The Ross Fountain is a magnificent example of 19th century cast-iron work, from the foundry of Antoine Durenne ‘Maitre de Forges, Sommevoire Haute Marne’ in France. At ground level the circular basin has curved Craigleith sandstone edges, and the first elevated basin is decorated with stylised 'walrus' heads round the edge. The first tier of the central column has mermaid figures with overflowing urns, sitting on scallop-shell basins with lion’s heads between. Swags and cornucopia abound, and the bowls above have cherub-faced spouts. Near the top are four female figures depicting Science, Arts, Poetry, and Industry, seated between semi-circular basins. The structure is surmounted by a beautifully modelled female figure, holding the topmost cornucopia.
The figures were sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann (b. April 1810) whose other work includes figures for the Louvre and D’ Medici fountains in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Mr Daniel Ross, a local gun-maker ‘with inclinations to art and natural science’ saw the fountain at the Great Exhibition of 1862 in London, where it was described as “obtaining universal admiration”. He bought and gifted it to the city; it was shipped to Leith in 122 pieces in September 1869.
A smaller version of the fountain is now in Pelotas in Brazil. Dean Ramsay (see above) described it as 'Grossly indecent and disgusting; insulting and offensive to the moral feelings of the community and disgraceful to the City.' There was much wrangling about the siting of it, until West Princes Street Gardens was finally agreed. At that time these were private subscription gardens - and it was decided that it should operate 'on Sundays, and when the band plays...' It was erected and operational in 1872 but Ross died the year before without seeing it working.
In recent years, the Fountain has suffered substantial water-loss through its stone sub-structure. It is currently switched off to prevent possible structural damage. The City of Edinburgh Council has commissioned expert advice to understand what conservation and repair work is needed, and is exploring options to secure the long term future of this magnificent Fountain.
Info courtesy of David Patterson from Edinburgh Museums