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The Steble Fountain and Commutation Row

The Steble Fountain
The Steble Fountain was a gift to the City Of Liverpool from Colonel R.F Steble, the Mayor of Liverpool from 1874 to 1875 and was unveiled by a later Mayor Sir Thomas Bland Royden, in 1879. The fountain was cast by W T Allen and Company of London and is a copy of a work created for a Paris exhibition (various sources disagree on which one – the 1855 or 1867 Exposition Universelle).


The seven-metre high fountain was unveiled in 1879 and, although the Liverpool Mercury had reported in February 1878 that a preliminary trial had been of a ‘highly satisfactory character’, the water pressure was initially disappointingly low. Water was later pumped by a steam pump in the basement of St George’s Hall, but its noise disrupted proceedings in the courts above. The pumps for the Steble fountain are located underneath the hall and the vibration from them often disrupted proceedings in the courts above.  In August 1989 a presiding judge, justice Lush was so annoyed by the noise of the machinery that he ordered it to be switched off.  The original machinery was eventually replaced by an electric pump. The fountain underwent a restoration in 1922 on the occasion of the 'Tall Ships Race'.

According to Pevsner, the art historian, it was designed by W Cunliffe, but more recent research attributes it to French artist Paul Lienard, who also designed the almost identical Brewer fountain in Boston, in the USA.

The Brewer Fountain in Boston USA

The fountain has a circular stone basin with a bronze centrepiece depicting four marine deites in pairs: Neptune with Amphitrite and Acis with Galetaea. For most of its lifetime children have found the fountain a fascinating place to play, this earned it the nickname of 'the street urchins seaside'.

The summer of 76 remains etched in the memories of a 60s-born generation as the first year they could remember when Merseyside was besssed by constantly blue Mediterranean skies and soaring temperatures. Tired of having to deal with numerous complaints, Liverpool council turned off the famous Steble Fountain in front of the Walker Art Gallery even though it recycled its own limited amount of water through an electric pump and water loss through evaporation was minimal.

The Fountain comprises a nine-metre-diameter circular stone basin with a cast-iron and bronze cruciform centrepiece featuring sculptures of the mythological Greek figures Poseidon and his sea-goddess wife Amphitrite and nereid Galatea and river spirit Acis. Above the statues are two smaller basins surmounted by a mermaid bearing a cornucopia.

The fountain, which received a Grade II* listing in 1952, was restored in 1992 and again in 2013.

Commutation Row

Just behind the fountain is Wellingtons Column and originally a row of buildings on Commutation Row, now all sadly demolished.  The name of the row of buildings arises from a dispute between the inhabitants of the street and the Inland Revenue over window tax, after a campaign the tax was commuted, hence the name.

Robert F Edwards
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