Grand Fountain Restoration, Paisley


Building owner/client:

Renfrewshire Council

Architect or lead designer:

Industrial Heritage Consulting Ltd and Lost Art Ltd

Local Authority Area:


Nominating Body:

STAR Project

Project Description

This project conserved and restored a derelict Category A-listed cast iron fountain situated within Paisley’s oldest public park. The Grand Fountain, the centrepiece of Fountain Gardens, was gifted to the people of Paisley by the wealthy mill owner, Thomas Coats of the world famous J&P Coats thread manufacturer. The world wide significance of the textile industry, and Paisley’s role in it, is an important part of the heritage of the Grand Fountain. During the 19th century iron was one of the most important construction materials available and the ‘contemporary’ material of the age. The latter half of the 19th century saw Scotland develop as a world leader in architectural cast iron and the remaining historic cast iron structures in Scotland are testament to Scotland’s significant role in the world-wide production and use of cast iron. Paisley’s Grand Fountain stands 10m tall and was designed and constructed by George Smith & Co, Sun Foundry in Glasgow. The only one of its kind ever produced. The unique design includes herons, walruses, cherubs and dolphins and is considered by Historic Scotland (HS) to be the best example of a Scottish made cast iron fountain in the country. “The uniqueness, scale, novelty and wonderful quality of this fountain, combined with the fact that it was made by one of the most successful Scottish iron manufacturers means that this fountain is one of the most important fountains made in Scotland.” Historic Scotland, June 2006. The Grand Fountain was once a popular meeting place with people taking great pleasure from its ornate design and vibrant colours. Unfortunately, the vibrant colour scheme, designed by Daniel Cottier, became lost under years of ‘municipal’ paint. By the early 1980’s the Gardens had started to decline and while it was used by people during the day it was avoided in the evenings. The water was finally switched off in the mid-1980’s and the structure became the focus for anti-social behaviour. Many people within the community had positive childhood memories of playing in and around the fountain however for younger generations it had always been derelict and considered to be of little value. By 2006 Historic Scotland surveyed the structure reporting a 95% internal fixture failing. It was added to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments in Scotland’s (RCAHMS) Buildings at Risk Register (BARR) in 2008. Work to save the fountain began in 2010 with Renfrewshire Council (RC) collaborating with STAR Project and Friends of Fountain Gardens (FOFG) to secure funding from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Historic Scotland (HS) and Renfrewshire Council’s internal budgets. STAR Project is a well established (1999) and much trusted organisation within the community who works with around 600 individuals each year, working to build safer, more connected and resilient families and communities. We worked closely with RC to develop the project ensuring that the fountain was restored and that the local community would benefit. The conservation works were complemented by an intensive programme of community-led activities that encouraged local people to engage with the story of the fountain. By sharing the importance of the structure as a philanthropic gift, the significance of the local manufacturer, the unique design and colour scheme, this project gave local people a renewed sense of pride in their community. The project was completed in late summer 2014 and the community celebrated at a Victorian themed garden party in September attended by over 1500 people. This project has transformed a community park allowing people of all ages to enjoy this unique, restored fountain once more.

Supporting Statement

The Grand Fountain is recognised as one of the “most significant 19th century cast iron fountains in Scotland”. As such, this project was delivered to strict conservation standards, based on extensive research and painstaking paint-sampling. Innovative ideas were developed to overcome challenges and provide the Paisley North community with a fountain that will stand for a further 100+ years. Following removal of the fountain to Lost Art’s workshop, each item was cleaned in preparation for painting. Having stood saturated for decades, once cleaned black spots developed on the surface meaning moisture remained in the iron; a major problem. Trapping moisture beneath paint leads to rust and must be avoided. Proper drying was essential and a custom-made oven was built from a shipping container to accommodate the large, decorative items. Each item was dried to ensure full heat penetration until the black spots ceased, sometimes taking over 15 hours in the oven. An innovative approach developed to improve the process of cast-iron conservation. A project case study is being prepared for HS so that others can benefit from the innovation of the Grand Fountain Restoration, Paisley. Sustainability Conservation projects are sustainable by their very nature. The conservation ethics followed in this project ensured that very few new castings were needed, the majority of parts were repaired and re-used. The economic sustainability is more difficult to evidence however the increased awareness of the fountain has resulted in more visitors which in-turn supports the local economy. There is evidence of the private sector taking advantage of this heritage-led project through the commissioning of a mural that depicts Paisley’s textile industry. The mural has the Grand Fountain centre stage, further helping to sustain the legacy of the Coats family. Preservation historic built environment This project has preserved an important part of Paisley’s built heritage. The only one of its kind ever built (pattern No. 1) by the Sun Foundry in Glasgow, the Category A-listed Grand Fountain continues to engage and excite the local community. Following its restoration, the fountain was removed from the RCAHMS’s BARR in 2014. This project has had a hugely positive impact on a community that suffers from multiple-deprivation and where scepticism and exclusion often replace aspiration and celebration. From conception to completion the Council-led team worked with STAR Project to ensure positive engagement. The project delivered activities including memory sharing, storytelling and the much-loved ‘Adopt a Walrus’ project all designed to allow people to embrace the project generating high levels of interest and personal investment; a huge confidence boost for all. STAR Project’s role in the community allows us to appreciate the continued joy this project has delivered. People continue to talk about it and what it means to them. The “switch on” event was open to and attended by the whole community. This type of activity, where individuals feel connected by a common theme, can deliver huge social change. The pride felt by the community has levelled some inequalities, perceived and actual, and offered learning through heritage for further social change. Observationally, we see an increased footfall with families using the Gardens more frequently. Photographs are shared on social media with remarks about people walking through more often “loving the sound of the fountain”. Local people are now also working together to re-instate the annual Fountain Gardens gala-day. Achievements of the Project Early in the project there was anxiety about potential vandalism, however the conservation team spoke enthusiastically with local people, answering questions and listening to opinion. STAR Project exhibited community artwork around the fountain site over a 5-month period which was untouched but much appreciated locally. The whole team worked tirelessly to keep the community up-to-date throughout the project. There has been no vandalism and the fountain continues to be enjoyed without damage; a tremendous outcome. The original colour scheme was the work of Daniel Cottier (1837–1891) best known for his fine stained and painted glasswork and interiors. His glasswork was considered to be an important influence on Louis Comfort Tiffany and also is credited with introducing the Aesthetic Movement to America and Australia. Following a very long and arduous process of paint sampling by the team HS, the ultimate arbiter for the Category A-listed structure, approved the proposed interpretation of the Cottier colour scheme. This was successfully recreated with each piece of the fountain hand painted and accentuated with bronze glaze and gold leaf to reflect Cottier’s vision. STAR Project believes that the community is healthier, safer and more confident as a result of this conservation project and we are proud to have played our part and to make this nomination.