New water features, which send jets of recycled water two metres into the air, have been installed into the paving around the grade II listed Monument to William Shakespeare in Leicester Square, London.

It is intended that these features will give the statue of the playwright and the fountain above which he stands, greater impact and will create more interaction with the public (fig.1). This was part of a £17m. renovation plan for the Square which was first drawn up well before the London Olympics. Lighting is an important part of this redevelopment and the statue and fountain will be lit at night.

Shakespeare Fountain before cleaning
1. Giovanni Fontana,  Monument to William Shakespeare, Leicester Square, London, Sicilian marble, before cleaning (photo: Westminster City Council)

The statue of Shakespeare, the only outdoor statue of the bard in central London, and the original fountain and basin were painstakingly restored by PAYE, a leading stonework and restoration company. The work which involved steam cleaning the dirty Sicilian marble, using poultices on the deeper dirt and intricately hand-carving repairs in new marble took nearly a year to complete (figs. 1 & 2).

The Square was reopened by Westminster City Council Deputy Leader, Cllr Robert Davis, himself a sculpture and fountain enthusiast (see www.3rd-dimensionpmsa.org.uk/interviews/2014-03-27-councillor-robert-davis-westminster-city-council). Davis observed that: ‘As Shakespeare himself declared, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players” and nowhere is this truer than in Leicester Square – the home of the UK’s film and entertainment industry.’

Leicester Square was first laid out in 1670, but was redesigned in 1874 by Albert Gottheimer and his architect Sir James Knowles. An unscrupulous speculator, Gottheimer was given the title of Baron by the King of Italy and was known as Baron Grant. Plans for the original ornamental fountain and gardens were described by Knowles, but the addition of the statue of Shakespeare was not revealed until a few days before the Square opened. The monument and fountain were designed by Knowles. The statue is by the sculptor Giovanni Fontana, who had worked for Grant and Knowles at Kensington House (demolished), and is a variant replica of that designed by William Chambers and carved by Peter Scheemakers in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Shakespeare Fountain after cleaning
2. Giovanni Fontana, Monument to William Shakespeare, Leicester Square, London,Sicilian marble, after cleaning (photo: Westminster City Council)

Dr. Philip Ward-Jackson in his excellent survey, Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster, vol.1, in the Public Sculpture of Britain series (www.pmsa.org.uk/publications) reveals Knowles’ ‘pretentious’ intentions for the original fountain which he found in contemporary accounts: ‘The idea which the designer of the fountain wished to convey…was of the Poet, standing isolated and colossal, cut off from the rest of the world by the quasi-Castalian springs which rise at his feet, but brought close to all men in his works, symbolized by the grass and flowers which spring round the margin of the fountain, and which its water bedews and nourishes. The dolphins playing close below him imply his Arion-like attraction for the ‘sane and simple’ animal part of us…’. Grant’s paper, The Echo, reported that the dolphins emitted water through blow-holes in their heads rather than through their mouths and by doing this were following ‘nature and the example of the ancients.’ Ward-Jackson also noted that any praise for the scheme at the time was rather reserved and related to it as a public amenity rather than to the merits of the fountain. It is to be hoped that the new revamp will have changed this opinion.

www.paye.net

Main image (photo: Westminster City Council)