National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

The American Fountain (The Memorial Fountain)

Summary

Type Clock Tower , Sculpture , Fountain

     The American Fountain is a large clock tower in the form of a tower. The spire is crocketted and has turrets and foliate architectural decoration. There are alternating statues of the English lion with the Royal shield and the American eagle with the stars and stripes in the angles. There are numerous gargoyles on each façade of the spire taking the form of a monkey, demon, wolf, lion, boar, dog, owl and bat, as well as characters from Midsummer Night's Dream standing above each clock face. In the lower section of each façade is a richly carved roundel, depicting a rose, thistles, a three-leaf clover and corn. Each central motif is surrounded by eight semi-circles including grapes, blackberry, clover, hawthorn, acorns, ivy, horse-chesnut, roses and leeks.
     George W. Childs was a newspaper proprietor from Philadelphia who responded to the general opinion of the time that there was no suitable monument to Shakespeare in England. At first the memorial was to be in the form of a stained glass window. Childs had already commissioned a stained glass window at Westminster Abbey to the poets Herbert and Cowper, as well as a window in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster dedicated to the memory of Milton. However when this fell through along with the church's restoration project it was suggested that an appropriate monument might be a drinking fountain for the market square. Childs agreed to fund the memorial fountain. Robert Bridgeman was commissioned to erect the monument to the design of Jethro Cossins for which a fee of £1150.8.0 was charged. Although originally conceived as a monument to Shakespeare, its year of inauguration coincided with Queen Victoria's jubilee so that too was commemorated with an inscription. The design of the fountain, was a celebration of the common bonds, heritage and language of the American and English peoples which seems to have been particularly appreciated at the time. The fountain was unveiled on 17 October 1887, and The Daily News reported the proceedings: 'the Mayor and Corporation in their official robes, accompanied by a number of distinguished guests, marched in procession to the fountain, where a large marquee was erected. Among those present, in addition to the Mayor, Sir Arthur Hodgson, and Mr Irving, were Mr Phelps, the American Minister, Lord Delawarr, Sir Theodore Martin, Lord Ronald Gower, Dr Macauley and Sir Philip Cunliffe Owen. Before dedicating the fountain, Mr Irving read some stanzas from a poem specially written by Dr Oliver Wandell Holmes and delivered a speech praising Mr Childs' generosity and recalling Shakespeare's contribution to English-speaking culture. The official party then went for lunch in the Town Hall, where toasts were given to Queen Victoria , Shakespeare, Mr Childs and Mr Irving.'(2) It is commonly known as the American Fountain but Mr L. Clarke Davis in his book of 1890 calls it the Memorial Fountain to Shakespeare, or The Shakespeare Fountain.(3)
     The Illustrated London News described the fountain and its subject matter in some detail in June 1887: 'A lofty, spire-like, and highly ornamental drinking -fountain, with clock tower . . . The base of the tower is square on plan, with the addition of boldly projecting buttresses placed diagonally at the four corners, terminating with acutely pointed gablets surmounted by a lion bearing the arms of Great Britain alternately with the American eagle associated with the stars and stripes. On the north face is a polished granite basin, having the outline of a large segment of a circle into which a stream of water is to flow constantly from a bronze spout: with four curved steps ups on the east and west sides are large toughs of the same general outline and material, for the use of horses and cattle, and beneath these smaller troughs for sheep and dogs. On the south side is a door affording admission to the interior, flanked by two shallow niches . . . Immediately over the basins and the door are moulded pointed arches, springing from dwarf columns, with carved capitals. The tympanum of each arch is filled with geometric tracery profusely enriched with carvings of foliage. The next storey of the tower has on each face a triple arcade with moulded pointed trefoiled arches on slender shafts. The arches are glazed, and light a small chamber, in which the clock is to be placed. At the corners are cylindrical turrets terminating in conical spirelets in two stages, the surfaces of the cones enriched with scale-like ornament. In the next storey are the four dials of the clock, under crocketted gables, with finials representing "Puck", "Mustard-Seed", "Pea-blossom" and "Cobweb". The clock-faces project slightly from a cylindrical tower flanked by four other smaller three-quarter attached turrets of the same plan: form the main central cylinder springs a spire of a slightly concave outline, and the four turrets have similar but much smaller spirelets, all five springing from the same level, and all terminating in lofty gilded vanes. Immediately below the line of springing is a band of panelling formed of narrow trefoiled arches. The central spire has on four opposite sides gableted spire-lights, and, at about one-third of its height, a continuos band of narrow lights to spread the sound of the clock bells. The height from the road to the top of the vane is sixty feet. The materials of which the monument is being constructed are of the most durable kind- Peterhead granite for the base and troughs, and for the superstructure a very hard and durable stone of a delicate grey colour form Bolton wood, Yorkshire.'(1)

Inscriptions

S side, serif, centralised: 'THE GIFT OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN / GEORGE W. CHILDS. OF PHILADELPHIA / TO THE TOWN OF SHAKESPEARE, / IN THE JUBILEE YEAR OF QUEEN VICTORIA' E side, serif, centralised: ' "IN HER DAYS, EVERY MAN SHALL EAT IN SAFETY / UNDER HIS OWN VINE, WHAT HE PLANTS; AND SING / THE MERRY SONGS OF PEACE TO ALL HIS NEIGHBOURS. / GOD SHALL BE TRULY KNOWN; AND THOSE ABOUT HER / FROM HER SHALL READ THE PERFECT WAYS OF HONOUR, / AND BY THOSE CLAIM THEM GREATNESS, NOT BY BLOOD" / HENRY VIII, ACT., SCENE IV' N face, serif, centralised: ' "HONEST WATER / WHICH NE'ER LEFT MAN I THE MIRE" ' NE buttress: 'THIS STONE WAS LAID BY LADY HODGSON / JUNE 20TH, 1887 / ARTHUR HODGSON K.C.M.G. / MAYOR.' NW buttress: 'THIS FOUNTAIN WAS UNVEILED BY / HENRY IRVING / 17TH OCTOBER 1887' W side, serif, centralised: "TEN THOUSAND HONOURS AND BLESSINGS / ON THE BARD / WHO HAS GUILDED THE DULL REALITIES OF LIFE / WITH INNOCENT ILLUSIONS" / WASHINGTON IRVING'S "STRATFORD-ON-AVON" '

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Bridgeman & Sons of Lichfield, Robert Stonemason
Cossins, Jethro Designer

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Superstructure Bolton Wood (York) stone None
Base and Troughs Peterhead Granite None

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WAsaSAtg002 BM
General condition Fair
Surface condition
  • Corrosion, Deterioration
Structural condition
  • Cracks, splits, breaks, holes
Vandalism
  • None
Road Rother Street
Precise location Junction with Wood Street
A-Z ref None
OS ref SP199549
Date of design 1886-1887
Year of unveiling 1887
Unveiling details 17 October 1887
Commissioned by George W. Childs
Duty of care Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council
Listing status II*
At risk? No known risk

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