Paisley : The Grand Fountain

The fountain can best be described as a Victorian Extravaganza dating from the earliest days of civic decorative cast iron installations. Besides the feature walruses, there are also crocodiles, cherubs, herons and dolphins. Weighing in at 42 tons in total, it is 8.5 metres high and the same again across.

The unique design of fountain also possessed some other notable attributes. According to the documentation available to us, the fountain had originally featured an innovative colour scheme, devised by the notable Scottish Colourist Artist, Daniel Cottier.

Unlike many fountains produced by the major Victorian foundries, neither the design itself, nor the majority of the features within it were ever re-used, making this a truly unique example of the work of one of the mort respected companies of the day.

Not only is the design of the fountain unique, the fountain had originally featured an innovative colour scheme, devised by the notable Scottish Colourist Artist, Daniel Cottier. Not only was it highly colourful, but as the artist was known mainly for his work with stained glass, he also included some experimental finishes involving varnishes and coloured metal powders within this, providing a lustre and sheen previously unknown and unfortunately never really repeated.

As the fountain was produced before the advent of colour photography, detailed analysis of the lower levels of paint were used to determine as closely as possible the original colours used. However, the illustrations from the huge and exuberant brochure for the opening ceremony demonstrate both how impressive a structure it was and the pride felt by the inhabitants of Paisley.

Unfortunately, the fountain had suffered greatly since then, particularly in recent years, with the inoperative fountain having become less a source of pride and more a haven for keen skateboarders. The determination of Renfrewshire Council and the support of The Heritage Lottery Fund provided the opportunity for Lost Art to transform the appearance of the historic site.

The signature life size walrus figures look sad without tusks or moustaches and are representative of many of the figurative components of the fountain, many of which were badly corroded and had suffered further damage, with others simply missing

The whole fountain was disassembled and transported to the Lost Art workshop where all parts of the fountain were cleaned back to base metal and fully inspected. This revealed both more damage than had originally been apparent but also the legacy of previous, poorly conducted repairs to the fountain.

Following the extensive repairs, the replacement of missing items and a general overhaul as, despite the outward appearance and the Victorian reputation for excellence in cast iron production, many of the actual castings had significant flaws that required correction.

Back at the workshop, we also conducted a number of experiments with different paint finishes and techniques, utilising varnishes and various coloured preparations of bronze. In addition, several of the decorative elements were selected to be highlighted by gilding with 24 carat gold leaf.

The finished results can only be described as ‘stunning’, though younger attendees at the opening ceremony often chose to refer to it as ‘awesome’.

The true scale of the restoration can be seen in comparisons between the walrus figures as they were at the start of the projects and the magnificent beasts they now represent.