Fountains & Tulips



I want to talk to you about ducts’ – Brazil

The fountains in Trafalgar Square are spurting again instead of dribbling. Well, we’re all getting old. They now reach 35 feet high. The three 50-year-old engines underground – which also houses a fridge-sized plastic tub filled with a year’s worth of coins scooped out of the basins – are all running again. With their help the fountains can attain a height of 80 feet, a sight no one has ever seen. The engineers only dare test that on a completely still day: a breath of wind and they would drench Canada and South Africa houses.

The original Victorian fountains had nothing to do with beauty and everything to do with reducing the amount of open space and the risk of riotous assembly. The police post concealed inside a granite column in the corner, often wrongly called the smallest police station in London, was added in the great depression of the 1930s: it was linked directly to Scotland Yard and has slots through which the solitary occupant could fire on any rioters. The fountains, originally fed by an artesian well and run by steam engines from a control room behind the National Gallery, were generally damned as dribbling failures. The pathetic height of the plume was rudely compared to a beer bottle being opened.

In the late 1930s the decision was taken to replace them, with new stone basins designed by Edwin Lutyens, at a cost of almost £50,000. The party and opening ceremony by the Duke of Gloucester and the Archbishop of Canterbury had to wait until after the second world war – it was in 1948 and cost just under another £3,000.

The old fountains were sold to Ottawa, where they are apparently still spluttering. This time the restoration work was essential because just one of the three pumps was keeping the 100,000 gallons of water circulating, and the old lights were constantly failing and having to be replaced at £1,000 a bulb.
The new lights are LED, pay for themselves in saved energy and for the first time incorporate colours.

The fountains now glow green for St Patrick’s Day, and red, white and blue for St George’s Day. Their first official performance was when they lit up in orange and lemon, like the bells of St Clement’s.

The London Eye, the top of the Shard and the Telecom Tower all change their lights for different occasions, pink for St Valentine’s Day and blue and white for the NHS. Banks in the Square Mile are starting to do the same thing, but only at the tips of the roofs.

Richard Fosters’ plan to build the theme-park styled Tulip Tower has been rejected by the Mayor, Sadiq Kahn, because it’s felt that the design is of insufficient quality for such a prominent location, and that the tower would result in harm to London’s skyline and impact views of the nearby Tower of London World Heritage Site. Three cheers for common sense.

18 comments on “Fountains & Tulips”

  1. Ian Mason says:

    “The fountains now glow green for St Patrick’s Day, and red, white and blue for St George’s Day.”

    [Fx: In the voice or Miss Jean Brodie] How *modern* of them. Tell me, was this originally an American idea?

  2. Joan says:

    I believe the pair of Fountains sent to Canada, were split and one was kept in Ottawa and the second sent to Regina, where they are both splashing still.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    What’s an unopened ‘Tulip’ (‘Cotton Bud ?’) when you already have a ‘Gherkin ?’ For the uninitiated, the popularly known ‘Gherkin’ is that well — gherkin shaped — City of London skyscraper in the photo next to the then proposed ‘Tulip Tower.’ Shame — visitors would have been able to ride in glass ‘gondola pods’ revolving around the outside of the summit (at 305 meters). Inside would have been viewing platforms, restaurants and a bar, and — more’s the pity — a glass chute for people to slide from one level to another. Too bad, — it’s not as if the City couldn’t use more ostentation. Well, there’s always the inevitable next proposal to alter the skyline.

  4. Stu-I-Am says:

    And proper fountains the now Canadian Trafalgar fountains in Ottawa and Regina are — to this fountain aficionado. Certainly not dribbling or spluttering. What next now that the coloured lights are in place on the present Trafalgar Square fountains and they can reach a level approximating Old Faithful ? Loudspeakers blaring Churchill’s WWII speeches or perhaps holograms of famous Londoners ? Bah humbug!

  5. Ian Luck says:

    It’s probably for the best that the ‘Tulip Tower’ has been nixed. Given a couple of years of existence, there is a very strong possibility of it being known to most Britons as ‘The Bell End’. If you don’t know why that would be unfortunate, Check out the ‘Viz’ ‘Profanisaurus’ for details.

  6. admin says:

    My swearing Bible is ‘War And Piss’, the most recent Profanisaurus update and a national treasure.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    It’s amusing to me, that what started out as a ten page booklet, created for a laugh, has now become a huge reference book, the contents of which will make me cry with laughter, but also an indicator of how language constantly changes. It also shows what a dark, dirty, weird and scary the British sense of humour is. It’s an essential book.

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    In what is sure to be another controversial but actual piece of London ‘theatre’ — director Richard Jones has decided not to assume the resounding ‘no’ for an answer he got for his last attempt at Wagner’s monumental ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen ‘ (‘Ring Cycle’) was a ‘never’ — and will again stage it starting 19 Nov in London with the English National Opera (London Coliseum). It will start with ‘Die Walküre’ (‘The Valkyries’), the second in chronological order of the four operas that make up the cycle, all of which will be sung in English as is the ENO’s tradition.

    His first go-round 28 years ago, roundly savaged by critics and public alike, saw the ‘Rhinemaidens’ in fat suits and and ‘Wotan,’ the king of the gods, carrying a ‘one way’ road sign. This time, with a stark, modern backdrop promised,  Brünnhilde (sans horned helmet),Wotan’s daughter and leader of the Valkyries, will apparently be based loosely on Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist, and be dressed appropriately as a teen in trainers, shorts and a T-shirt, with a breastplate over the top. ‘Over the top’ may again be the operative word.

  9. Paul+C says:

    The Profanisaurus reminds me of the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Definitions include : grave (n.) – a place where the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student //// Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage //// Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments. Bierce wrote some superb short stories and was the only American writer of distinction to serve in the Civil War. He had quite a life and disappeared in the Mexican Revolution in 1913 and was never heard of again.

  10. Helen+Martin says:

    Dousing Canada House might not be such a bad thing since the SW corner of the country has had over 100mm of rain over this past weekend and all highways east are blocked with flooding and/or mud slides. Merrit (up in the Interior) has been half evacuated and no one is to turn on a tap or flush a toilet there because it will back up into the house. There are people at edges of the Fraser VALLEY trapped in their cars. The railway is cut in two places so the Transportation ministry is talking about airlifting people out. The weather map indicated the pattern covers part of Washington so I wonder how Ed is doing in Seattle.
    Thank you, Joan for the fountain confirmation. I would never have thought of shipping a fountain. So, what, the piping, the Spouting mechanism (?) and the surrounds? I assume not the engines.

  11. Gabi Coatsworth says:

    A few years ago, I went up the Empire State Building a few days before Christmas – in the evening. Hardly any people, no queues for the lifts. When I got to the top, what startled me were the fantastically illuminated buildings of Manhattan. Red and green for Christmas and blue for the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah. In the dark days of winter, the more lights the merrier, I say…

  12. Ed+DesCamp says:

    We’re fortunate to be in an area that doesn’t flood. On the other hand, a good landslide might put us down in the river valley a mile away. My guess is that I’m more likely to trip over a neighbor’s small dog and break a tooth.

  13. Liz+Thompson says:

    Thank you for mention of the profanisaurus. I’d never heard of it. – now heading off to obtain a copy!

  14. Wayne+Mook says:

    I still have an advertisement postcard from viz for the memorial reproduction of the Queen’s mum’s teeth.

    The flooding in British Columbia looks awful, hope you all stay safe. record temperatures and now this, I hope the COP summit actually achieves something.


  15. Ian Luck says:

    Liz – I hope you’re not easily offended – the book was described by it’s creators as:
    “A farrago of gutter language.”
    Saying that, it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. ‘Viz Comic’, from whence it originated, is a childishly vulgar, and seemingly stupid read – but here’s the thing – it’s written by clever people, who insert sometimes exquisitely cerebral material into it – one such example being a mock ad., for the ‘Cuneiform Dating Agency’, where experts in the early written form, can find partners. It listed several different types of Cuneiform, all correct, which made my geeky heart jump for joy.

  16. Paul+C says:

    Viz originated from a teenager’s bedroom here in Newcastle in 1979 and is still limping along. I remember the creators doggedly trying to sell the early copies in local pubs without much success and lots of abuse. Happy days…….

  17. Helen+Martin says:

    Glad to hear from you, Ed. We are luckily in the same advantageous position.
    The profanisaurus sounds like perfect bathroom reading.

  18. Jan says:

    The City of London is teetering on the edge of becoming a theme park where one set of tourists gazing from the top floors of one very high building has the opportunity of waving at a different set of tourists next door…..

    I feel like such a grumpy old tart writing this but a few years back I spent a fantastic lunch hour (Taken away from a v. tedious trial at the Bailey) looking across from the top of the Monument – and that was a bit of a climb- at all the golden weather vanes of the City churches and institutions below me. It was really brilliantly blue sky and bloody freezing weather and this was such a wonderful sight. Now from these heady new vantage points no one will even notice.

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