Looking back with Ian Scott on Falkirk's lost Gentleman Fountain

One sad centenary which slipped past without me noticing was the unfortunate removal of a precious Falkirk asset in May 1923 which was much admired by visitors, and welcomed on its arrival as a wonderful gift to the town which the people would treasure for ever.
The west end of Falkirk's High Street with the Gentleman Fountain in around 1890.  (pic: submitted)The west end of Falkirk's High Street with the Gentleman Fountain in around 1890.  (pic: submitted)
The west end of Falkirk's High Street with the Gentleman Fountain in around 1890. (pic: submitted)

Suffice to say that the Gentleman Fountain, which graced the west end of the town for 50 years, bit the dust after decades of neglect and is now a distant memory preserved only in old photographs.

The fountain which stood near the Sheriff Court was gifted to the town by Bailie John Gentleman as a memorial to his late brother Patrick who ran a successful drapery business in the High Street premises later occupied by Zuill and Stewarts. At a cost of £200, no small sum at the time, the octagonal cast iron well was cast at the celebrated Sun Factory in Glasgow. It stood nine feet high and consisted of eight pillars supporting a “richly ornamented cornice” with the coat of arms and motto of Falkirk and a dome surmounted by a winged eagle – or was it a phoenix – rising from its nest. There were taps, cups and a central basin providing water to the public when few folk had supplies at home. In June 1871 it was official opened by Provost John Russel who expressed the hope that “the water would long continue to flow and that nothing would ever be done to injure the beautiful structure of the fountain”.

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Hardly a decade had passed when folk began complaining that the water supply had stopped and that the metal was in a poor condition. In the 1880s proposals to move it to Newmarket Street gardens or to the head of East Bridge Street came to nothing because it was thought too expensive to demolish and reassemble. The well was given a lick of paint but the water supply was not restored. No proper repairs were done and, by 1914, as the traffic at the junction increased the authorities once again considered the option of scrapping it altogether but again the Councillors couldn’t agree on what should be done.

The Gentleman Fountain pictured around 1910  (pic: submitted)The Gentleman Fountain pictured around 1910  (pic: submitted)
The Gentleman Fountain pictured around 1910 (pic: submitted)

It stood like this through the years of War until the early 1920s when the Council at last agreed that it should be moved. There was a strong feeling that it could and should be preserved and re-erected in Dollar Park either as a fountain or a bandstand but on the casting vote of the Convener of the Property Committee it was decided to do nothing. When it came down the pieces lay in front of the Police Station for many months before they vanished, except for one little bit. When I was a child in the 1950s the gold fish pond outside Arnotdale House had at its centre an eagle with spread wings rising from a nest. How long it was there I don’t know and where it ended up I have no idea. Maybe it is hiding away somewhere and might still turn up in somebody’s garden. And what ever happened to the coats of arms and motto?

In times of austerity it is too easy to let things of value waste away to the point where demolition appears the only option. It has happened over and over again and in the end we are all the losers. “A stitch in time saves nine” said my old Grannie many moons ago. She was not wrong.

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