Also known as the Saracen Foundry, Macfarlane's was the most important manufacturer of ornamental ironwork
Founded in Glasgow by Walter Macfarlane I (1817-85), the firm opened its first premises in 1850, in Saracen
Lane, behind the Saracen Head Inn, in the Gallowgate.
They relocated briefly to Washington Street, 1862, and then moved to a purpose built foundry on Sir
Archibald Alison's former Possil Estate in 1872, and created the suburb of Possilpark to house the firm's
Increasing the area's population from 10, in 1872, to 10,000 by 1891, the foundry covered 14 acres with its
main gates at 73 Hawthorn Street (the foundry's pollution earned Macfarlane the nickname 'the Laird of Fossiltown').
Walter Macfarlane I was born in Torrance of Campsie, near Glasgow, and started his working life
with the jeweller, William Russell, before serving an apprenticeship with the blacksmith James Buchanan. He
then spent a decade working for Moses, McCulloch & Co's Cumberland Foundry in Stockwell Street before setting
up his own Saracen Foundry with partners Thomas Russell and James Marshall.
Macfarlane was also a prominent figure in local politics becoming the President of the Glasgow Liberal
Association and a City Councillor.
In 1880, Macfarlane's nephew, Walter Macfarlane II (1853-1932), who joined the firm in 1871, became
a partner and later succeeded to the firm on the death of his uncle in 1885.
Adopted as Macfarlane's son, he took the firm into the 20th Century and commissioned the Glasgow Style architects
J Gaff Gillespie
to redesign some of the interiors of the family home at 22 Park Circus, and employed
Francis Derwent Wood
to execute the woodcarving, including the
new front door, 1897-1900. He also gifted land for the building of Possilpark Library, 1909.
Macfarlane's specialized in the production of drinking fountains, bandstands, lamp standards, pre-
fabricated buildings and architectural crestings and ornament.
With the emphasis on artistic utility and elegance, the firm mass-produced patterns designed by prominent
Glasgow architects such as
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson
was a particular favourite. He designed their Possilpark foundry as a gigantic showcase for
their products, complete with a huge glass and iron dome and elaborate decorative castings on its Gothic gateway
(1868-72, dem. 1967).
He also incorporated the firm's castings on his own independent designs (e.g., 79 Nelson Mandela Place, and 20 St Enoch Square (Teachers), both 1875).
Macfarlane also commissioned
to design the exuberantly stuccoed interiors and ornamental iron work in his
house at 22 Park Circus (1875, now GCC
Marriage Registry Suite).
The firm also employed sculptors such as
James A Ewing
to model the commemorative busts and other sculptural
features for their popular range of commemorative drinking fountains (e.g., the
Bailie James Martin Memorial Fountain
Glasgow Green, 1893-4, restored 2007).
An astonishing amount of the firm's architectural crestings, fountains and railings were destroyed after being
requisitioned during World War II, as vital material for the war industries and to boost public morale - a scheme
which actually resulted in the unnecessary destruction of much of Britain's ornamental street furniture and its
being consigned to rot in scrap yards around the country, or dumped at sea. Many more were removed in the 1960's
due to high maintainence costs.
Glasgow's west end and south side districts are particularly rich in the firm's ornamental railings designed by
'Greek' Thomson; their survival being due to their necessity as safety barriers on the external
staircases and basement areas typical of Glasgow tenements and terraces.
However, many examples of their larger castings survive elsewhere in Britain and abroad as evidence of the
firm's importance on the global market, and the durability and elegance of its products.
Surviving examples of their commemorative fountains and public utility work in Britain include:
The Queen Victoria
Diamond Jubilee Drinking Fountain, Overnewton Park, Rutherglen (1897), which
incorporated a bust of the Queen until 1992; the Urinal behind Urquhart Ferintosh Free Church
(late 19th C.); the Alexander Graham Memorial Drinking Fountain, Stromness (1901); and the
Bandstand in Stair Park, Stranraer, which was erected to commemorate the Coronation of King George V (1911).
Most of the commemorative drinking fountains were in the form of Glasgow's Bailie James Martin Fountain,
of 1893-4 (pattern registered 1860, possibly to Boucher's designs), and Rutherglen's Queen Victoria Diamond
Jubilee Fountain, of 1897, with their octagonal, fretwork domes surmounted by an Eagle, or a figure
of Samson (inscribed Strength) or an Imperial Crown as a finial (Some examples have a
Stork or an Aladdin's Lamp as their finials).
Their central drinking fountains are decorated with reliefs of Swans and Storks and supported
on lion-headed, Chimera
columns, and were often surmounted by a portrait bust or an urn. Lion masks,
flowers and owls decorated the interior of the canopy, whilst their exterior spandrels were filled with shields
bearing heraldry, the dedicatory inscription and bird reliefs.
Although a cheap, decorative and easily assembled alternative to more substantial types of monuments, their
design and suitability for their purpose was scathingly criticised by architect
Peter MacGregor Chalmers
book Art in Our City, in 1896 (p. 12).
The Bailie Martin Fountain, for instance, was in his opinion "...a plumber's fixture,...an affront
[as a monument] and not an honour, and... far from creditable to those who erected it." The eagle finial, in
particular, was singled out for ridicule: "A tiny eagle surmounts the dome, but for why I cannot tell, unless
the casting was cheap".
He also pointed out that cast iron was the most unsuitable material for the fountain and prophesied (correctly,
in the case of many other examples) that when fountains of this type became neglected, they would linger on until
being broken up and removed. The Bailie Martin Fountain, did stand neglected for many years until 2007,
when it was completely restored by Heritage Engineering.
Macfarlane's most celebrated work is the Saracen Fountain, Alexandra Park, Glasgow, which they gifted to
the city after exhibiting it in the grounds of the International Exhibition held in Kelvingrove Park, in 1901
D W Stevenson
, and using casts of the figures around his earlier statue of John Platt in Oldham,
of 1878, the fountain featured in the firm's advertising, and copies of the fountain were erected in Town Hall Park,
Warrington (destroyed for the war effort, 1942) and in the Sammy Marks Zoological Garden, Pretoria, South Africa.
A much reduced version of the Warrington fountain, in silver, is in the collection of Warrington Borough Council.
A less well-known Glasgow work is their Queen Victoria
Golden Jubilee Gates at Victoria Park (1887,
re-located 1963). The gates were the gift of local residents to mark Queen Victoria's 50th year on the throne.
Featuring relief portraits of Queen Victoria (modelled after
Joseph Edgar Boehm
's Jubilee coinage), and Imperial
Crowns, they were relocated from Balshagray Avenue to Victoria Park Drive North in the 1960's, to make way for the
approaches to the Clyde Tunnel.
The foundry provided many other Parks in Britain and the empire with bandstands; perhaps the most fondly remembered
of Mcfarlane's public works and most widely known, attracting audiences in their thousands to listen to the military
bands and entertainers who performed on their stages until the mid 20th century, when the few bandstands to survive
World War II finaly became silent curiosities.
A fine example is the restored bandstand in Magdalene Park, Dundee, of 1889 (A modern, miniature copy of the bandstand
is in another Dundee park, opposite 1-3 Park Road).
Throughout the inter-war years, the firm concentrated on producing cast iron panels for commercial buildings in Glasgow
and elsewhere, including the former Union Bank, 110-20 St. Vincent Street (1924-7); Selfridges, London (1928) and the
Art Deco Burton's, Argyle Street (1930).
Macfarlane's was eventually taken over by Allied Founders in 1965, which was itself absorbed by Glynwed Ltd, and the
Possilpark works were eventually demolished in 1967.
In recent years the firm's patterns and those of its competitors have been re-produced by the Glasgow based foundry,
Heritage Engineering, and in 1987, a canopied fountain was re-erected at Bardowie Street, Possilpark, to commemorate the
Saracen Foundry's links to the area.
The Bardowie fountain was restored free of charge in 2000, after Heritage Engineering were commissioned to replicate
the canopy for a park in Cardiff.
Some restorations, however, are incomplete due to the loss of some features, an example of this being the Queen Victoria
fountain in Rutherglen which lacks its portrait bust of the queen.
Heritage Engineering also trade as Walter Macfarlane & Co., and are based at 22-24 Carmyle Avenue, Foxley, Glasgow.
Their website Heritage Engineering (http://www.heritageengineering.com) includes photographs of a typical Macfarlane drinking fountain being restored.
Walter Macfarlane I was buried in the Necropolis in 1885, although his monument, which features a bronze portrait panel by
, cast by Hllingshead & Burton's foundry in Thames Ditton, was not erected until 1896.
Other examples of Macfarlane's castings include (with dates where known):
- Street lamps and railings, Westbourne Gardens (c.1860s-80s);
- Ornamental gates, railings and lamp standards, Kelvinside Academy (1878);
- Horse trough, lamp and clock, Saracen Cross (1878, lost);
- Central Station entrance canopy, Gordon Street (1883);
- Drinking fountain, Shawlands Cross (c.1890s, lost);
- Phone box, Shawlands Cross (c.1890s, lost);
- Phone box, Broomhill Cross (c.1890s, lost);
- Ornamental lamp, Cowlairs Co-op Fountain, Springburn (1902);
- Drinking fountain and lamp, Dowanhill Park (c. 1903, restored 2003);
- Bandstand, Springburn Park (lost)
- Bandstand, Elder Park, Govan (lost);
Elsewhere in Scotland
- William King Drinking Fountain, Motherwell (1870);
- Gates and Railings, Vale of Leven Cemetery (1880-81);
- Queen Victoria Drinking Fountain, Gourock (c.1897);
- Dr Alexander Paterson Memorial Column and Clock, Bridge of Allan (1898);
- Bandstand, Upper Bo'ness (1902);
- Catherine M Low Monument, Burial Plot Railings, Eastern Necropolis, Dundee (1904);
- Canopied Drinking Fountain, Dalmuir Park, Dalmuir;
- Drinking fountain (wall mounted), Carriden Parish Church, Stirling;
- Bandstand, Magdalen Park, Dundee;
- Ornamental pillars (crown finials), Aberdeen;
- Bandstand, Dunfermline;
- Moruant Brock Memorial Fountain, Bristol (1866);
- Barton Arcade, Manchester (1871);
- Elizabeth Farley Memorial Fountain, West Bromwich (1885);
- Ornamental gates, Vivary Park, Taunton (1895);
- Ventilator pipes, new Cross Road, London (1897);
- Queen Victoria Memorial Fountain, Warrington (1897);
- Waring Memorial Fountain, Tipton (1901);
- King Edward VII ('Sampson') Drinking Fountain, Dunkinfield Park, Tameside (1902, lost c.1980);
- Queen Victoria Memorial Fountain, Vivary Park, Taunton (1907);
- Public Toilets, Sydney Gardens, Bath (c.1910);
- Drinking fountain, Torquay;
- Mrs Arthur Hill Coates Memorial Fountain, Bangor, Northern Ireland (1893);
- Canopy, Olympia Theatre, Dublin (c.1897);
- Gothic columns and arches to balcony, Cilfowyr Baptist Chapel, Manordeifi (c.1877-9);
- Robert and Lucy Thomas of Waunwyllt Fountain, Merthyr Tydfil (1890);
- Covered iron balcony, Welston Court, Carew (c.1894);
- Bandstand, Grange Park, Cardiff (c.1895);
- Gallery, Bathesda Baptist Chapel, Neyland, Wales (c.1903);
- Robert and Lucy Thomas Memorial Fountain, Merthyr Tydfil (1906);
- Louis Samuel Memorial Fountain, Cardiff (1908, lost 1943);
- King George V Memorial Fountain, Aberdare (1911-12);
- Eagle finial gates, Nagercoil, India (c.1890s);
- Queen Victoria Memorial Fountain, Launceston, Tasmania (1897);
- Balconies, N G Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church), Fricksburg, South Africa (1904-7);
- Ornamental Gates, Spanish Club, Rosario, Argentina (1913);
- Verandas, Raffles Hotel, Singapore (1913);
- Ornamental Fountain, Turf Club, Penang, Malaysia;
- Banking premises, Madras, India;
- Drinking trough and lamp, Rondebosch, South Africa;
- Drinking fountain, Larnaca, Cyprus;
, vol. 58 [Contemporary British Architects], 2 May, 1890, p. 640;
- Chalmers (1896), p. 12;
[Saracen Fountain]: 2 July, 1901, n.p.;
- Information from Possilpark Library;
- Hamilton, Sheila., in Slaven & Checkland, vol 1, pp. 125-6;
: Glasgow Corporation Minutes [Victoria Park Gates], 28 August, 1963, p. 940;
: Glasgow Corporation Minutes [James Martin Fountain], 12 December, 1893, p. 68;
: Glasgow Corporation Minutes [James Martin Fountain], 23 May, 1894, p. 256;
: Glasgow Corporation Minutes [James Martin Fountain], 29 May, 1894, p. 259;
- Macfarlane's Castings, vols 1 & 2;
- PMSA NRP;
- Nisbet, in
, pp. 489-90;
- Heritage Engineering;
- Wyke, Terry (2004), Public Sculpture Of Greater Manchester, Liverpool, pp. 352, 380 (ills.);
- Maley, Willy (1994), the Story of Possilpark (unpublished manuscript), pp. 14-16;
, A. (1997), Old Cowcaddens, Possilpark & Lambhill, Ochiltree, p. 39;
- Robertson, E. G. (1977), Cast Iron Decoration a world survey, London;
- Glasgow Conservation Trust West: Newsletter, vol 1, no. 2, Autumn 2001;
: Robert M. Paul, Partick Anecdotes, p. 58;
(1998), pp. 81, 84-5;
- ET [Bardowie Street Fountain], City landmark restored for free, 13 October, 2000;
- Fisher, pp. 184, 254;
- Stratten's Glasgow, pp. 98-9;
- Lack (1999), pp. 26-7;
- Hartwell (2001);
- Jaques (2001);
Williamson et al.
- Foreman (2001), pp. 96-102.
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