The Grand Central Fountain in Paisley, one of only three A listed fountains in Scotland, had fallen into a sad state of disrepair, but thanks to large grants and other generous contributions it is being conserved and will be switched on this Autumn at a special celebration.
The beautiful nineteenth-century Grand Fountain (fig.1) in the centre of Paisley’s historic Fountain Gardens was dismantled last year and is currently being restored to its former glory. The renovation project entitled ‘Grand Fountain: ‘Interpretation and Restoration’ and it is being funded by Historic Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Renfrewshire Council. The project will see the A listed fountain restored to full working order and a programme of educational and cultural activities, which includes an ongoing oral history, based on the heritage of the fountain and gardens has been arranged to coincide with the refurbishment.
A booklet, Inaugural Ceremonies in Honour of the Opening of Fountains Gardens Paisley, published in 1868 to commemorate the opening of the Fountain Gardens, Paisley’s oldest public gardens, illustrates the Grand Fountain with a lithograph (fig.2). The Gardens were laid on the site of Hope Temple Gardens which were originally created in 1797 by John Love. They were sold in 1866 and were purchased by Thomas Coats of Ferguslie, a member of the famous cotton thread family, who ran the Paisley manufacturing company J.& P. Coats. He employed the landscape designer James Craig Niven, a former assistant of Joseph Paxton, to redesign the Gardens. Niven’s new design was broadly geometric with avenues leading to the central fountain. Ornate ironwork was a feature of the Gardens and came from George Smith and Company of the Sun Foundry in Glasgow, the company which also was responsible for the façade of Selfridges in Oxford Street, London.
George Smith and Company of the Sun Foundry supplied railings, lamps, gates and a new verandah. They also made five fountains for the Gardens, one of which was the Grand Fountain which is over 10 metres high and has a pool 20 metres in diameter. It features four life-sized walruses, thought to be a reference to Coats’ penchant for hunting animals in the Arctic. Their tusks were removed during a safety campaign in the 1980s. There have been strenuous efforts to find missing parts to the Grand Fountain including these tusks. Herons and dolphins (fig.3) also form part of the Fountain’s decorative scheme.
Daniel Cottier, the Glasgow stained-glass artist and designer, who was renowned as a colourist was employed to decorate the Grand Fountain in variegated bronze and translucent coloured glazes. Historic Scotland has undertaken an analysis of the paint on the fountain and has discovered traces of Cottier’s original paintwork beneath layers of ‘municipal’ varnish and paint. So the restored fountain will have quite a different paint scheme from the pre-restoration photographs (fig.4). Deep reds, greens and golds will replicate as closely as possible the original decorative scheme.
Apart from the restoration work to the badly corroded cast ironwork and the stonework, a new underground treatment plant recirculating and purifying the water will also be installed so that the fountain will flow again.
There are updates on the fountain’s progress on the Renfrewshire Council website and Jim Mitchell ACR, the fountain’s conservation engineer, writes interesting regular updates on the restoration project in Icon News: The Magazine of the Institute of Conservation, see links below.