Water has always been an important resource and the Romans made great engineering efforts to pipe it into their cities. So successful were they that there was often some to spare. To celebrate their success they introduced fountains - literally splashing out!
Fountains are great symbols of urban pride, and it was natural for Welwyn Garden City to build one to mark the Coronation in 1953 of Queen Elizabeth II. The designer was Kenneth Peacock, a partner in Louis de Soissons Architects. The site is in the middle of Parkway at the top of Howardsgate - a wonderful focal point.
The fountain has a bronze crown for a base comprised of 16 leaves, set within a basin edged in stone, 17 metres across (55 feet), holding 20,000 litres (4,400 gallons). There are nine jets and floodlighting both inside the ground and around the basin of the fountain. It cost £4,600, equivalent to nearly £1.5 million today.
It was 'unveiled' on a summer evening by Arthur Vickery, chairman of Welwyn Garden City UDC. Mr Scoffham, the UDC's engineer, had been on site at sunrise that morning to test the fountain while there was no one around. His efforts were rewarded. Arthur Cornner, the corporation's senior engineer, said "that's the first 'opening' of a public fountain I've been at where the jets were not set awry and did not spurt spectators with cold water." In spite of rain and wind, there were street parties to celebrate the Coronation, and a 25-mile cycle race.
The Fountain has kept going more or less ever since, but not without incident. In the harsh winter of 1962-63 it froze over in a great mound of ice on which children could climb.
In 2012, it was switched off because of a hose pipe ban but this coincided with the Olympic Torch being carried through the town centre (remember?). The council controversially paid £450 to refill it from a lake.
It was garlanded in poppies in 2018, the centenary of the end of World War One. Several times it has been dyed pink to signal breast cancer awareness. In 2019, ahead of the town's centenary, the council spent £22,000 to burnish the bronze, refurbish the jets, and upgrade the lighting.
The fountain remains a much loved feature of the town; long may it continue to entertain us.
The above article by Geoffrey Hollis for the WGC Heritage Trust was first published in the Welwyn Hatfield Times on 20 July 2022.