Fountain in National Museum, Scotland

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

The cast iron drinking fountain on display in the Grand Hall of the museum has been extensively restored and is intended to replicate pattern number 21 from the Walter Macfarlane & Co.’s. catalogue. However, this restored version has applied elements from a different design. The finial on top of the canopy is a finial associated with Drinking Fountain number 8 (a 4 column canopy version.) The griffins with outstretched wings lay on the arches of pattern number 8. The correct version for pattern 21 has griffins with wings tucked into the side.

Design number 21 was manufactured in the 1880’s at the Saracen Foundry at Possilpark in Glasgow, considered the most prolific architectural iron founder in the world. The canopied drinking fountain is seated on an octagonal plinth. The canopy is supported by eight columns with griffin terminals which are positioned over capitals with foliage frieze above square bases.

The highly decorated cusped arches are trimmed with rope mouldings which display an image of a crane in each lunette. On each side arch faceplates provide a flat surface for inscription using raised metal letters; often the useful monition, Keep the pavement dry. Civic virtues such as temperance were often extolled in inscriptions on drinking fountains.

Doves and flowers offer decorative relief on the circular, open filigree, ribbed dome which is surmounted with a crown and with a pattée cross. The internal capitals contain flowers.

Under the canopy is the font (casting number 7, 5 ft 8ins high). The single pedestal with four decorative pilasters and descending salamander relief supports a basin 2 ft 6 ins in diameter. The basin has a scalloped edge and is engraved with decorative relief. The original design contained a central vase with four consoles which offered drinking cups suspended by chains. The terminal is a crane. As in almost every example of cast iron drinking fountains, the drinking cups have been lost and/or deteriorated. Sadly, a facsimile of the original drinking cups has not been replicated.

Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Griffins are symbolic of guardians of priceless possessions, cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance, and salamanders as a symbol of courage and bravery.


  • Capital, the top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Console, a decorative bracket support element
  • Cusped Arch, the point of intersection of lobed or scalloped forms
  • Filigree, fine ornamental work
  • Frieze, the horizontal part of a classical moulding just below the cornice, often decorated with carvings
  • Griffin, winged lion denotes vigilance and strength, guards treasure and priceless possessions
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Pattée cross, a cross with arms that narrow at the centre and flare out at the perimeter
  • Pedestal, an architectural support for a column or statue
  • Pilaster, a column form that is only ornamental and not supporting a structure
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests
  • Terminal, statue or ornament that stands on a pedestal

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