Gentleman Fountain

The Gentleman Fountain stood at the west end of the High Street and was built in 1871 by Bailie John Gentleman, Falkirk, from testatary funds destined by his brother, Patrick Gentleman, for that purpose.  The two brothers had run a successful drapery business in the town for over 30 years.  Patrick Gentleman was keenly interested in the affairs of his adopted town and entered the Town Council in 1847, and in 1849 was made a Bailie.  He died on 22 January 1865.

Illus: The Gentleman Fountain with the Police Station and Sheriff Court behind and Broad Street in front.

One difficulty was procuring a suitable site for the fountain, but on the erection of the new Sheriff Court-Houses, a vacant spot in front of that building was secured by the Town Council.  The design of George Smith and Company of the Sun Foundry was chosen.  On the evening of 21 June 1871 the fountain was formally handed over by Bailie John Gentleman to Provost Russel and the other Magistrates for behoof of the town of Falkirk.  The Provost, in the name of the inhabitants, accepted the handsome gift and, the water having been turned on, drank to the health of Bailie Gentleman, his colleagues in the Magistracy, and the people of the burgh, trusting the water would long continue to flow plentifully for the benefit of the “bairns,” and hoping that nothing would ever be done to injure the beautiful structure of the fountain.

At a cost of £200, no small sum at the time, the structure greatly embellished the western entrance into the town.  It was described at length by the Falkirk Herald on 22 June 1871:

“The fountain is of iron, is octagonal in form with dome or canopy supported on eight pillars, the capitals and mouldings of which are deeply cut, thus producing a strong effect of light and shade.  The bottom part of the dome is surrounded by a very richly ornamented cornice, surmounted on each side by the Falkirk coat of arms with its famous mottoes “Tangite unum tangite omnes” and “Better meddle wi’ the Deil than the Bairns o’ Falkirk,” and a neat scroll tracery alternately.  Immediately at the back of the cornice springs the dome, from the centre of which rises an octagonal turret or spire, the base of which is pierced by tracery, having finials rising from each corner.  Above the tracery work, the turret tapers to about two feet in width, the whole being surmounted by an eagle in her nest.  Underneath, and in the centre of the dome, is the drinking fountain, the base of which forms an irregular octagon, and projects from the broader faces into a cruciform shape, at the same time providing basis for four elegantly embossed pillars with floriated capitals.  These carry four bold brackets, which, with the centre column, support a circular basin, which is relieved round the outer edge with dog tooth ornament.  From the four brackets spring floriated stays that form a stand for the drinking cups, and between each of these are the water taps, fitted with self-acting closing valves.  The height, we may mention, from the ground to the cornice round the bottom of the dome is nine feet – the height over all being 21 feet, and the diameter of the dome is about 13 feet.  The foundation and steps are of granite, got from the quarry of the Messrs Field, near Avonbridge.”

Plates fastened to the pillars bore the following inscription: “Erected in terms of bequest by Patrick Gentleman, 1870.”  The plumber and masonry work was entrusted to David Draper and Mr Gardiner and it was painted by Mr Bell of Falkirk for the opening.

In 1887 the Town Council asked the Feuars of Falkirk if they would agree to the removal of the Gentleman Fountain to a site in front of the Town Hall so that it could ornament that street and allow for road widening at the junction with Hope Street.  The feuars agreed but no action was taken.  The Burgh Property Committee later recommended to the Town Council its removal to a site at the head of East Bridge Street, ex-Bailie William Mitchell offering to present the town with a lamp pillar, to be erected on or near the present site of the fountain, but this recommendation was likewise abandoned (Love 1908).  The centre of the road facing the grand entrance to the Town Hall had originally been occupied by a well-appointed horse trough but it was replaced in 1879 when an ornate lamp was erected.  The drinking trough was moved to the east where it was more conveniently placed for horses going north and south by Kirk Wynd.

With the subsequent opening up of the west-end of Newmarket Street at the beginning of the 20th century the Council returned to the theme.  Despite the fact that the tramcars were able to negotiate the turn there were elements of the Town Council that were clearly disposed to dispose of the elegant structure in the name of “improvements.”  The long-term goal was to it put the pavement of West Bridge Street in line with that of Newmarket Street.  Suggestions that the fountain could be retained as a traffic island were summarily dismissed.  The ironwork was poorly maintained, water was unobtainable, and in September 1912 one of the coats of arms was blown down in a gale and smashed.  Then, in 1914, a vote of the Council was taken and it was agreed to remove the entire edifice. 

Illus: The Gentleman Fountain, c1920.

Action was delayed due to the Royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary, for which the fountain was painted and decorated with flags and bunting.  Nothing was done thereafter due to the outbreak of the First World War.

Illus: The West End, c1908 before the construction of the Laurieston Branch of the tramway.

For years the fountain was neglected and all the time the volume of traffic increased.  Falkirk Council returned to the problem and this time the fountain was finally dismantled in May 1923.  Ironically, the road widening included taking in part of the yard in front of the police station and so it would have been possible to have retained the fountain on a traffic island had that been desired.  In September the Council debated the estimated cost of re-erecting the Gentleman Fountain as a band stand in the newly opened Dollar Park.  This was put at £223 which included foundation work and the renewal of any necessary parts.  Provost Muir and Dean of Guild Milroy voted for this action but Cllr McKinnon, to his great shame, tabled an amendment to stop it, which was carried on the casting vote of the convener.  The very following month this decision was overturned.  In 1924 the cast iron components were finally removed from the yard of the Police Station where they had been temporarily deposited.  They were presumably taken to the burgh yard awaiting renewal.  Mysteriously the Council fell silent on the subject and in 1927 one of the Gentleman family asked what had happened to it.  In 1933 the Falkirk Herald concluded that it had been lost forever.  The ornate bird finial did appear as a fountain in the pond at Dollar Park before being replaced by a statue taken from South Bantaskine in the 1950s.

(SMR 994) – NS 8856 8002

G.B. Bailey, 2022