The Fountains of Trafalgar Square

posted in: Bradshaw in London, Home | 4

Bradshaw in hand I wrote this post, and discovered that the fountains in Trafalgar are second-generation – the originals were shipped to Canada. Well, one thing leads to another and here is an unintended exploration of the Fountains of Trafalgar Square!

Mr Bradshaw only mentioned the fountains in passing: ‘..The fountains, with their granite basins, have been made the subject of much ridicule. They are supplied by an artesian well, sunk to a great depth at the back of the National Gallery..’. They were placed in Trafalgar Square in 1845.

The original fountains in Trafalgar Square, 1908
The original fountains in Trafalgar Square, 1908
A rather grainy picture extracted from the photograph above
A rather grainy picture extracted from the photograph above

The original fountains were designed by Sir Charles Barry, a Londoner who was born in Bridge Street, Westminster. He is particularly known for his design of the Houses of Parliament but was active in London and Mr Bradshaw has brought him to our attention with the Traveller’s Club and the Reform Club. 

The fountains were built of Peterhead granite which came from Stirlinghill, a coastal village above Boddam which is on the north Aberdeenshire coast. The quarry produced high-quality granite and was mined commercially in the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually closing in 1956 because it could not compete on the scale required by commercial building.

McDonald & Leslie, Aberdeen, built the fountains. The firm revolutionised the production of granite monuments and became Scotland’s most important granite sculptors, with commissions at the highest levels.

The fountains were fed with water from an artesian well in Orange Street behind the National Gallery, and another in front of the Gallery, and this excellent blog has photographs and full information.

Trafalgar Square, 1845, from the London Illustrated News
Trafalgar Square, 1845, from the London Illustrated News
Water flowing freely in Trafalgar Square, 1845, London Illustrated News
Water flowing freely in Trafalgar Square, 1845, London Illustrated News
The pump for the fountains in Trafalgar Square, 1845, Illustrated London News
The pump for the fountains in Trafalgar Square, 1845, Illustrated London News

In the late 1930s it was decided to install new fountains, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, with a new pumping system because the water flow from the artesian wells had become unreliable, owing to increased demands. The fountains were placed in the original quatrefoil basins designed by Sir Charles Barry, and were formally unveiled on 21 October 1948 by HRH the Duke of Gloucester, with a dedication service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Sir Edwin Lutyens' fountains in Trafalgar Square
Sir Edwin Lutyens’ fountains in Trafalgar Square

And improvements have continued…

The fountains in Trafalgar Square, 2009
The fountains in Trafalgar Square, 2009

The original fountains are now in Regina, Saskatchewan, and Ottawa. In Regina ‘.. The fountain itself is set between the Legislative Building and Wascana Lake. It is in a state of decrepitude, with only a dribble issuing forth and a very putrid pool. I don’t know why, since everything else in the area is so well maintained..’, says my friend, who also sent the photographic evidence!

Trafalgar Square fountain, in Regina, Canada
Trafalgar Square fountain, in Regina, Canada
The fountain beween the Legislative Building and the lake
The fountain beween the Legislative Building and the lake

George in Regina 004

And the second fountain? It stands in Confederation Park, Ottawaas a memorial to Lt Col John By.

Original Trafalgar Square fountain, Confederation Park, Ottawa
Original Trafalgar Square fountain, Confederation Park, Ottawa

4 Responses

  1. N. G. Spencer

    Have you ever read Underground London: An Unusual Guide? Very interesting…the only street where one drives on the right, AND the street lights outside a hotel have been fuelled by sewer gas for over a century…plus, of course, a tour of the various sewer levels from the Romans on!

  2. N. G. Spencer

    I must have seen these fountains playing in Trafalgar Sq. when I was youngster. I came to Canada the same year they did–1955–on the maiden voyage of the Saxonia. I am particularly struck by the shrapnel scar at the base of the one in Ottawa, no doubt from the Blitz!

    • Candy Blackham

      Thank you for visiting! It seems a long time ago that I explored London with Bradshaw’s Guide and have been thinking about repeating the experience. This year I will continue exploring the parks and green spaces in South East London – all at https://enthusiasticgardener.com – so Bradshaw may have to wait a while!

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