Rutland Fountain restored

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    • #710575

      The Rutland Fountain on the west side of Merrion Square facing the National Gallery has just been restored for the second time in a matter of decades.

      Built in 1791-92 to the designs of Francis Sandys, the fountain was either instigated and/or built in commemoration of Lord Lieutenant Charles Manners, Duke of Rutland, who died from fever in 1787. Given the structure’s positioning on salubrious Merrion Square, one cannot imagine that it was much of a philanthropic gesture for the poor of the city, perhaps serving more the convenience of service staff of surrounding mansions. Francis Sandys was also responsible for the obelisk-shaped drinking fountain on James’s Street of similar date.

      Built almost entirely of Leinster granite, the fountain is dressed with a mixture of Portland stone and more delicately detailed Coade stone elements in the neoclassical taste.

      In a severe state of neglect by the mid-20th century, this was the disheveled appearance of the fountain in 1966.

      This unfortunate state of affairs prompted the then Director of the National Gallery of Ireland Dr. James White to have the structure restored by Dublin Corporation as part of European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. This restoration appears to have made use of cement strap pointing and other undesirable techniques which required reversal in order to protect the fabric of the structure and improve its appearance. Decayed stone replacement was also needed.

      Restored in late 2008 and 2009 by masonry conservators Interclean, the recently completed works were commissioned by Dublin City Council at a cost of €230,000. The transformation has been remarkable for its subtlety of intervention, softly bringing a mellowed landmark back to life.

      The Coade stone urns have been delicately handled. It’s difficult to be sure if any have been replaced – it appears not.

      The medallions on the end piers depict female figures, with ‘COADE LONDON’ inscribed beneath: on the left a woman in mourning with a soldier behind her, on the right a seated Hibernia.

      Hibernia with her figurative harp – exquisitely detailed.

    • #807639

      The central arch is embellished with a Coade stone tablet, flanked at either side by roundels of a cheery chubby Duke (who died at only thirty-three) and an altogether more sullen Duchess of Rutland, the latter of such a dour disposition as to make one wonder if it was in fact fever that killed the Duke at all.

      The tablet originally displayed a scene of the Duke’s father, John Manners, Marquess of Granby, relieving the distress of a dead soldier’s family, however a tableau of Monty Pytonesque proportions now presents itself to the passer-by as a result of a bout of beheadings carried out by vandals before the 1960s.

      Sadly, the fountains which once poured from the mouths of the bronze lions heads have not been restored – a particularly unfortunate state of affairs for a structure located directly across the road from State institutions with round-the-clock security personnel. If a water feature cannot be made operational even in these highly controlled circumstances, then frankly none can in the city. Perhaps budget constraints dictated matters.

      The original centrepiece, which according to Christine Casey comprised a stone shell mounted on a plinth, with a life-size Coade stone water nymph with its arm resting on the water conduit (doesn’t it sound just spectacularly vulgar), was also not reinstated – understandably so if there is insufficient documentary evidence to cast a new one, not to mention in the interests of taste and decency.

      The text-incised tablet as carved by Michael Biggs in the 1970s has been gently cleaned, as has the whole structure.

    • #807640

      All joints were also raked out and re-pointed in lime mortar.

      Similar treatment was given to the surprisingly detailed rear elevation – we forget the park was largely unplanted at the time of its construction.

      Some minor tying was also undertaken to address structural movement. One could argue the wallplates could have been a little more subtle.

      Clever rainwater goods. The fountain does have a considerable roof expanse after all.

      In summary, a practical project that’s principal aim was the consolidation and protection of the fabric of the fountain, and less concerned with its aesthetic as an architectural entity. It is of considerable regret that the opportunity was not taken to install a spectacular floodlighting scheme involving the simple insertion of linear LED strips immediately behind the railing plinth to softly cast an upward glow. Coupled with spot floods mounted on the two flanking lampposts (which currently host ghastly orange sodium floods) to illuminate the five urns, the fountain could look stunningly ethereal after dark, especially for the eyes of attendees of evening functions in the National Gallery directly across the road. This could have been effected for very little cost – the Rutland Fountain is a lighting designer’s dream.

      Nonetheless, a welcome conservation of yet another of Dublin city centre’s monuments and landmarks conducted by Dublin City Council since 2006.

    • #807641

      I knew you’d wander by here eventually Graham.

      Its a lovely piece isnt it. I’m also disappointed that the water feature hasn’t been repaired. It would be lovely to hear the trickle of water. Dublin is particularly poorly served by water features (perhaps its our wonderful temperate climate a la yesterday!). The lighting could also be improved that’s true. Fair due to the Council for an otherwise excellent restoration.

      One interesting point is the appearance of a lodge to the rear of the fountain in the B&W print you have posted. A former park lodge maybe.

      Also its interesting that Merrrion Square got this monumental treatment when the family are remembered for Rutland Square (and Granby Row) on the north side whcih we of course now know as Parnell Square.

    • #807642

      Graham: great presentation as ever; good to see this is still happening even in these straitened times.
      Lament the failure to restore the water feature (why are we so naff at that in these islands?) and wonder also why DCC could not have sacrificed 4 or 5 parking spaces to have given this delightful little gem an appropriate setting. Wasn’t there a proposal at one time to align the main entrance gates to the ING with this feature?

    • #807643

      They go to the trouble of restoring this fountain but dont turn it on:confused:
      We do have a major problem when it comes to water features in this city,how many of
      them can you think off that are turned off with junk etc sitting in them around the city.

    • #807644

      Not very many actually…I think thats the point. Fountains just dont seem to feature very much in this city. I would guess its a lot to do with our poor “outdoors” society. We dont value streets as places to congregate and so features such as fountains just havent developed.

    • #807645

      Thank you for all the information and many photos. I really appreciate all the closeups of the fountain’s detail. The bronze lion heads have such wonderful faces. Most lions are made to look so fierce and end up looking all the same. It is indeed a shame that it is not a working fountain.

    • #807646

      Here’s another unfortunate fountain, attached to the rates office, unloved by our city council despite being passed everyday by public servants on the way from wood quay to city hall.

    • #807647

      Graham – are you on a retainer from Archiseek? 😉

    • #807648

      The original centrepiece, which according to Christine Casey comprised a stone shell mounted on a plinth, with a life-size Coade stone water nymph with its arm resting on the water conduit (doesn’t it sound just spectacularly vulgar), was also not reinstated – understandably so if there is insufficient documentary evidence to cast a new one, not to mention in the interests of taste and decency.

      It took a bit of rooting – voila! An aquatint by J. G. Stadler.

      Beat this Oldbridge Concrete. Our water nymph in all her glory.

      The water conduit takes the form of her urn on its side. Even in late Georgian Dublin, I cannot imagine a sitting target like this would last very long…

      The fountain appears to have been well used by service staff in the area. Even by the 1790s, many of the most prestigous houses had no running water, with records of water carts delivering water to basement tanks in Fitzwilliam Square as late as 1815. Even if one had a tank, it’s quite likely fresh drinking water may still have been sought from the fountain on a daily basis.

      It is also of interest that the water appears to continually flow from the fountain with no stopcock, presumably into a grating set in the platform.

      This was a waste of valuable water at a time when there were major misgivings over the common Dublin practice of allowing water to continually flow unhindered into houses, particularly in the older quarters of the city. An open pipe would pour into a tank with an overflow into the nearest drain, thus wasting vast volumes of water – far more than was ever used. The practice was finally outlawed in the early 19th century through a mandatory adoption of ballcocks. In the case of the Rutland Fountain, perhaps the water was only turned on for a few hours in the morning…

      The beautifully detailed original railings of Merrion Square are also apparent, of a quality similar to those of the Irish Architectural Archive, as are the ranks of elegant globe oil lamps with neoclassical swags.

      It is perhaps one of the defining features of Georgian Dublin that not a single 18th century public lamp remains in the city today, and precious few surviving on private homes and public buildings. It is consolidated by not a single effort anywhere to reinstate any in an informed way. St. George’s Church is a solitary exception. Edinburgh recently reinstated a host of the lamps as seen above along the reproduction railings of Prince’s Street, where they work to beautiful effect.

    • #807649

      Brilliant reclining figure I’ve never seen before.

      Perhaps a contemporary take could be a giant mould of the ‘White Lady of Cabra’?

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