The Queen Victoria Jubilee Fountain in St Mary’s Butts, Reading is described by Historic England as “a typical Victorian amalgam of forms and conceits”. It was placed there to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne.
Now part flower bed, part road island, it was once a real fountain with water spouting from the top, eight gargoyles and twenty water jets. At the lower level are drinking fountains and troughs for dogs [ref 1].
The design, by George W Webb of Friar Street, was selected from 16 submitted to the Borough Extension and Improvement Committee of Reading Town Council, and the fountain cost £400 [ref 2]. Wheeler Bros carried out the work and Sisley and Goodall were responsible for lining the fountain with the lead [ref 3].
The inscription reads “ERECTED ON THE COMPLETION OF THE FIFTIETH YEAR OF THE REIGN OF QUEEN VICTORIA 1887”.
The ceremonial opening of the fountain on 18 June at 5pm was the first event in a series of Jubilee celebrations. Mayor Arthur Hill, aldermen and councillors, Charles Murdoch MP and many other local VIPs and council officials attended.
In his speech, the mayor spoke of the improvements being made to the area which had entirely changed its character and that he hoped that the fountain was not the last [ref 4].
… he thought it probable that some trees, pleasing to the eye and providing grateful shade might be planted, and perhaps a few seats might be added, in the space between the fountain and the large lamp; and it was reasonable to suppose that the remaining old buildings on the west side would soon give place to others more worthy of the site.
The water was turned on by the mayoress, after which Mr Murdoch MP addressed the gathering and commended the clearing away of the old houses and the improvements made.
They had managed to harmonise ancient and modern together and had preserved that most lovely specimen of architecture, St Mary’s Church of which everyone was proud.
The Berkshire Chronicle report ends on a low note saying that the water from the fountain gushed and caused puddles, “Steps should immediately be taken to remedy this state of things.”
Not long after it was unveiled, the “nuisance of the fountain” was the subject of a poem by ‘B B’, said to be based on an older poem, published by the Reading Observer [ref 6].
When’er I take my walks thro’ Butts,
What at the fountain see,
A crowd of naughty little boys,
Half-drowned and boots muddy.
By 1903 the fountain could not be turned on due to the condition of the lead lining [ref 7].
Currently, Reading is once again preoccupied by the area around St Mary’s Butts and St Mary’s churchyard. The draft Hosier Street Development Framework states that the fountain will be retained but many changes, ‘improvements’, are planned in an area dubbed Minster Square.
Minster Square is a celebration of Reading’s oldest building in continuous use for over 1,000 years… St Mary’s Minster occupies a major position in the historic heart of the town.
The Bridge Street/St Mary’s Butts/Gun Street/ Castle Street crossroads marks the early commercial and spiritual heart of the town, yet since first Reading Abbey, and latterly the railway, the centre of gravity pushed northwards and then westwards [sic].
St. Mary’s Minster is a magnificent building with links back to 979 AD. It is set within the context of a mature churchyard amidst spectacular trees and ancient stones.
- Reading Observer 18 June 1887 p2
- Reading Mercury 6 February 1887 p5
- Mercury 7 May 1887 p5
- Berkshire Chronicle 25 June 1887 p2
- Isaac Harrinson was a local doctor whose contribution to the area around St Mary’s was commemorated by the Jubilee Cross in the churchyard which was unveiled later in the year. For more information see the ‘Petrified Muse’ (Peter Kruschwitz) – Restoring a Ghost Inscription from Reading. A report on the presentation to Mr Harrinson can be found in the Reading Mercury 24 December 1887 p2.
- Reading Observer 9 July 1837 p2
- Berkshire Chronicle 4 July 1903 p10
All newspaper references from the British Newspaper Archive via findmypast.co.uk.
- Historic England listing entry 1113571
- Consultation on draft Hosier Street Development Framework