In Edinburgh's West Princes Street Gardens you'll find the Ross Fountain, a structure which has featured heavily in some of the iconic imagery of Edinburgh over the years - guide books and postcards are often found with a photograph of the view up to Edinburgh Castle from the Gardens, with this fountain in the foreground.
On images where the fountain is flowing with water, you can be assured that the image is either old, or has been heavily photoshopped! The fountain hasn't flowed much since its last restoration effort in 2001, which is a shame given how prominent the fountain's location is.
The fountain itself had been cast in iron at a foundry outside Paris in the 1860s. It was produced for an exhibition of modern art, technology and invention in London, in 1862. It was whilst visiting the exhibition that a local man, a gunsmith named Daniel Ross, saw the fountain and bought it on a moment of impulse.
He gifted it to the city of Edinburgh, but unfortunately Edinburgh didn't really want it! They style of the fountain - bathing nymphs, with bared flesh and voluptuous figures - wasn't entirely in keeping with public mores at the time, and it was not considered an especially attractive construction by the Victorian locals.
It was shipped up from London in 122 pieces, and then sat in storage for a decade while the city council considered where they were going to put it. Eventually the site in West Princes Street Gardens was agreed, and the fountain was re-erected in this popular public space.
There was a degree of controversy around the fountain from the moment it was unveiled in 1872 - the minister and congregation of St Cuthbert's Church, which backs directly onto the Gardens, objected to the fountain on the grounds that it was hardly in keeping with the tone of the area. The site of St Cuthbert's is the oldest continually used site of worship in the city, believed to have been founded by Cuthbert himself in the seventh century. For such sacred space to be sullied by such a gaudy and tasteless monument was considered an outrage.
However, the fountain was never moved, and has remained in its iconic vantage point, beneath the northern ramparts of Edinburgh Castle, ever since.
Because of the method of its construction, and its delayed reassembly after 10 years in storage, the fountain no longer holds its water, and has been turned off for the last few years whilst funding for extensive internal preservation and restoration can be raised.
Perhaps one day the fountain will flow again,and visitors will be able to enjoy the spectacle as enjoyed by Daniel Ross, that day in London 150 years ago.
Following an extensive period of restoration and cleaning, as of July 2018 the Ross Memorial Fountain is functional once again!
Keen-eyed observers will notice that it is now a different colour from the way it looked just a couple of years ago (compare with the photo above). The restorers suggest that this eye-catching blue, brown and gold design is typical of the style that these fountains would have been back in the 1860s...
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