Burns Memorial Drinking Fountain

Location: Dalkeith, Midlothian, Scotland

The Memorial to Robert Burns erected in 1899 to mark the centenary of Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard was originally located at the centre of the town in the cobbled High Street and therefore bore witness to many significant historic events: soldiers marching and stopping to drink from the tin cup, Suffragettes holding open air meetings as they struggled for the rights of women to be heard, parades that heralded visits by crowned Kings and Queens, blackout procedures where no light was to shine at night, and processions as people sang in celebration of the end of war.

The structure was seated on a single square plinth which changed in shape and size to accommodate the installation of an electric lamp light, flower beds and a stop for buses. The statue was stolen and the headlight broken, replaced then removed. The original drinking fountain was converted to a column pedestal with a white basin and a levered handle. The structure was painted black, then pale green, burgundy red and then repainted green.


Cited as a traffic hazard, it was removed to the gardener’s cottage in King’s Park in 1968.

In 2003 the fountain was relocated to Komorom Court and publicly unveiled to mark the Sesquicentennial birth of Robert Burns. It was stated that the structure had been restored with funds from the Dalkeith Common Goods Fund, but in fact, the restoration consisted of another layer of fresh paint. Once the pride of the town it has become just a canopy with undefined architectural details due to numerous layers of paint.

A weathered plaque, barely legible, is displayed at the foot of the structure: Memorial to Robert Burns/The centenary of the death of Robert Burns was marked in 1896 by the erection of a fountain in the High Street of Dalkeith/The cost was met by public subscription initiated by the local Burns Club / The fountain cover was subsequently moved to King’s Park and re-sited to Komarom Court in 2003.


The year on the plaque is incorrect per historic documents. Although the implementation of the memorial was initiated in 1896 the fountain was not erected until 1899, and even then, there was no official unveiling as it was felt too much money had already been spent. As of 2014, there is a movement underway to have the drinking fountain properly restored and relocated to the original location in the High Street.

NEWS UPDATE: On January 2016, a historic plaque found at Cousland Smiddy containing the profile image of Burns is believed to be a missing cartouche. See story here: http://www.midlothianview.com/news/lost-burns-plaque-returned-to-monument/

Plans were approved in March 2016 to restore and relocate the Burns Memorial Drinking Fountain to the historic east end of the High Street. See story http://www.midlothianadvertiser.co.uk/news/burns-monument-plans-approved-1-4071798

As part of the Dalkeith Townscape Initiative and the Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, the idea of the restoration of the monument was discussed. Funding was agreed in 2016 between Midlothian Council and Dalkeith Business Renewal and a grant was secured from Entrust.

The historic drinking fountain was restored by Lost Art Ltd of Wigan; CEO Dominic Liptrot attended the unveiling. The font was recreated using 3D scanning of an identical design in Middleton, England. Architectural details were hand carved by Ruth Davies.

Drinking fountain number 3, 9 feet 10 inches high, was manufactured by George Smith & Co.’s Sun Foundry. The structure consists of four columns with obelisk finials rising from a double plinth to support a domed canopy.  The interior column connectors to the dome are adorned with descending crocodiles and leafy decoration. Alligators were considered a symbol of evil and were hung from the ceilings of cabinets as a reminder of the mortality of humanity.

Arch faceplates with drip fret detail offer a flat surface for inscriptions in raised metal letters; civic virtues such as temperance were extolled on many drinking fountains. Over each arch, a cartouche contains a profile image of Robert Burns, Town of Dalkeith crest, a Masonic emblem and a dedication shield. (At one time in the fountain’s history, the initials RB were evident in the cartouche). The solid dome with lamp finial covers the fluted pedestal and wide basin containing a putto holding an oar, seated on an upturned urn (casting number 8). A tap was originally fitted to the urn at the rear of the pedestal.


  • Cartouche, a structure or figure, often in the shape of an oval shield or oblong scroll, used as an architectural or graphic ornament or to bear a design or inscription
  • Finial, A sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Fret, Running or repeated ornament
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Obelisk, A tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top
  • Plinth, Flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.
  • Putto, A figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually nude

11 responses to “Burns Memorial Drinking Fountain

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