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  • Writer's pictureDavid

A mystery solved ?

The Stirling Black Boy fountain is an odd piece of work - it is the only known ornamental work by Glasgow firm Neilson and Co. Neilson and Co moved to Hyde Park Street as Kerr, Mitchell and Neilson in 1837, as Kerr, Neilson and Co in 1840, and Neilson and Mitchell in 1843. Walter Neilson and James Mitchell dissolved their partnership in 1847 at Hyde Park, Finnieston and London, the business then carried on by Neilson under the name of Neilson and Co again. After various permutations, Neilson left the firm in 1884 and set up as Clyde Locomotive Works. In 1903 merged with several other firms to become the North British Locomotive Co., prolific manufacturers and world-wide exporters of locomotives.

The fountain is a local landmark and has a range of myths and legends surrounding it.

What has never made sense is that the foundry went to the trouble and expense of making patterns for the fountain as a one off and there are no records I can find of Stirling Council commissioning the fountain. Early in 1849 the Observer notes that in celebration of the town having a proper water supply an ornamental water fountain would be placed at this location by the Council - this is what we know as the black boy fountain.

I have recently found out is the fountain was not made for Stirling but was made for a special event in Glasgow in 1849. That was the visit of Queen Victoria who arrived by ship on the Clyde and much work done to put on a good show - including a huge triumphal masonry arch. The Glasgow Herald describes the fountain and its proposed location beside the Clyde made by Hydepark Foundry. To date no image has been identified but there has to be one out there somewhere.....

Stirling Council must have purchased the fountain for Stirling and it was installed before the year end. The story of the black boy being installed to commemorate plague victims does not appear until the early 20th Century and whilst the plague was devastating this does not seem connected to the fountain directly. The erection of fountains to celebrate the supply of clean drinking water was much more common.

The fountain has been restored three times in the past twenty years and is once again operational. The quality of the casting is excellent and it is nice to identify its origins.

Glasgow Herald 1859

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