For several weeks, a row has been brewing over the fate of the ‘Bucket Fountain’ at Beetham Plaza in Liverpool city centre. Officially known as the Piazza Fountain, the Public Monuments and Sculptures Association (PMSA) have described it as the “last water sculpture of its type in the world” although its future as the “hidden gem” of Drury Lane has recently come under threat.
A unique kinetic structure designed by University of Liverpool architect professor Richard Huws in 1962, the bucket fountain creates a multi-sensory experience on different-level viewing platforms and is said to mimic the sound of waves crashing against the shore.
Merseyside Civic Society, who originally commissioned the sculpture, are currently in the process of seeking listed status for it and are hosting a public talk on 15th May to discuss the history of the monument.
Beetham Plaza, where the fountain is situated, is owned by The Elliot Group who announced on 11th April that they had applied to Liverpool CIty Council for planning permission to remove the ‘Bucket Fountain’ from its current location to make way for a hotel in the centre of the square.
Elliot Lawless was quoted in the statement as saying: “If we re-site the fountain it will enable us to develop a new hotel and new ground floor restaurant and café space whilst investing in the public realm and a new lighting scheme. Residents and businesses will share in the benefits of this investment and the extra footfall.
“”The fountain is a one-off but it’s hidden away in a corner that both locals and tourists rarely find. It merits a more prominent location so that it can become one of the city’s ‘must Instagram’ attractions.”
However, Elliot Lawless’ plans have attracted huge controversy. Last week, a spat between local councillors Nick Small and James Noakes carried out via Twitter regarding the Bucket Fountain brought the subject loudly into the public domain, yet campaigners have been working for some time to protect this unique piece of urban heritage and save it from being removed from the square.
Local residents and activists have created an online petition, calling on people to make their voices heard to ‘Save the Bucket Fountain’. Sheila Lane of the Beetham Plaza Residents Association said: “There are so many reasons it should be here. All of us residents love the fountain. It’s in a public square that is used every day. It is a much loved piece of Liverpool architecture and it features in many guidebooks of the city.”
Gerry Proctor MBE, a community activist and director at Engage Liverpool is part of the campaign to stop the relocation of the monument. He said of the plans: “It is a shock because this is a public open space and has been for generations. It is in the Castle Street Conservation Area and in the World Heritage Site. This space needs to be carefully considered.”
“It is the only remaining example of Huws’ work anywhere in the country. There were others but they have been lost or demolished. It’s not just the fountain, there are also two viewing platforms. The idea is you should be on different levels to really appreciate it so you can look at the fountain and hear the sounds at different heights.”
“Huws decided the best place for it was Beetham Plaza – it was a very important decision. Elliot Group said it wasn’t his choice. There are other places Huws looked at but that is the place he chose and preferred.”
David Massey, treasurer of Merseyside Civic society said: “Merseyside Civic Society played an instrumental part in the commissioning of the fountain with this waterfall effect and we’re hosting a talk about the fountain next week, with Dr. Richard Moore, a student of Richard Huws, as the speaker at the event.
“The application for listing is with Historic England and it will go through its process. We don’t know how long that will take.
“People say the fountain should be in a more open place to give access to more people but we feel that wasn’t the point of the fountain. Its character is rooted to the spot.”
Gerry Proctor said the idea that it should be moved to a more prominent location “raises the question of the value of hidden gems that are not in your face, that take some discerning, where you have to work out where it is. There is a value to things that are not always in the public eye.”
The fountain is also known as a rare public monument in Liverpool acknowledging the city’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Laurence Westgaph, local writer and historian, who also provides historical walking tours of the city centre said: “Albeit quite abstract, this is the only memorial to Liverpool’s slave trade connections in the public realm.”
Gerry Proctor said: “On one of the viewing platforms is an African shield which connects with Goree Piazza, which was the name of the square before it became Beetham Plaza. The idea is that the sounds are of the waves crashing on the shore in West Africa. It’s a connection with Liverpool history relating to the slave trade.”
The Elliot Group have meanwhile asked Liverpool City Council to ‘pause’ their planning application while the listed status application proceeds. In a statement released 1st May, Elliot Lawless said: “In many ways we’d be pleased as it proves what a unique and special piece of sculpture it is.
“Listing doesn’t preclude an item from being moved and we’d still consider pursuing this as we think it’s the best way of securing the fountain’s complete refurbishment whilst making it a more visible asset for the city.”
For those who want the statue to remain at Beetham Plaza, the move to list the work is only part of the battle – their plight to save the bucket fountain is by no means over. The petition has amassed over three thousand signatures and campaigners hope that as people become more aware of the threat to its future, those numbers will only increase.
Sheila Lane has been delighted with the public response to the campaign: “It is not just residents, many people have fond memories of it from childhood. “It’s been amazing to see the love that people have for the fountain.
“If it goes somewhere else, who’s going to care for it?”
Liverpool City Council have been contacted for comment.
Find out more about the Merseyside Civic Society talk HERE
Check out the Save The Piazza Fountain campaign on FACEBOOK
Images Courtesy of Tony Folan and Mersey Civic Society.