Friday, July 02, 2010

Cast iron and fountains

click photo to enlarge
Every now and then I get a flier through my letter-box soliciting unwanted metal items. They are delivered by a scrap metal dealer who collects anything that people want to throw away. These items go to UK recycling centres, or increasingly, for export to China which has an insatiable appetite for metal. When I lived in North-West England I often saw ships at Glasson Dock near Lancaster loading shredded waste metal for export. On a recent visit to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk I saw this again.

The Industrial Revolution brought a great increase in the amount of metal that Britain manufactured and used. It also saw the invention of different kinds of metal for specialist purposes, and iron and steel, in particular, started to usurp more traditional materials. Buildings started to employ structural steel in place of wood, stone and brick. In ship-building wood became confined to smaller craft as first iron, then steel took over. Even in everyday objects metal became the material of choice. Take ornamental and drinking fountains. These were traditionally made of stone, had very functional designs (except where marble was used) and lasted for centuries with regular, but basic, maintenance. However, the spread of cast-iron manufacture eventually changed this market, and every city and town, and many villages installed ornate fountains made of this relatively inexpensive and very malleable material. They continued being produced well into the twentieth century (see my earlier blog post about the Coronation Fountain at March, Cambridgeshire).

I recently came across another cast-iron fountain in The Circle garden at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. It is, very typically, located at the center of an axial path, an eyecatcher and a thing of beauty at a focal point. The bowl has very attractive leaves, serpentine tendrils and paterae embellishing its surface. Regrettably, however, it is currently detached (broken) from its stem. It lays at the base of some bushes, rusting and gathering the odd shrivelled leaf that falls on it during our present dry spell. I hope the bowl is only temporarily parted from its stem, and is awaiting a suitably skilled craftsman who will make the fountain whole again: its quality, age and location demand no less. It would be a small tragedy if the pieces were shipped off to China to be returned in pieces of inexpensive, ephemeral junk.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On