The Ross Fountain: a brief history

Ross Bandstand

The Ross Fountain sits beneath Edinburgh Castle in Princes Street Gardens, only a few hundred yards from the Ross Bandstand.  Here, David Patterson, Curatorial & Conservation Manager from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, gives us an overview of its history.

Turbulence ahead

The concept of an ornamental park with statues, formal flower beds and civic fountains in the centre
of an urban setting was a Victorian one. The proposal for a fountain for Princes Street Gardens was
first discussed as early as 1859, when the gardens were still in private ownership. Nothing came of
that suggestion. Five years later, in 1864 another attempt was made in a letter to the Council in
which it was stated that a private gentleman was prepared to offer £2,000 towards the expense of
erecting a fountain. The total estimated cost was £4,000 and it was hoped the good people of
Edinburgh would contribute the remaining funds.

Search for a site

In the years that followed, a number of sites were proposed, with preference initially for a location
beside the Scott Monument. When it became clear that this site was too small, the lower gardens in
East Princes Street were proposed. By then, the private donor had been identified as Mr Daniel Ross,
an Edinburgh gunsmith, and he refused to consider this option. In a bizarre twist City Councillors
then proposed a location outside the recently constructed Caledonian Station at the City’s West End.
Even Charlotte Square was considered at one stage.

By this time Mr Ross was getting really frustrated, offering on one occasion to forfeit the
considerable amount he had already paid for the fountain (over £1,000) and walk away. Nine years
had passed and still no final decision had been taken. Correspondence at the time reveals just how
tense things had become between Mr Ross and Council members. Finally, in June 1868, after a lot of
wrangling, the current site was agreed and approved by the owners of West Princes Street Gardens
(the gardens remained in private ownership until 1876). The fountain finally arrived at Leith in
September 1869.

Delays, delays!

A year after its arrival, the 122 pieces of the fountain still had not been assembled. The Council
contributed an extra £200 so that it could be completed before the winter of 1870, but records show
that there was still work to be done during the summer of 1871. In a cruel twist of fate, Mr Ross died
in January that year – he would never see his gift to the City fully completed. It was eventually
finished in 1872.

The Fountain

In 1862, Durenne, the French firm specialising in iron castings, exhibited a fountain of almost
identical design to that which now stands in Edinburgh at the International Exhibition in London. It
was a larger version of this fountain which Daniel Ross ordered for Edinburgh, although to keep costs
down the horses and nymphs in the outer basin were omitted. Hailed for its marvellous design and
modelling, Durenne claimed their cast iron fountain was as fine as any bronze equivalent, but was
much less expensive to make. The designer was Jean-Baptiste Klagman, who also designed statues
for the Louvre Fountain and the Fountain D’Medics in the Luxembourg Garden, both in Paris.

Daniel Ross

Daniel Ross’s obituary gives us a little insight into this rather eccentric man. It spoke of a ‘man of
strongly marked character, warm in liking and disliking, a conservative in politics but liberal with his
purse to help a friend or to assist any object he approved.’ Mr Ross was a collector, and in his
personal museum he displayed a ‘large number of beautiful mineralogies and geological specimens’.
He also had a love of art, and it was it was out of gratitude for the encouragement he had received
when in business that we wanted to do something for the adornment of Edinburgh. He died in
Rockville House, one of the most unique and dazzling houses ever to be built in Edinburgh.
Tragically, the house was demolished in the 1960s. One final thing to note – In West Princes Street
Gardens, the nearby Ross Bandstand has no connection with Daniel Ross, taking its name instead
from a Mr W H Ross, chairman of the Distillers Company.