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The Cottage: Inside The Quaich

Font of all knowledge

21st June 2019

 

Our Marketing Assistant, Ruby, hails from Chicago, USA but loves Edinburgh so much that she chose to make Scotland her home.

You can go on a virtual tour of West Princes Street Gardens with Ruby and discover her favourite place in the Gardens by watching her video here:  Ruby

Ruby worked in the Western Reserve Historical Society Archive & Museum in the US so she jumped at the chance to explore the Edinburgh Council Archives and discover a bit more about the history of West Princes Street Gardens!  She came back to the office full of fascinating facts about the Ross Fountain.  We’re very lucky to have her on our Team – if the subject of the Ross Fountain ever comes up on a pub quiz, Ruby is cert to claim first prize!

Given that the Ross Fountain will soon be celebrating its 1st anniversary of restoration, we wanted to impart some of Ruby’s new-found knowledge onto you. 

West Princes Street Gardens was at one time a basin of water – the man-made Nor Loch – which separated the Kingdom of Edinburgh from their surrounding neighbours. As expansion took hold, the loch was drained, and the land allocated for private use by the Princes Street Proprietors who overlooked the land (now gardens) from their homes (remember this note for later!).

Against the wishes of the Proprietors, in 1876, the town council reacquired the Gardens and put them to use as a completely public park for the people of Edinburgh. It was around this time that the first bandstand was built, said to have been donated by a Mr. William Henry Ross for the enjoyment of music and play.

Daniel Ross and the City of Edinburgh Council

A full decade before the reacquisition of the Gardens, a different Ross was being mentioned quite often in the public papers. A Mr. Daniel Ross, Edinburgh Gunsmith and charitable enthusiast, offered to gift the city of Edinburgh with a fountain unlike any seen on this side of the North Sea. Having witnessed a spectacular fountain at the London Exhibition of 1862, Ross located the manufacturer in Sommervoire, France, and ordered a larger model for use by the city of Edinburgh. This took place in the year 1864.

The black and white illustration below depicts the fountain at the London Exhibition of 1862 which the Ross Fountain is based on, minus the statues of horses on the bottom basin which were left off due to expense.

But the mermaids, walrus & lion heads and cherubs did remain and can be seen today on the image below

 

As West Princes Street Gardens was closed to the public at this time, East Princes Street Gardens was selected as the natural placement of the fountain. The next time the fountain is mentioned is not until 1867, when it was determined the space allotted for placement was by far too small to fit the fountain’s large dimensions. Nearly another year passed without any progress on the Ross Fountain. Questions arose of the cost of shipping the fountain’s 122 pieces from the French port of Dunkirk to Leith, cost of continual maintenance by the Council, and the yearly water bills. The Committee for the Council unanimously recommended the rejection of Mr. Ross’s gift of the fountain.

The Part of the Proprietors

When broached on the subject of placing the Fountain, the proprietors of the private West Princes Street Gardens agreed positively to homing and maintaining the fountain in the west end. The Council agreed to this placement, providing that the fountain remain there permanently. The fountain arrived in Leith in September 1869, and the fountain was successfully assembled by the year 1871. Mr. Ross had died earlier in the year and had not lived to see the completion of the fountain.

To the Future

The Gardens have transformed and evolved through the years, such as in 1880 when the Council widened Princes Street. Or in 1939 when four air-raid shelters were created within the Garden’s northern embankment – replaced by today’s shelters, designed by Alexander Garden Forgie in 1950.

Fast forward to July 2018 which saw the completion of the restoration of the Ross Fountain. Thanks to funding from public bodies and private individuals, the whole conservation project process, which cost around £2m, was completed on schedule following 40,000 working hours and 650 litres of paint.

Having been without water for several years, the restored Ross Fountain is fast becoming a place for people to meet and contemplate the beauty of this magnificent feature – and of course take the occasional photo too!

We will continue to delve into uncovering the history of West Princes Street Gardens. Stay tuned as we reveal more fascinating facts!  The Quaich Project Team love a good story and being able to share memories of the Gardens’ history.  If you have a favourite story about the Ross Fountain or West Princes Street Gardens, please get in touch at hello@thequaichproject.org.

Please do join us on Tuesday 9th July at 12:30pm to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Ross Fountain’s restoration.  There will be free family activities, cupcakes and a chance to meet the team behind the Quaich Project.  Hope to see you there!

Jules Haston