Scottish Ironwork

by Allan Jackson - 21 July 2005

Durban is lucky enough to have a couple of pieces of Victorian Scottish decorative ironwork. They are the Currie Memorial Fountain and the Da Gama Clock. Both pieces were mentioned several times in the diary pages on this site and I have now consolidated all the information onto this page.

Added May 12, 2019: There have been addiional mentions of the Da Gama clock and Currie's Fountain in the diary since this page was compiled. The site search feature is your friend.

From Diary page # 15 - 25 August 2004

In Facts About Durban I wrote:

1878: A drought and shortage of water prompts Councillor H.W. Currie to sink an artesian well in search of water in the area below the Botanic Gardens. Water is struck and the well, named Currie’s Fountain, delivers 50,000 gallons of water to the town every day through pipes which are laid for the purpose. [The Currie’s Fountain sports ground now stands on or about the site of the well.] In 1889 a lampost and drinking fountain are erected to the memory of Cllr. Currie on the corner of West Street and Point Road. The drinking fountain is modelled after Brussels’ famous Mannikin Pis but Durban goes one better by incorporating two little boys in its design. Prudery wins the day, however, and the boys do not add water to the fountain in the traditional ‘Mannikin’ way but end up pouring it out of pots. [One source discounts this story saying that it is a replica of one in Chepstow in Wales]


1898: The Portuguese community donates a clock to mark the 400th anniversary of Vasco Da Gama’s arrival off Port Natal and it is set up at the Point. [The monument and the one installed to commemorate the memory of Cllr. Currie (see entry for 1878, above) were looking pretty sad at the beginning of 2003 and were crying out to be restored.]

Just over a year ago I went down to the corner of West Street and Point Road to visit the monument to Cllr. Currie and found it to be a very sad little monument indeed. There were pieces broken off of it, one of the figures was leaning at an odd angle, cracks had appeared, and the paintwork was in a very bad state. My heart was rent and then, a few months later, it disappeared from its corner. I thought that it had found its way to a scrap metal dealer but I was happy to discover that it had been removed for restoration.

Martin Prange, of the eThekwini Municipality Urban Design Department, tells me that the work was done at Keith Clayton Welding in Pinetown. The monument was taken apart, sandblasted and aluminium mouldings were made to replace the missing pieces. Restoration took about a year and, earlier this month, on 13 August, I think, it was erected by Gordon Verhoef & Krause in the Botanic Gardens, next to the lake. [You come in the Visitors' Centre entrance and take your first left round to the south end of the lake.]

The monument to Cllr. Currie in its new location in the Botanic Gardens, left, and a detail from it.

The new location is extremely appropriate when you consider that Currie's original fountain must have been within a stone's throw of there. I have visited the Botanic Gardens to view the monument and found it gleaming and resplendant in its new coat of paint. It still needs to be hooked-up to the electricity and to the mains water supply so that it'll work as a lampost and drinking foutain again.

There is a question hanging over the origin of the monument and Martin Prange said he believes that it may have been manufactured in Scotland. He is going to try and track the source down as soon as he has finished moving office. In the meantime, my informant Hugh Edwards has said that he'll bring back photographs later this year of monument's twin in the UK. There is a belief, locally, that our monument is a copy of the one near Chepstow but Hugh told me he has seen a newspaper clipping from a paper claiming over there that their's is a copy of the one in Durban! More on that as it comes in.

I also stopped-off to see the Da Gama clock on Victoria Embankment the other day and found it in a really sad state as well. Martin Prange assured me, however, that it is definitely on the list for eventual restoration.

From Diary page # 17 - 25 December 2004

Today, I have a follow-up on Currie's Fountain which was mentioned at some length, above. You'll see on that there is a very similar fountain at St. Arvans near Chepstow in Wales. I now have a picture of it courtesy of my informant Hugh Edwards, who recently returned from a holiday in the area. You'll see that the cherubs and the dolphins decorating the base of the central post are identical to the ones on the Durban fountain. The St Arvans fountain doesn't incorporate a lamp post like ours does but it has a much larger bowl and a smaller one set into its base where animals can drink.

Picture courtesy Hugh Edwards

The drinking fountain at St Arvans has several identical components to the one in Durban.



<= Click pic to view an enlargement.

Hugh also managed to get hold of a copy of a report that was compiled when the St Arvans fountain was restored a couple of years ago. The first surprise was that there is third fountain in East Linton in Scotland which incorporates the same cherubs as the ones in Durban and St Arvans. The report states that the three fountains were made by the Sun Foundry in Glasgow and that the differences between the three can be explained by the fact that foundries often made things in modular fashion, allowing customers to mix and match. The St Arvans fountain originally cost £30 and was opened in 1893** by a Miss Clay who was described by the Chepstow Weekly Advertiser as 'that popular young lady'.

There's a picture of the East Linton fountain on the front page of their website.

** Durban's fountain was opened in 1889.

From Diary page # 17 - 31 December 2004

Since the last entry in the diary I have heard from Zoe Brown who runs the East Linton website mentioned above. She says she lives very near the fountain and was kind enough to send a picture.

Picture courtesy Alastair Seagroatt via Zoe Brown.

Happy New Year to you all.

Added 23/7/2005

Check out additional pictures of the East Linton fountain, courtesy of Click images to view enlargements.

From Diary page # 18 - 16 January 2005

Above, I talked about Durban's Currie Memorial drinking fountain and the fact that it has parts in common with fountains in other locations. One of these is in East Linton in Scotland and, since then, I have heard from Garry Menzies who sent me a number of pictures of that fountain and some information about it.

Picture courtesy Garry Menzies

A very nice view of the East Linton fountain, above. The water carriers on the East Linton fountain, below, and the fountain in Durban, right, are identical

Picture courtesy Garry Menzies

Click images, above, to view enlargements.

The water carriers [Ive been told not to
call them cherubs] on the Durban fountain.

The East Linton fountain was cast by George Smith & Co at the Sun Foundry in Glasgow and errected in 1882, after a donation of £100 from former Lintonian John Drysdale, who had made good in the cattle trade in Brazil. The Sun Foundry apparently operated from 1857 to 1899 and was one of the most important makers of decorative cast iron in Scotland, second only to Walter Macfarlane & Company at their Saracen Foundry.

I have seen some papers from Durban's City Architect's Department which say that our fountain was produced by Walter Macfarlane & Co. I had no quarrel with this but, after finding out about the St Arvans and East Linton fountains, which are definitely Sun Foundry products, I became convinced that ours was too. Last week I found the incredibly interesting Scottish Ironwork website and sent a picture of Durban's fountain to the site's co-publisher, David Mitchell.

David, who works for the Conservation Research and Education Group of Historic Scotland, replied that Currie's Memorial Fountain is definitely a Sun product. He says that the various foundries guarded their designs jealously and would have pursued anyone who tried to copy them. So now we know...

Still on the suject of decorative cast iron, I mentioned some time ago in these pages that I had visited the Da Gama clock on Victoria Embankment and found it to be in a very sad state of repair. It seems that our Portuguese community has been equally concerned about the monument and I was very pleased to able to put a representative of the community in touch with the folk in the City Architect's Department who deal with these things. I have every hope, therefore, that moves to restore the monument will go ahead soon.

Update on Da Gama Clock - 21/7/2005

Some time ago I received an interesting e-mail from my informant John Bolton in Humbie in Scotland. He had seen my pictures of the Da Dama Clock and came up with examples of fountains in the UK which have some identical parts to it.

Click pics to view enlargements

These three pictures of the Da Gama clock were taken by myself on Victoria Embankment during 2005. The yellow arrow on the lefthand picture points to where Samson's feet can just be seen. In the middle is a closeup of Samson and, on the right, is a shot showing the rich, but somewhat careworn decorative detail on the monument.


Picture courtesy
John Bolton

The Haddington Fountain

This picture of the fountain in Haddinton in Scotland was taken in 2002 and shows that it has the same column as ours and the same Samson on top.

<== Click pic to view an enlargement 


Picture courtesy
John Bolton

Merthyr Tydfil Drinking Fountain

This picture shows the drinking fountain in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. It not only has the same Samson, but also what seems like the same dome, gargoyles and face plate arches.

<== Click pic to view an enlargement

Logo courtesy John Bolton: The Da Gama Clock and the Haddington and Merthyr Tydfil fountains were all made by Walter Macfarlane & Co. at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow.


Update on Currie's Memorial Drinking Fountain - 21/7/2005

Picture courtesy John Bolton

I have covered a number of fountains around the world which share some of the components with our Currie's Fountain. Now, from John Bolton, news of what looks like an identical piece. The fountain pictured, left, does look identical to the one in Durban and was apparently located in Tranent, near Haddington in Scotland, from before 1900 until the 1920s. The picture was apparently taken circa 1900.

The Durban Fountain.
Click image to view enlargement.


Added 16 December 2008

Dun Laoghaire drinking fountain

I was lucky enough to get a brief trip to Ireland in September this year and was amazed to find that they have a drinking fountain in Dun Laoghaire, which is more or less identical to our Da Gama clock.

Click to view enlargements.

The fountain was originally produced by Walter MacFarlane & Co. at their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. I am indebted to the Scottish Ironwork website for the information that the fountain was bombed in the early 1980s and that what we see today is almost a complete replica, incoporating some original pieces, which was produced by Heritage Engineering for the Dun Loaghaire Harbour Board in 2002.

Added 16 December 2008

Burgersdorp Drinking Fountain

I had heard tell that there was another drinking fountain, similar to our Da Gama Clock in South Africa. It's in Burgersdorp in the Orange Free State and I'm indebted to Arthur Gammage for this picture:

Picture courtesy Arthur Gammage - click to view enlargement.

Check out the incredibly interesting Scottish Ironwork website for more information about all aspects of Scottish ironwork.


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