Mike Chapman for letting me reproduce an article he wrote called ‘Bath and the Ornamental Public Fountain’ which showed that back in the mid-19th century the city was poised to start putting fountains everywhere! Why, where and what went wrong l can show you now. Here’s is Mike’s article. He credits Bath Central Library and Bath in Time – http://www.bathintime.co.uk – for his illustrations.
“Though the present-day observer might gain the impression that the city has no interest in public fountains, this was not always the case, and indeed, in the mid-19th century it seems to have even suffered from a ‘fountain mania’.
By that time it was realized that the ‘great days’ of the spa were over, and that it had become necessary actively to promote the city, perhaps through the use of the newly developing technology.
New amenities, including a swimming bath, were now available following the acquisition of a 3hp steam engine in 1831 which could pump the hot mineral water into a cooling reservoir, and publicity for the spa was now being advertised in railway stations throughout the country thanks to the rapid development of the railway system.
It was also thought that the general attractiveness of the city itself could be enhanced by hydraulic engineering in the form of ornamental public fountains, a few having already been introduced into Bath by various private institutions such as the Sydney Gardens (in 1840) and Lyncombe ‘Spa’ (by 1845).
As early as 1837, even the Victoria Park obelisk, designed by the architect George Manners, was to have included a fountain consisting of dolphins at each corner throwing jets of water into a surrounding basin, although these were eventually omitted.
The Public Fountains Committee
When a proposal was made in May 1850 for a planned scheme of public fountains in Bath, a sixty-member ‘General Committee for Promoting the Erection of Public Fountains in this City’ was quickly formed representing ‘the gentry, clergy, professions and trades of the city’, presided over by the Mayor and supported by Mr.Mitchell the City Engineer.
This scheme, which attracted great interest from the local press, was to consist of a series of fountains, each feeding the next below it in succession, including (from the top) one in St.James’s Square, a pair in front of the Royal Crescent, one in the Circus, two in Queen Square, and one in Laura Place. It was also thought possible to complete Manners’ original design for the Victoria Park obelisk, together with a similar arrangement around the obelisk in Orange Grove.
Public health could also benefit if some of the water could be used for a fountain in Kingsmead Square ‘for supplying the poor with an abundance of that useful element … the surplus flowing into and purifying the drains of that thickly populated locality’.
It transpired that this scheme, proposed by James Maggs (member of a prominent local family of artists and craftsmen), had already been put forward in 1843 by another member of the Committee, the architect Henry.E.Goodridge, who displayed the original drawings he had then made for the Crescent.
The supply of water was not thought to be a problem, owing to the many springs in the surrounding hills, but it was soon found that most of these sources had already been acquired for the city’s water supply and that the value of spring-water was at a high premium.
Several landowners outside the city were approached, such as Major Blathwayt who offered his spring behind the Hare & Hounds on Lansdown, but these all had to be abandoned on account of the expense in collecting and conducting the water from so great a distance.
A reduced scheme was therefore put forward by the City Engineer which involved pumping and purifying water from the river by means of a steam engine to a reservoir on the High Common or Beacon Hill. As a trial, it was decided to erect an ‘exemplar’ in Laura Place – perhaps with others in the Grove or the Institution Gardens – which could be supplied temporarily with river water provided by Mr Saunders of the Town Mills who agreed to lend one of his 4hp water wheels for the pumping.
A competition was then announced for a design for the Laura Place fountain to be submitted by local artists, and a subscription was set up to cover the cost with a further promise of financial assistance from the City Improvement Society.
In December, a design was chosen out of ten entries, the winning competitor being Mr Frederick English Jnr. of Eaton Villa, Camden Place, who belonged to a family of cabinet-makers in Milsom Street. The runner-up was the later City Architect, Charles E.Davis.
The design was described as having an octagonal basin with a pedestal of rushes surrounded by heroic-sized figures of river gods. Above them was another basin in the form of a clam-shell containing a group of three allegorical figures of mermaids, with a cluster of reeds and water lilies rising above them.
The water would be emitted from their blossoms and flowers, and after falling into the shell, would then overflow into the lower basin.
The stone would come from the same quarry in Box as was used some fifteen years earlier for the fountains erected by the Marquis of Lansdown at Bowood, the Marquis of Bath at Longleat, and the Hon.Mr.Henry Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey, all of which had stood the test of time.
The Great Exhibition
Unfortunately, this all came at a moment when public attention was increasingly directed towards the forthcoming Great Exhibition in London. Bath was well-known for its artists and craftsmen, and local interest was focussed on those who were busy preparing masterpieces to be entered for the opening of the Exhibition in March 1851.
The organization for this event in Bath was run by a 48-strong committee with two secretaries, including Dr.Tunstall, resident MO at the General Hospital, and the Secretary of the Fountains Committee, Mr.W.Akerman. On this occasion, however, the promotional work, including the negotiations with the GWR for the excursion trains, was carried out by Mr.James Williams, an engineer with premises at 18 Westgate Buildings.
Williams himself had his own exhibits, including a portable steam engine, a lathe, drilling machine, &c., and provided much technical assistance to the quarry firms in Box who were also exhibiting new machinery.
Naturally the cabinet makers were well represented among the contributors, including the above mentioned Messrs English of Milsom Street. Anticipating an influx of foreign visitors to Bath as a result of the Exhibition, it was hoped that the new fountain would be ready by May, but by April public interest in the project had fallen to such a degree, together with a ‘lukewarmness of the majority of the committee’, that it was completely abandoned.
The First Mineral Water Fountain
The next proposal did not come until September 1855 when the inhabitants of the Abbey Church Yard approached the City Council for their consent to the erection of a fountain in the Church Yard.
On the advice of Mr.Boshier, superintendent of the Baths, and James Williams, the engineer mentioned above, consent was given subject to approval of the plans by the City Act Committee.
The reason for the involvement of these two gentlemen was that it was intended to use surplus hot mineral water for the purpose, pumped up by the steam engine in the baths which Williams, then employed on the machinery there, estimated would have sufficient power.
A Fountain Committee was therefore set up, with Williams as hon.sec., and assurance being given by Mr.R.Stothert, solicitor for the Abbey rector, that the claim of the Abbey Authorities of a right of way between the church and the White Hart would not be an obstruction to the scheme. A subscription was raised, and Williams was authorized to write to local architects soliciting for designs for the fountain.
As might be expected the scheme attracted much controversy. Many thought the site unsuitable or, like the poet Walter Savage Landor, then living in Bath, that fountains were unsuitable for this city in any case. It was apparently he who published a private pamphlet containing a mock design, together with the following dedication:
A Rejected design for a Fountain
“Yes! Rejected by a Committee of Taste (query Muffs).
This design has been published at the request of a numerous and admiring circle of friends, who are of opinion that an enlightened public cannot fail to appreciate its beauty and fitness as an embellishment to the western front of our time honoured and venerable Abbey.
What though the dream of Bishop King be lost in spray.
Is it not right that the barbarous attempts of our ancestors should be swamped on the triumphant tide of modern improvement, even as the Roman temple gave way to the Gothic pile.
As the public are so enlightened, it can hardly be necessary to explain our design.
Bladud prince of Chairmen is represented risen from his bath with health renewed. And tears of gratitude dropping from his patent German Umbrella, while his happy aerated pigs frolic around him and participate in his joy.
Dedicating our design without permission to the enlightened Public, we sign ourselves.”
A Bath Brick
Among the supporters for the scheme was the City Surveyor, who saw that it could provide a useful facility for watering the streets (increasingly troubled by dust from the introduction of Macadamised surfacing), which he estimated would make a saving of £55 per annum.
In October, two designs were chosen, both by Mr.Henry Palmer of James Street, ‘an eminent upholsterer’ and gutta-percha dealer, whose speciality loo-tables for cards were accorded particular praise when they were entered for the Great Exhibition.
However, before proceeding further it was decided that ‘the names of the Battles in the Crimea’ should be left out, and that wooden models should be made to find the best location. The expense of the models was born by the eminent and wealthy architect William (later Sir William) Tite, one of Bath’s M.Ps. and an interested advisor to the scheme.
The models were finished in April, but not found to be ‘in keeping with the colossal proportions of the Abbey’, and the open space nearby at the entrance to Bath Street, then used as a cab-stand, was tried instead. One of the models was thought to be most satisfactory in these surroundings, and the Town Council gave the go-ahead for its erection which was hoped to be completed in time for the peace celebrations on 29 May 1856 for the end of the Crimean War.
No sooner was the work begun, than an enterprising tradesman nearby in No.15 Bath Street seized the opportunity to distinguish his premises by the title “Fountain House”. Although on the day of the Peace Festival much of the ornamentation remained to be added, and the pipes for the hot water were yet to be finished, the fountain was brought into action by connecting it to the cold water supply from the street main. The effect was declared most satisfactory by the Mayor and Corporation who walked in procession from the Abbey to witness its inauguration.
By the end of June, the fountain was complete, and a pipe was connected to the bottom of Swallow Street where the water carts could be filled with a hose. There was a delay in the subscriptions being paid, but the deficiency appears to have been made up by a series of six fund-raising concerts in the Guildhall by the city’s Hanoverian Band.
Built of Bath stone, the fountain consisted of a circular basement reservoir about 22 feet in diameter and about 4 feet in depth, with a buttressed square central column about 16 feet high. Above this, there was an enormous flat vase or dish (or ‘tasso’) surmounted by a smaller vase from which a pipe jetted the steaming water about a foot into the air. Falling back into the large dish, the water then spilled over into the reservoir. Water also poured out of the mouths of four lions in the middle of the column on each side.
The mason who carried out the work is not mentioned, but the most likely candidate would have been John Vaughan of Raby Place and Sydney Wharf, Bathwick, sculptor and builder. Vaughan, who owned a Bath Stone quarry at Lodge Style, Combe Down, was possibly the leading mason in Bath at that time, whose work not only included Beckford’s Tower on Lansdown and the Abbey restoration, but who also specialized in ornamental vases, one of which, exhibited at the Great Exhibition, received much acclaim.
By the end of August, however, everything seemed to be going wrong. It had been forgotten that the mineral water contains iron oxide, so that the fountain soon became stained red and, sited in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, it tended to splash the surrounding area with water. The basin quickly filled with rubbish or was used as a play area for street urchins, and the water often returned to the Reservoir or to Swallow Street in a polluted condition. To make matters worse, the supply was often erratic or reduced, so that the fountain usually played for only three or four hours a day. Instead of publicizing the health benefits of the mineral water, as intended, the fountain was rapidly becoming an embarrassing eye-sore nick-named ‘The Bath Folly’.
There were some however who argued that it served its purpose well. In its defence, a pamphlet was published entitled New Physiological Views; with an Appendix on the Bath Thermal Waters, by W.Parker, M.R.C.S., L.A.C., which gives much useful information about the fountain, including a lithograph (shown here) taken from a photograph.
Plans for Victoria Park
In the meantime, fountains were also being planned elsewhere. On 20 November, a proposal was advertised in The Bath Herald for a Winter Garden on the Middle Common near the Marlborough buildings entrance to Victoria Park (now part of the allotments). This would not only include a large concert hall – as in Manchester, Liverpool, or Birmingham – but also a Pump Room, to be supplied with Bath Water from the Hot Springs in pipes. The surplus water would then be used for ornamental fountains in the grounds, which were to be laid out in the style of the Tuilleries in Paris.
The design of the new building (constructed of cast-iron and glass – evidently inspired by the Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition) was prepared and promoted by local architect James Wilson, esq., F.S.A., of 1, Belmont. Over the next few decades, various other similar schemes were put forward, but eventually in 1876 the Victoria Park Committee decided to reject the whole idea in order to protect the rural character of the Park, ‘which has hitherto been considered one of its greatest charms’.
The Second Mineral Water Fountain
By October 1858, the state of the fountain in Bath Street had become so bad that James Williams, representing the Fountain Committee, was requested to report to the Baths and Pump Rooms Committee. In response, he offered to make various alterations at his own expense which would answer all their objections and, in collaboration with Signor Stephano Pieroni, presented several designs for their approval.
After many months of deliberation, a suitable design was eventually chosen on condition that the new fountain was presented to the city on completion. Erected in June 1859, the new design consisted of a statue of Bladud as a swineherd (replacing the large tasso) situated on the top of an open arched ‘pavilion’ (replacing the column) with the water jet safely contained within its centre. On each corner of the plinth were further statues of the four seasons, the plinth itself inscribed STEFANO VALLERIO PIERONI ERECT 1859. The rim of the lower basin was then cut down to its base and replaced with iron railings.
The question of the quality of statuary in the city was much debated at the time, particularly in the case of the proposed Rebecca drinking fountain by the Abbey, and it is possibly for this reason that original suggestions for Mermaids (or Minerva, Aesculapius or Venus Rising from the Bath) around the fountain were rejected. An offer was also made by the Licensed Victuallers Association to add a cold water fountain to the structure (presumably for drinking), but this does not appear to have been taken up.
More Plans for Victoria Park
The designer of the new fountain, Stephano Valeriano Pieroni, was a naturalized British subject from Tuscany who lived at No.4 Bath Street which he later ran as a beer house called The Eagle Hotel. By occupation, he was advertised as a ‘figure modeller in plaster and artificial stone’ working from a studio in Parsonage Lane. Whether he carved the statuary himself is not clear, but his work with the fountain led to his involvement in improvements to Victoria Park the following year.
Two plans for the Park were proposed in 1860; the first, announced in May, was not carried out, but included the installation of cascades and a fountain. Filtered river water was to be pumped by steam power (by “Fryer’s Water-Raising Apparatus”) to a pond at the upper corner of Park Lane, where it would flow back down through cascades in the upper and lower dells before passing under an ornamental bridge to a fountain by the Pond.
Another cascade could be formed below the pond before returning the water to the river through the drains, ‘unless the inhabitants of Norfolk Crescent desired to make use of it first to adorn the centre of their lawn’.
The second plan, proposed in July, involved Pieroni and a colleague, Mr.Corbould of the Lamb Inn in Stall Street, who had been notified by Mr.Brewer, a mason, that there was an eight feet high statue lying in his yard in Box which they learned was of the ‘Goddess of Sculpture’, the work of John Osborne, the self-taught artist of Bath who carved the fine head of Jupiter in the upper dell in the Park. Carved some 25 years earlier out of a single block of Bath stone, the statue was originally intended to occupy a niche in some building but never reached its destination.
Surprisingly, this highly-finished piece of work remained in excellent condition. As the owner was disposing of his stock-in-trade, Messrs.Corbould and Pieroni purchased the figure, together with several elegant vases, all of which they offered for erection in the Park. At the same time, Pieroni proposed himself to present a stone carved vase, described as ‘a beautiful specimen of artistic skill … seven feet in diameter, and, therefore, one of the largest vases in the kingdom’, and which, ‘if filled with earth and planted with flowers would have a grand appearance’.
This vase, inscribed with Pieroni’s name on the plinth, is now a familiar landmark in the flower garden by the Brock Street entrance. By comparison with the lithograph of the first mineral water fountain, it is evident that this vase was actually the tasso taken by down by Pieroni (refurbished for some other public use) in exchange for his statue of Bladud.
By the end of April 1861, the necessary funds for the installation of these pieces had been raised by private contributions, and Pieroni’s ‘large vase’ was already in course of erection, ‘near the Brock-street gate’. The remaining items were also in place in July, including the Goddess of Sculpture, placed upon a pedestal designed by the architect James Wilson (mentioned above) ‘at the left-hand side of the path leading round the lawn on which the Hanoverian Band plays, entering by Brock street gate’. Unfortunately, this statue seems to have disappeared long ago, and nothing further is heard of it.
The Third Mineral Water Fountain
Perhaps Pieroni had been inspired by his associate James Williams, who had also made a contribution to public works in the Park a few years earlier. When a pair of Russian guns from the Crimean War was presented to the city as a trophy in 1857, Williams presented the ornamental gun-carriages, cast at Woolwich arsenal, on which they were mounted on each side of the Victoria Obelisk.
Some two years before this he had expanded his engineering business into premises on the Town Quay which he named the ‘Pickwick Iron Works’ – presumably after the famous family associated the White Hart Inn. By the 1870s, however, he had been given a municipal post as Inspector of Gas Meters & consulting engineer and eventually gave up the business on the Quay.
It was also about this time that the mineral water fountain had not only become, like its predecessor, dilapidated and an eyesore, but was no longer in use because the large amount of water required for it was no longer available.
In May 1873, when the Council finally recommended its removal, Williams requested that, because he had been involved in its erection ‘he would be glad, having a lingering affection for such antique relics, if the Council would allow him to transport it [the statue of Bladud] to his residence at Entry Hill’. This was agreed, and the figures were removed on 15 May.
Williams had only recently moved to a house in Entry Hill, previously called ‘Vale View’, but henceforth renamed ‘Bladud Villa’, as it remains to this day.
Although the Council was glad to be rid of Bladud (and the Four Seasons), it was reluctant to abandon the structure altogether. Various suggestions were made that it would be a good site for an ornamental tree, a cold-water drinking fountain, or even for the old Bath Pillory which at that time stood in the Wells Road ‘and could be purchased for £10’!
Its eventual use, however, seems to have developed accidentally over the next few months, when the Council Surveyor was requested to make the site as sightly as possible without alteration to the structure. The railings were retained, and the enclosure decorated with plants and shrubs supplied by members of the Park Committee. Some stone vases were loaned by Messrs.
Nurse and Bladwell, one of which was purchased and placed on the top where Bladud stood. In the following March, there had been some discussion whether the site might be used for a central ticket office for the baths, but this was rejected in favour of the Attendants Room adjoining the newly-built Grand Pump Room Hotel which replaced the old White Hart Inn.
It was finally decided that the structure should be provided with a free hot mineral water drinking fountain or conduit – probably in June 1874 when its tap is mentioned in a report by the Surveying Committee – with appropriate ornamentation by Major Charles Davis in 1881 (see below).
The hot water could be drunk from a heavy metal cup attached to the basin by a chain. For their health, some local people drank this water on a regular basis or took it home in a bottle.
This new amenity was possibly connected with the removal of the free ‘Paupers’ Pump’, a hand-operated lift pump, with cup, which had been installed in the early 19th century under the portico of John Wood the Younger’s Hot Bath building. In the 1860s, it was remarked that people other than the poor were using this amenity instead of the Hetling Pump Room opposite, but it had disappeared by 1875 when the Pump Room was closed and removed to the Hot Bath.
The Laura Place Fountain
The end of the ‘Fountain Era’ in Bath occurred a few years later in 1877, when a cold water fountain was again proposed, by the ‘general Committee for Promoting the Erection of Public Fountains in the City’, in the centre of Laura Place to mark the centenary of the founding of the Bath & West Society.
Architects were invited to submit designs, ‘..simple, but bold and handsome … the size and height in accordance with the surroundings’, to be constructed of Bath stone, Ham Hill stone or Pennant. Interestingly, the winning design on this occasion was by Alfred S.Goodridge, son of Henry.E.Goodridge (mentioned above) who was involved with the first scheme in 1850. However, the subscriptions fell short of the cost of £595, and application was made to the Town Council for a grant of £100.
The Council had no legal powers to do this, but the day was saved by voluntary contributions made by individual Council members. Unlike the Bath Street fountain, it was built in Gothic style to a great height on three tiers of columns, with two upper dishes overflowing into a lower basin surrounded with chain railings.
When the fountain was finally inaugurated on 14 July 1880, it was attended by a crowd of 6,000 spectators, 4,000 of whom were Sunday School children. Earlier problems over the water supply were evidently overcome, to the benefit of the Town Council who were able to use the fountain for street watering. In this case, water carts filled up directly from the basin by means of a siphon.
The Results of Earlier Efforts
Despite all the plans for fountains made during the latter part of the 19th century, only two fountains were actually built. The mineral water fountain has since been maintained and, on two occasions, restored, first by the Council Pleasure Grounds Committee in 1902 when the whole structure had become hidden under the growth of ivy from the shrubbery at its base. The railings were removed for the war effort during WWII but replaced when the fountain was again restored in 1977 by Wessex Newspapers.
Unfortunately in the following year the supply of mineral water had to be cut off owing to the Amoeba scare. Unable to fulfil its prime function, the whole structure was finally removed to its present position on Terrace Walk in 1989, the former site now marked by the brass World Heritage Site plaque set in the road surface. The original central jet under the pavilion has been brought back into occasional use, but now supplied with cold water.
There is a further post-script to this fountain, or rather, it second incarnation. When James Williams left Bladud Villa in about 1900, only a few years before his death, it would appear that the statue of Bladud was acquired by his neighbour Mr.George E.Spear, member of the well-known local family of pork butchers in Southgate Street, who erected it in his garden next door at ‘Springfield’.
Subsequently this house became a B&NES nursing home, where the statue (carved out of two blocks of bath stone) has remained in good condition in the garden. Recently it was removed to safe storage, perhaps for re-erection in a suitable public place.
As for the fountain in Laura Place, this too has been maintained, but now bears little resemblance to its original design. In the late 1940s it had become unsafe and was dismantled, the basin being used as a flower-bed to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951. Although re-installed in reduced form in 1960, it was eventually replaced by the present simple design in 1977 to mark the second centenary of the founding of the Bath and West Society.
However, the idea of fountains has never been completely given up. In 1957, for example, the area on the south side of the Abbey, formerly the site of the Kingston Baths, merely contained a glass dome surrounded by an 8ft high balustrade which served to illuminate the eastern Roman Baths below. Since this structure had become unsafe and leaked rainwater which damaged the remains, a plan was drawn up by Bath architects Gerrard, Taylor and Partners for an open paved piazza.
The baths underneath the paving would be illuminated with new display methods, and in the centre of the piazza there was to be a bronze replica of the Gorgon’s head ‘from which would flow the natural mineral water’. Unfortunately, the scheme proved too costly, and only the open piazza (the present Kingston Parade) was completed in 1959 – without the fountain.
Most of the information contained here was obtained from contemporary newspaper reports, or from Bath Council Minutes, with thanks to Colin Johnston of the Guildhall Archives and the staff of Bath Central Library. Other useful sources include:
Mary Ede, ‘Bath and the Great Exhibition of 1851’, Bath History III, 1990
Neil Jackson, Nineteenth Century Bath Architects and Architecture, 1991
James Lees-Milne & David Ford, Images of Bath, 1982
Robin Whalley, ‘The Royal Victoria Park’, Bath History V, 1994
MINUTES OF THE BATHS AND PUMP ROOM COMMITTEE – 1 Apr.1881
‘The Surveyor of Works [Maj.Charles Davis] produced designs and tenders for the hot water drinking fountain to be erected at the end of Bath Street opposite the entrance to the Queen’s Baths and the Committee selected a design and accepted the tender for the same in dark Shap Granite @ £16.10.’
[nb. Railings were also ordered in September for £20, and on 31 Dec.86 a proposal was made (evidently not accepted) for a urinal behind the fountain instead of at the Cross Bath.]
REPORT OF THE PLEASURE GROUNDS COMMITTEE – Bath Chronicle 10 Apr.1902
‘Col.Arnoll Davis … said that the Baths Committee asked them to keep the fountain in Stall-street in repair. They had cut down the ivy and found that the fountain needed repairs to the masonry or in a little while it would have tumbled down. These repairs had been done and the enclosure would be brightened with bedding plants in the summer (hear, hear). The fountain was given to the city in 1859 and was very handsome.
Ald.Moore explained that the fountain, though mineral water flowed from it, was never the property of the Baths Committee, though they had taken compassion on it once or twice. He thought the Pleasure Grounds Committee had done the work very satisfactorily.’
My thanks to Mike Chapman for a fascinating look back at Bath’s 19th century ‘Fountain Mania!’