Pictured in the late 1890’s and in 1905 is the Water Fountain at High Blantyre.
It occurred to me recently that nothing much has been written about this fountain, which must have served as a very prominent feature within Blantyre for many decades. I decided to look into its history and was surprised to learn, fountains of this sort were common, not just in Lanarkshire but throughout the Nation.
The water fountain was located at Kirkton Cross, just outside the old Cemetery gates. It was set into the pavement itself and iron gratings below it acted as drains. It would have been seen from Hunthill Road as you approach Main Street. It was made of cast iron, painted black with gold coloured guilding.
I have recently needed to change this article to whats written below as I’d been led to believe like many other fountains in Scotland, that it was a Jubilee Fountain of Queen Victoria dating to 1897, however, it would appear this is wrong and existed some 15 years beforehand.
The Scotsman, Friday 4th August 1882 recorded on page 4, “BLANTYRE ― PRESENTATION OF A DRINKING FOUNTAIN.—In commemoration of the completion of Blantyre Water Supply Works, Mr William Jackson of Park, chairman of the Parochial Board, has presented to the parish a drinking fountain, which has been erected on a suitable site at Kirkton. The Local Authority, besides giving a supply of water, have resolved to undertake the care of the fountain and have recorded their thanks to Mr Jackson for his gift. During Mr Jackson’s chairmanship, an adequate drainage scheme and water supply to the populous parts of the parish have been successfully carried out.”
The ornate structure may however have been amended or altered, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was functional in that it was plumbed to the nearby High Blantyre water supply run into the area around 1880.
Manufacture and Design
Words in red below, sourced from https://memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com
Formed from casting number 8 from Walter MacFarlane’s catalogue, the fountain consists of four columns with iron arches formed of decorated mouldings. Rope moulded roundels contained within each lunette hosted the bust of Queen Victoria in profile and arch faceplate inscribed, “1837 Victoria Jubilee 1897.” (This may answer several questions put to me in recent years about a possible statue of Queen Victoria in Blantyre, which is likely a reference to this structure, rather than a statue itself)
The 8.5 foot structure, seated on a two tiered square plinth, was surmounted by an open filigree (fine ornamental) dome, with further height added to the apex in the form of a lantern. (As lighting technology advanced, the lantern may have been changed from being fired by gas to electricity.)
Under the canopy stood the font. The basin had a scalloped edge and decorative relief was supported by a single decorative pedestal with four pilasters and four descending salamanders, a symbol of courage and bravery. A central urn with four consoles may once have offered drinking cups suspended by chains. Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Salamanders represent bravery and courage that cannot be extinguished by fire, and cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance.
Queen Victoria was 78 when she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, and although elderly in appearance with limited mobility, she attended and presided over large and varied national events that particular day (sadly NOT in Blantyre!). A public holiday for the Diamond Jubilee was declared on Tuesday, 22 June. That same day, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary: “How well I remember this day 60 years ago when I was called from my bed by dear Mama to receive the news of my accession.”
Water fountains were unveiled that day to celebrate the occasion, smaller one like the Blantyre one in small villages and towns, larger more ornate fountains in large towns and cities, like the one still intact in Rutherglen today.
There is an anomaly though that requires further investigation and throws an added layer of mystery to this post. The 1898 map of Kirkton does not show the fountain as the map had been surveyed in 1896 and was not published until 1898, but 1910 and 1936 maps clearly show the fountain still in place! Had the surveyors simply forgotten to add the fountain on such a detailed map, or was the 1882 donated fountain actually a different one, perhaps used as a centre focus when the 1885 Wardrop Moore Arch was built nearby?
It is unknown when the exact date occurred of the removal of the fountain, but it may have been done at the same time as the demolition of the nearby tenement houses along Main Street in the late 1950’s. One possible reason for its removal, may have been its unsightly lean, which even in earlier decades was apparent in old photos. The fountain would have had shallow foundations and the lean probably likely to poor drainage and tree roots at the area, rather than mining activity below. Even today, the cemetery walls and arch are leaning in the same direction. If you know when the fountain was removed (or indeed what happened to it), please get in contact! It’s a crying shame the fountain is no longer there. Several other towns still have theirs intact. Had it existed until the late 1970’s, I’m sure it would have ended up being a listed structure.
In 2015, I applied for funding from Historic Scotland for replacing the fountain with a non working replica, but other projects were favoured instead. I remain committed to finding another source of funding to get the fountain back as a symbol of Blantyre’s heritage.
On social media:
Helen Robb Paul isn’t there an old water fountain in Hamilton, at the traffic lights, opposite the old high school, now the site of the new Lidls?? Seems very similar to this one. Xxx
Richard Fallis Interesting read, love the pics too
Anne Mackie great story xxx
The Blantyre Project thanks. I enjoyed looking into this.
The Blantyre Project I’d love to know when it was taken away, even confirmation of the decade.
Robert Stewart Paul, read page 246 of A History of Strathaven & Avondale
The Blantyre Project Thanks Robert. Ah, the scrap iron drive of 1941 saw Strathavens fountain partially removed then, and was all gone by 1948. I think those timings fit quite well with Blantyre, although some photos of the 1950s still show the lower bowl of the fountain intact, with the upper posts, cap and gaslights gone by then.
Jean Boyd That’s a shame it did not survive it would have been lovely still to have it be a part of Blantyre today
Henry Hambley A pity that the fountain has not been preserved.