Laura Place fountain in serious decline. Should we keep it?

No sooner – it seems – after contractors had turned off the fountain in Laura Place to prepare this 142 year old structure for its winter ‘hibernation’ then – yet again – it’s hit by a car and badly damaged.

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The fountain in Laura Place

I have to say this almost sole ‘celebration’ of the city’s waters – hot and cold – is now in serious decline.

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Laura Place fountain 1910.

The central basin was part of an ornamental ‘fancy’ constructed in 1877 to a design by AS Goodridge – son of Henry Edmund Goodridge. who gave us Beckford’s Tower and The Corridor.

The Corridor
The Corridor

The central part of the fountain was added in 1977 but even that is showing very obvious signs of decay.

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Erosion on the central column.

Images capture today show just how bad things are becoming.

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The damaged basin.

Bath stone is easy to carve but weathers badly.

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Even a recent repair – after a hit and run in 2016 – has been damaged.

Even parts of the basin that have been repaired in the recent past show damage or quite serious wear and tear.

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Another view of the damaged coping stones.

A spokesperson for B&NES said they were assessing the damage to the fountain but there was no further comment on its future.

Meanwhile, not everyone likes the fountain being where it is. Historian, writer and publisher Kirsten Elliott told me:

If spaces were important to the Georgians, to the Victorians, they were something to be filled up. They were responsible for the unfortunate tree-planting in the Circus and Queen Square and the fountain (now moved to Terrace Walk) at the start of Bath Street. Laura Place and indeed Great Pulteney Street itself were no exception.

To be fair to the Victorians, the first efforts to fill the space came in the reign of William IV, when work began on erecting a column in the centre of Laura Place to commemorate the passing of the Reform Act.

By mid 1833 there were protests that it would spoil the view and in January 1834, all traces of it were removed.  However, it was at this time that a suggestion was made that there should be a fountain in the centre.

In 1877, during the centenary celebrations of the Bath and West Society, a small temporary fountain was erected in the centre, and from this sprung the idea that there should be a permanent feature. 

Ignoring the pleas that it would spoil what one objector called ‘a scene of incomparable beauty in street architecture’ and the fact that the water supply to the whole street was unreliable, the council pressed ahead.

A fountain was designed by AS Goodridge, the son of Henry Edmund Goodridge. Whereas his father had often had William Beckford to advise him, AS Goodridge had no such guide, and what he came up with was fairly monstrous. Despite the instructions that the stone should be Bath or Ham Stone or pennant, Goodridge used Westmorland granite and Portland Stone.

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Laura Place fountain 1910.

The whole creation was 30 foot (9 metres) high, and was in what Goodridge called the 13th century Italian style. It was finally unveiled in July 1880 – a month later, chains had to be added to prevent deliberate damage to it. By that time the place already had one obstruction – a cabstand, added in 1879.

In 1949, the stonework had deteriorated so badly that the fountain was taken down, leaving only the bottom basin and the pool around it. The fountain functioned as a jet d’eau.  This was rather successful, but, sadly, in 1977, a larger fountain was added, which is still with us today.

The cab rest, however, was removed in the 1920s, but not before the whole of Great Pulteney Street and, eventually, Laura Place, had been lined with trees. It was as though this astonishing use of space was too overpowering for later generations to bear.

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Mercifully, the trees in Great Pulteney Street have been removed, but it is still impossible to appreciate the true beauty of Laura Place, due to the twelve spindly silver birch trees with which it is cluttered.