Oct. 26, 2019: Doulton Fountain, Glasgow Green

 

Opposite Glasgow's ornate People's Palace, and with the ornate Templeton Carpet factory in the background stands the world's largest terra-cotta fountain, almost literally dripping with symbols of British Empire and crowned with an ornate statue of Queen Victoria.

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Image by Jaqueline Banerjee

You'd never know it started out with a brief career in advertising. It's the Doulton Fountain, and not just because it was given to Glasgow by Sir Henry Doulton of, yes, the Royal Doulton company. It was the centerpiece of Doulton's exhibit at the 1887 Exhibition in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, held to celebrate Victoria's Golden Jubilee. It's 46 feet high, and 70 feet across.

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After the Exhbition, Doulton gifted it to the city, which—after not a little controversy—picked a spot in the East End, on Glasgow Green, a large park that has been the gathering place for demonstrations of many kinds for over 150 years. It was shifted a bit to its present site opposite the People's Palace during a restoration in 2004.

P1020147I'll leave the fullest description of the symbolic statuary to Jacqueline Banerjee, who has a full description of all the details, down to the symbols carried by each figure, on The Victorian Web. Sufficient here to point out that there are five tiers, the style is French Renaissance, and the materials, of course, are all products of the Doulton factory.

At the top level, beneath the statue, four maidens empty pitchers. Below that, soldiers of the English, Scottish and Irish Regiments, and a sailor from the Royal Navy.P1020143

And then below that, four allegorical groups that represent key parts of the Empire: Canada, South Africa, Australia and India, each with indications of its supposed important industries.

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But although terra-cotta was, then and now, a popular material for fountains and architectural ornament because it's easy to work, weather resistant and, frankly, gorgeous, it does have some weaknesses. For instance, that's not the original Victoria up there. In perhaps a foreshadowing of trouble ahead for Empire, she was 'killed' by a lightning bolt in 1894, and unlike bronze statues, there was no mold for a replacement.

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Doulton (that's him, below, on a mug made by his company) was horrified when he heard that Glasgow was planning to save money (no Scots jokes, please) by replacing her with a large urn, and paid for a new statue.

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