Polly on the Fountain

Location: Oldbury, West Midlands, England

This lost cast iron drinking fountain was manufactured by the Coalbrookdale Company Foundry. David Taylor, the founder of the London Ironworks in Oldbury, bequeathed to the town in his will a sum of money to purchase a drinking fountain, (the proposal to erect a fountain had been initiated 35 years earlier.) It was erected at the corner of Birmingham Street and Unity Place on the same site from which Jack Judge, composer of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’, would later sell fish from his handcart.

It was seated on a rectangular plinth with rounded edges, and consisted of a trough with a drinking fountain centerpiece. Centrally positioned floral lunettes were located in the decorative panels of each animal trough.

The drinking fountain was an encased dome surrounded by arches and short pedestals with floral decoration. Four Corinthian columns with attic base supported a canopy surmounted by a statue. Lunettes between each column contained lion masks. On two sides, water which flowed from the lion mouth into a fluted basin descended to a small trough below for the use of dogs. The central finial was a reeded vase with handles in the form of intertwined snakes. Photographic evidence shows a partly illegible inscription between the lion mask and basin, Presented to the town by David Taylor…1882

The terminal statue of a female figure stood on a circular base set upon a square plinth. She was portrayed in a contrapposto stance and was dressed in long flowing robes. Her left arm was relaxed at her side and her right arm held a torch above her head. Originally a glass sphere, it contained a gas mantle that was illuminated at night. The statue was identified as Europa by the manufacturer, but it was known locally as Polly on the fountain. The reason for this nickname is unknown.

The description of the fountain appeared in the Oldbury Weekly News of 5th August 1882 although the description was not accurate.  “It is composed entirely of iron, the contract having been executed by the Coalbrookdale Iron Company.  There are four troughs at the base for the use of sheep, dogs and cattle, above which is the usual provision for the public.  In the centre of the structure is an ornamental urn which seems to be in connection with the lion heads from which the water flows.  Over this is a canopy or pedestal on which stands a full-sized figure representing a female, holding up a crown with outstretched hands.”

On Christmas Eve 1949 drunken celebrants climbed onto the statue knocking it to the ground and breaking the right arm. With no attempt made to repair it, the remains of the fountain were dismantled to be sold for scrap.Harry Nightingale, great grandson of David Taylor and owner of a pawn shop in the town, purchased the damaged statue and erected it in his garden at Barnford Crescent. This was the first of many homes for Polly as family members relocated within the town of Oldbury; Kingswinford; Bath, Somerset; and Trowbridge, Wiltshire. After Edna Nightingale became a widow, she offered to return the statue to the town with the proviso that it was repaired. The statue was therefore delivered to Oldbury but after inspection was considered too costly, and it was returned to Wiltshire. The statue remains in the care of the Nightingale family.

Glossary

  • Attic base, a column base with two rings
  • Canopy, an ornamental roof-like projection
  • Contrapposto, a stance where one leg bears the weight and the other leg is relaxed
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Lunette, the half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting
  • Mask/Mascaron, a decorative element in the form of a sculpted face or head of a human being or an animal
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.
  • Terminal, statue or ornament that stands on a pedestal

In Gratitude
Many thanks to Dr. Terry Daniels, Chair of the Oldbury Local History Group

 

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Image Sources

http://historyofoldbury.co.uk/articles/article008%20-%20jack%20judge%20part%201.htm

 

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