It’s a short article this week. I’m just in the middle of a busy few days (not least giving a The Beauty of Transport talk to a local history group which clearly has no idea what it’s let itself in for, although I’m very grateful for the chance to talk to them). So here’s my chance to get a smaller example of attractive UK transport design off my list…
To the right of the station building is a drinking fountain. This is Pitlochry station in Perth and Kinross, and I strongly suspect it’s the most ornate drinking fountain anywhere on the UK railway network, unless anyone would care to nominate an alternative? Dating from the Victorian era, it is particularly notable for its four arms, each of which used to hold a zinc cup on a chain, from which to drink.
If you do a web search for pictures of the fountain, you’ll find it with different numbers of cups attached depending on when the photo was taken, and by 2012 they had all vanished. The fountain was looking pretty forlorn by then:
Historic Environment Scotland has listed the whole of Pitlochry station at Grade A (the highest available) for its many historic features, including the fountain. When it comes to the fountain, Historic Environment Scotland particularly notes its heron and flower ornament as a notable feature, and that the fountain was moved there from Strathyre station.
Not so, says the Memorial Drinking Fountains website; that was a different water fountain altogether. It’s a bold approach to go around contradicting a nation’s statutory heritage body, but I think the Memorial Drinking Fountains website might be right. It’s a very detailed site, which is how I can tell you that the drinking fountain was manufactured in the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow, and it’s a crane (a symbol of vigilance) on the top rather than a heron. There are also four salamanders, representing courage and bravery, descending the pedestal. The drinking fountain was restored in 2013 (see it in this recent picture), thanks to funding from the Railway Heritage Trust, Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, and the Heritage Lottery Fund. A good job has been done – the fountain now looks quite superb, though the cups remaining missng. I must say though, that if it isn’t a heron on top, it’s now been painted to look exactly like one.
Many railway stations used to have drinking fountains, if not of quite the sumptuousness of Pitlochry’s.
Drinking fountains fell out of favour over the course of the 20th Century, as domestic drinking water supplies became increasingly reliable and ubiquitous, and the fashion for bottled water took hold towards its end. Recently, we’ve come to realise that all those plastic drinking bottles are doing very bad things to the marine environment, where many of them end up; the plastic breaks up into tiny pieces and enters the marine food chain – and by extension, our own.
Finally, proposals are being made to restore some of the many Victorian drinking fountains which can be found on the streets of our towns and cities, not to mention our railway stations. Here’s one at Dumfries railway station, which I’ve picked on for no better reason than I’ve found a photo of it:
Meanwhile, Network Rail has promised to install drinking fountains in its stations by the end of this year. Admittedly, Network Rail only runs 17 of Britain’s railway stations, but it’s a start and those 17 are the busiest ones. It would be nice to think this will mark the beginning of a more widespread trend to provide (or re-provide) drinking water fountains at railway and bus stations across the country. I’ve got my refillable bottle ready – have you?
How to find Pitlochry station
Bibliography and Further Reading
Historic Environment Scotland’s listing citation for Pitlochry station, here
Memorial Drinking Fountain website’s page on the Pitlochry station fountain, here