Restoration Makes Britain's Oldest Surviving Fountain Flow Again

By David Prudames | 10 August 2005
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Shows a photo of the carved stonework of the King's Fountain, including a human face with water pouring from its mouth.

Built in 1537, the King's Fountain at Linlithgow Palace is thought to be the oldest surviving fountain in Britain. Photo: Simon J Hollington. © Historic Scotland.

The 16th century King’s Fountain at Linlithgow Palace is working again following a five-year restoration project carried out by Historic Scotland.

Said to be the oldest surviving fountain in Britain, the elaborately carved creation was commissioned by James V in 1537 and was once considered to be among the glories of the Scottish court.

Its completed restoration was announced on August 10 2005 by Scottish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Patricia Ferguson.

"Today marks the culmination of a major restoration project to return this important piece of Scotland’s cultural heritage to its original splendour," said the minister. "This marvellous achievement means that present and future generations can enjoy and learn from this unique historic feature."

Shows an aerial photo of the King's Fountain, which is topped off with a vast stone crown.

The birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, Linlithgow Palace was a favourite residence of the Stewart kings before the Union of the Crowns. Photo: Simon J Hollington. © Historic Scotland.

The fountain was commissioned by James V of Scotland, reputedly to welcome his new French queen, and the first documentary evidence of its existence is a bill for repairs dating back to 1542.

It was traditionally used as a centrepiece during special occasions, such as Charles I’s visit in 1633, when the water would be fired. Despite being vandalised in the late 1630s legend has it that wine flowed instead of water when Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at Linlithgow Palace in 1745.

By that time, however, the fountain had already been badly neglected and a year later it was damaged during the fire that left the palace a roofless ruin.

In 2000, Historic Scotland undertook an assessment of its cultural significance and condition and whilst the former was indisputable, the latter was found to be poor.

Shows a photo of Scottish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Patricia Ferguson.

Scottish Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Patricia Ferguson was on hand to unveil the newly-restored fountain. Photo: Simon J Hollington. © Historic Scotland.

An ambitious project to rectify centuries of damage and decay began with the removal of concrete and iron repairs carried out in the 1930s.

The next job was to painstakingly survey, record and photograph each of the 158 carved or moulded stones that made up the original fountain. As much of the material was retained and reinstated as possible, but where necessary new stones were carved by Historic Scotland stonemasons and craftsmen at Cliveden Conservation Workshop in Bath.

Finally, the five-metre high fountain was reassembled with replacement three-tiered basins around the central structure which is topped off with a half-tonne crown.

Now back in full working order, the flow of water will continue to be limited to help prevent future erosion.

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