Chapel Hill Fountain

Location: Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex, England

The crossroads on the hill where the high road from London to Cambridge crossed with the one from Benfield End to Stansted Street once contained a traveller’s chapel. After many years it was replaced with a public house and a smithy. These buildings were later demolished leaving a clear area for the erection of a drinking fountain which was funded by subscriptions.

The fountain which still stands at the junction of Chapel Hill and Cambridge Road was erected on 12 May 1871, and the water officially turned on by Henry Gilbey, who with his brother Walter, were the major benefactors. A plaque is inscribed; This Fountain Was Originally Presented By The Gilbey Family In 1871. It was registered as a Grade II historic building on 9 September 1976.

The drinking fountain, number 8 from Walter Macfarlane & Co.’s catalogue, was manufactured at the Saracen Foundry at Possilpark in Glasgow. The structure is 9 feet 6 inches high and consists of four columns, from the capitals of which consoles with griffin terminals unite with arches formed of decorated mouldings. The structure was seated on a three tiered plinth of Portland Stone with the top step encased with Maw & Co.’s encaustic tiles.

Rope moulded cartouches within each lunette host the crest of Mountfitchet. The shield facing Turnpike Road displays an inscription; Stanstead Essex 1871. On two of the sides is the useful monition, Keep The Pavement Dry. Civic virtues such as temperance were often extolled in inscriptions on drinking fountains. The structure is surmounted by an open filigree dome, the finial is a crown with a pattée cross which was originally surmounted by a gas lamp with 3 burners.

Under the canopy stands the font (design number 7) 5 foot 8 inches high. The terminal was originally a gilded crane. The basin (2 feet 6 inches in diameter) which has a scalloped edge and decorative relief is supported by a single decorative pedestal with four pilasters and four descending salamanders, a symbol of courage and bravery. A central urn with four consoles offered four drinking cups suspended by chains. The fountain was operated with bib valves which released water when pressed. The water supply was provided by Messrs. E. Hicks & Son Steam Mill.

Symbolism was popular in Victorian times. Griffins are symbolic of guardians of priceless possessions, salamanders display bravery and courage that cannot be extinguished by fire, and cranes are recognized as a symbol of vigilance. 


  • Capital, The top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • 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
  • Console, a decorative bracket support element
  • Encaustic tiles, ceramic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colors of clay.
  • Filigree, fine ornamental work
  • Finial, a sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure
  • Fret, running or repeated ornament
  • 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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