A celebration to mark the completion of the Victoria Fountain restoration project and its return to the Old Steine was held on 12 October.
Councillors, community groups, local historians and specialists involved with the restoration project, gathered at the Old Steine to celebrate the historic milestone, and see the working fountain restored to its former glory.
The event included Brighton & Hove Mayor Cllr Jackie O’Quinn cutting the ribbon, a blessing with members of Fountain International and a special performance by The Wellington Wailers Sea Shanty group.
Experts who have skilfully restored the cast iron fountain and council officers who managed the project were on hand to talk about project and history of the iconic Brighton landmark.
Dismantling and reassembling the fountain
Work on the £400k restoration project began in December 2022 when, following significant structural problems, the fountain was switched off, dismantled and transported to Leicester, where specialist restoration work was been carried out.
This has included cleaning and repairing the large cast iron dolphins and fountain pool and decorative ‘egg-and-dart’ moulding ring using the innovative ‘Fusion Cast’ process which involves welding cast iron.
The fountain returned to the Old Steine in April to be carefully reassembled on a new reinforced concrete base and fitted with new electrics, pumps and water pipes and a new lighting scheme which provides red, green, blue and white lighting which can be controlled to mark special occasions.
Heritage restored in Brighton & Hove
Council leader Bella Sankey said: “It’s wonderful to see another piece of Brighton’s unique heritage has been restored and given a new lease of life, it looks more exquisite today than ever.
“I’m delighted that our residents will be able to take pleasure in this impressive sculpture with its cascading water that so delighted our Victorian predecessors.
“We are committed to making Brighton & Hove as beautiful as possible and this restoration project will play an important role in that.”
History of Victoria Fountain
Located in the centre of the southern enclosure of the Old Steine Gardens, the Victoria Fountain has a fascinating history.
The 32 ft three-tier monument includes a large, cast-iron pool with a rim decorated with egg-and-dart mouldings and was originally filled with water lilies and goldfish.
The Sarsen stones in the centre of the pool were found in the Steine by workers digging a trench in 1823.
The sandstone blocks support three intertwined dolphins, upon which rests a shallow, cast-iron basin. Above this are two columns with an additional basin.
Commemorating Queen Victoria
The fountain owes its existence to the efforts of John Cordy Burrows. After the commissioners of the town of Brighton decided against erecting a fountain to commemorate Queen Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837, Burrows placed a private commission with British architect Amon Henry Wilds.
The project was financed by Burrows and a public subscription, along with the proceeds of a bazaar, concert, and night at the theatre.
The dolphins were sculpted by William Pepper (1806–1887), from a Brighton family of wood carvers and sculptors, and the castings were made at the Eagle Foundry on Gloucester Road in Brighton. Owned by partners John Yearsley and Robert Williams, the firm also installed the fountain.
A citywide celebration
The inauguration of the fountain on 25 May 1846 to mark the 27th birthday of Queen Victoria, was a spectacular citywide celebration.
The ceremony featured a royal salute fired from the pier head at noon, co-ordinated with the starting of the fountain.
Music specially commissioned for the event, included "Fountain Quadrilles" by Charles Coote, Burrows’ son-in-law.
Local businesses closed at 3pm that afternoon and the day's festivities concluded with fireworks.
Grade II listed
The fountain soon became a Brighton landmark, with prints available for purchase at local bookstores.
It was protected as a Grade II listed structure on 13 October 1952 (a Grade II structure is felt to be nationally important and of special interest).
Restoration of the fountain began in 1990, and was completed before the 1995 visit of the Prince of Wales who unveiled a plaque which reads: "To Commemorate The Visit Of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales President Of The Fountain Society On 25th May 1995 To Mark The Restoration Of The Victoria Fountain With Funding By Brighton Council and Grant Aid From English Heritage."