Once every week l join other volunteers who gather to show our visitors – and some locals – around this great city of Bath.
We’re officially members of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides – about 85 people who turn out in all weathers, throughout the year and accept no fee or tip.
Our Tueasday morning group of five – in high season – can divide up to one hundred people between us for a two-hour tour – on foot – of this World Heritage status city.
It follows that many have a keen interest in local history and some have developed that in print. Fellow guide and local historian Colin Fisher is one of them.
Back in 2014, he published a book about an Italian immigrant to Bath called Signor Stefano Vallerio Pieroni who lived here from 1848 until his death in 1900.
Never heard of him? That must be true for most people. There’s plenty of architectural evidence remaining of the work of celebrity locals like John Wood and son but little to show for the efforts of this itinerant seller of plaster figures who set up shop in his adopted home.
Most people getting off the coaches around Terrace Walk will spare little more than a glance at the modest little fountain alongside the abandoned underground loos that have given the Bog Island nickname to this location. Indeed – l am sure there are many arriving who wished they were still working – but that’s another story.
This was originally located at the Roman Bath’s end of Bath Street and – though topped now with an urn – was originally crowned with a statue of King Bladud, the legendary Celtic founder of Bath. That statue is now in Parade Gardens – keeping company with a stone pig.
If you don’t know the story already – a thousand years before the Romans came to Bath Prince Bladud – thrown out of his father’s kingdom as he’d caught leprosy on a trip to Greece – was sitting on a local hillside feeding acorns to his flock of pigs.
Suddenly the animals broke away – only to run down the slopes and discover the thermal waters. They had caught leprosy off their royal swine herdsman minder and the waters cured it – after a bit of rolling in the hot mud. They did the same for the prince’s affliction.
Those health-giving qualities have been promoted ever since – whether you were a Roman soldier, medieval merchant, Georgian aristocrat or Victorian visiting professional.
Signor Pieroni was called in to re-model a controversial fountain that had only been commissioned three years previously at its original Stall Street location.
From time to time Bath develops a ‘yearning’ for fountain building. I can see why – l have a bee in my own bonnet today – about the lack of public ways of celebrating our natural gift of gushing springs – both hot and cold.
In the 1850’s you could describe the urge to do something grand as fountain mania. One proposal wanted a series of fountains cascading down from Lansdown, with fountains in St James’s Square, in front of the Royal Crescent and near the obelisk in Royal Victoria Park.
This got whittled down to putting something in the city centre that would dispense and promote Bath’s famous ‘health-giving’ hot mineral waters.
I rather like the look of the Tite Mineral Water Fountain of 1856 but the ‘powers that be’ did not and Signor Pieroni was called in to help remodel it.
Putting King Bladud on top went down well with most Bathonians. When you’re ‘pushing’ the many delights of a Georgian-dressed spa town a little fable – viewed through the mists of time (and the steam from the hot water) – goes a long way.
Pieroni’s Stall Street fountain was – and still is – part of the city’s dilemma about fountains. It cannot make its mind up about whether they should be promoted or not.
Though – in its original location – it was one of the city’s most iconic landmarks – problems with the supply of mineral water and maintenance costs condemned it to a dry and ivy-covered future.
The fountain enclosure was filled with potted plants, Bladud removed to a private garden and an urn put in his place. A jump in time to 1989 and finally the fountain was dismantled, repaired, cleaned and re-erected on its present site on Bog Island – between Terrace Walk and Parade Gardens.
The statue was moved to Parade Gardens where the legend lives on – beside the fast flowing waters of the Celtic-named River Avon (Afon).
I have recently been down to look at what is left of Pieroni’s original celebration-in-stone of Bath’s sparkling waters and am sorry to say it is starting to crumble.
There was fallen masonry lying near the modest fountain enclosure and its condition must raise concern within our currently cash-strapped council.
I took author Colin Fisher to have a look and asked him what he thought.
Meanwhile, another of Bath’s underwhelming fountains continues to languish and disintegrate. The Laura Place ‘ashtray’ was recently filled for its seasonal start-up but no water has flowed since.
Has the pump broken down again? The fountain basin bears more chips and evidence that a screw and raw plug may have contributed to one loss of masonry.
Is this another fountain bowl destined to be filled with flowers?
We’re never going to see a Trevi fountain in Bath l know, but l still feel developers should be encouraged to include water in their commercial endeavours.
Why no fountain in Southgate or no feature in the re-modelled Saw Close – or even down at Riverside?
Who will save Pieroni’s Fountain and rescue the poor specimen in Laura Place? When will Bath wake up to its watery heritage?
In the meantime, while Bishop King had visions of a ladder to Heaven while asleep in the city – l will dream of more earthly matters. A little water-filled reminder of Signor Pieroni’s homeland.
Excellent piece – thank you! Lavinia Byrne.
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