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Dumfries Fountain – History and Future?

Kirsten McClure Rowe has recently been in touch with the Stove as she has recently been researching into the history of Dumfries’ fountain, with the aim of hosting a crowdfunding campaign to restore the fountain to it’s former glory. Her proposal includes stripping back the layers of old peeling paint and professionally restoring it to it’s original colours which were gold and bronze with cactus painted to appear real.

The following is some of Kirsten’s research into the history, and potential future for the Dumfries Fountain:

‘On the 5th of December 1882, Provost Lennox unveiled the fountain which stands on Dumfries High Street. It was made by the Sun Foundry, Alloa and is one of only two models of its type known anywhere in the world. The fountain commemorates the supply of public drinking water to the town from nearby Lochrutton.

The first pipe of the waterworks was laid on 16th January 1851 after many years of wrangling by various committees in Dumfries and Maxwelltown. Many felt that the pipeline wasn’t necessary and that the half a dozen or so seepage wells, which supplied some of the water and the bulk of the supply taken by the “burn drawers” in their dirty wheeled barrels from just below the main sewerage outlet in the Nith and sold at a penny a bucket, were sufficient.

Original Fountain circa 1870
Original Fountain circa 1870

In September 1832, Cholera struck Dumfries. A total of 841 people contracted the disease and 421 died within Dumfries, with a further 237 becoming ill in Maxwelltown of which 127 died. A mass grave at St Michaels churchyard bears a memorial to 420 souls. Unofficial figures state that as many as 700 coffins were produced in the 3-month period of epidemic which ended on 27th November 1832.

“In 1848 cholera struck again. The infant Scottish Board of Health, with little real power, sent Dr John Sutherland from Glasgow, a man of strong personality. He found corpses lying in the streets and no action being taken at all. He got a medical board organised, a house cleansing programme under way and immediately tracked the cause to the water supply and cleared up the epidemic, but not before 431 people had died out of 814 cases.”

Colours of the Fountain in 2004
Colours of the Fountain in 2004

As early as 1765 there had been proposals to introduce a clean gravitation water supply into the town, however it took until 10th May 1850 for a Committee of the House to give a unanimous verdict in favour of the promoters. As it was chiefly working-class areas that suffered in the first cholera epidemic, it was suggested that intemperance and lack of religious faith had led to this divine punishment of the poor. It was only after the middle-class residents of Dumfries and Maxwelltown began to fall ill, that any real action was taken.

A newspaper article from 22nd October 1851 reports the “Record of Public Introduction of Water to Sister Burghs of Dumfries and Maxwelltown” “This boon has been secured after a severe and protracted struggle against the ignorance, apathy, prejudice and selfishness, which formed a strong anti-sanitary battalion that was, with difficulty, beaten from the field” “When the news arrived in Dumfries next day, the bells were rung and bonfires kindled in token of the general joy”

Early 1900s
Early 1900s

“The 21st October 1851 was chosen to introduce water from Lochrutton. Midsteeple bells rang, music from the Annan band played and flags flown”. “A fountain was erected between the Kings Arms and Commercial Hotels being the principle place of resort for the congregated crowds” “This structure, formed of fire clay is in a Roman style of art with Grecian ornaments and is very handsome”

The opening ceremony was performed by Provost Nicholson and was not without incident. When the Provost turned the valve, water shot into the air and descended to soak the assembled citizens!

This fountain was only ever intended to be a temporary fixture and was moved to Nithbank Hospital when our current fountain was unveiled 30 years later.

The fountain is no longer at Nithbank and further investigation is needed to uncover its current whereabouts.

Original fountain sited in Nithbank
Original fountain sited in Nithbank

The district council funded the purchase of the new fountain from the Sun Foundry, while donations from the townspeople of Dumfries paid for its decoration. A total of £191.0s 6d from 221 subscribers was raised. The fountain was a glorious sight to behold and the townsfolk crowded onto the High Street to witness the unveiling. The Dumfries and Galloway Standard dated 6th December 1882 describes the fountain in vivid detail.

Brilliant painted photo showing original colours
Brilliant painted photo showing original colours

“The boys, the dolphins and the storks are entirely gilded and look to be figures in massive gold. The ground of the fountain is bronzed with some of its conventional details displayed in gold. On four pedestals in the freestone basin are placed as many iron vases holding each a large iron cactus, coloured so cleverly after nature, that many who saw them thought they must be real.” – where are these cacti filled vases now?

Boys at the Fountain 1900
Boys at the Fountain 1900

In an amazing coincidence, the town of Kandy in Sri Lanka has an identical twin fountain! The inscribed dedication on the fountain reads “Erected by the Coffee Planters of Ceylon in Commemoration of the visit of Albert Edward, The Prince of Wales (1841-1910) to Kandy December 1875.” The Prince of Wales was the eldest son of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) who succeeded his mother as King Edward VII (1901-10). It was recently renovated and ceremonially bequeathed to the public of Kandy in June 2013.

Prince of Wales Fountain in Kandy, Sri Lanka
Prince of Wales Fountain in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Our fountain is a hugely important part of our social history. It marks a turning point for our ancestors, the people of Dumfries. It currently stands in a very sorry state with peeling paint and green algae. This once celebrated jewel of Dumfries town centre needs our help. Sadly, due to budget cuts, the maintenance of the fountain has not been a priority for the local council. Therefore, it falls to us to rescue it and bring it back to life.’

Sad fountain

7 replies on “Dumfries Fountain – History and Future?”

Have you spoken to Carolyn Trail at Dumfries Museum? The fountain at the museum was, as I understand it, also installed in 1851 to celebrate the arrival of the Lochrutton water.

Could somebody enlighten me as to what “The Stove” is and its purpose? I hadn’t heard of it till this article on the Dumfries fountain appeared on Facebook.

What an interesting story. I’ve walked past the fountain many times in Dumfries town centre and noted how pretty it is. My kids used to throw money in and made a wish when they were young!

I did not know about the cholera connection to the supply of clean drinking water and so to the fountain. There is an event coming up about the 1832 cholera outbreak.

The Dumfries Cholera Outbreak, 1832
2.00 – 3.30pm Saturday 12 June

A guided walk with Frances Wilkins.
This guided walk reconstructs the dramatic story of the 1832 Dumfries Cholera Outbreak. Where did it start? How fast did it spread? What were the theories about its origin and cure? Where did the victims live? How did the doctors cope?

The circular tour will start and finish at Dumfries Museum. Easy walking on pavements and footpaths. Booking essential, please telephone Dumfries Museum on 01387 253374.,-1832.aspx

Hi David,
Thanks for getting in touch. The Stove is an artist led project based in Dumfries town centre (find us at 100 High Street, the big white building opposite the Bank of Scotland), and a membership network of which anyone can join. We are interested in creative and cultural activities as a means of introducing more life and energy into the town centre, as well as providing a space for people to become more active participants, creating change in our own places. Find out more in our ‘About’and ‘Project’ pages on the home page, or drop into the Stove and ask one of our cafe team!

Hi – thanks for the tip. We haven’t been in touch with Carolyn yet – but we will do as part of the wider research into the fountain. Many thanks, Matt

hello folks I was in Dumfries yesterday and just happened to dutcdiwn from across the fountain .. I had to look twice . I live in paisley at the fountain gardens .. I wake up to Rabbis Burns with his back to me every morning .. The fountain had fallen in to a very sorry state . But with lottery funding . it was transformed once more in to a fully working fountain . The fountain is so simalr in the top half .. please take time to have a look at it

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