Almost 60 years since the iconic Fitzgerald Fountain was last functional, the 152-year-old monument is all set to spring back to life after the ongoing restoration work is completed. According to Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) heritage cell, the almost 90 per cent restoration work of the monument is completed.
The fountain, which had six heads that spout water into their respective troughs, the re-installation of the monument has already been done at a few feets away from its original location near Metro cinema junction, to near the Vasudev Balwant Phadke statue in Dhobi Talao. Work on the remaining 10 per cent of the monument is still underway at the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo premises in Byculla.
This 45 feet high and 19 feet wide fountain was cast at Barwell & Co.’s Eagle Foundry in Northampton, England, and installed in 1867 at the Metro cinema junction in Dhobi Talao, South Mumbai.
Cast in wrought iron, the 16-tonne monument was originally installed at the Metro Cinema Junction in 1867 by the then Esplanade Committee, in honour of Sir William Robert Seymour Vesey-Fitzgerald, who was the governor of Bombay between 1867 to 1872.
In 1960, the fountain was pulled down from the Metro Cinema Junction after heavy traffic snarls due to tram movement as well as motor traffic started emerging.
However many today believe that the monument was pulled down during the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement, as it bore the Royal Coat of Arms, representing the British monarch, a reminder of the British rule in India. However, officials say this was just a rumour. "The move came in to ease the traffic and congestion in the area due to tram movement and motor traffic," said a senior BMC official.
It was moved to the Byculla zoo and assembled haphazardly in a lawn behind the Bhau Daji lad museum. "Many of its parts were misplaced or lost, and it lay neglected for 60 years. In September 2018, the BMC began to restore it."
Sanjay Sawant said, “All the pipes that made the fountain functional were missing or lost through the years. We had to re-imagine the engineering and install it again. Especially one of its lamps. We had absolutely no reference or even a picture. We then traced the contact of someone from the Eagle Foundry, the firm which originally designed the fountain. Instead of cast iron, we have now reconstructed the missing lamp of bronze.”
Nearly 90 per cent of its restoration work is now complete, but it was not an easy task for the civic heritage department. When they began the restoration work a year ago, the team realised 300 to 400 pieces of the fountain were missing. Sawant said, “We did not even know what pieces were missing, or where are they supposed to go.”
During the course of restoration, the BMC dismantled the entire fountain to clean and restore pieces separately.
In order to stabilize the tilting, old structure, architect Pankaj Joshi, Executive Director of the Urban Design Research Institute., renowned sculptor Deepak Paunikar and eight officials from the BMC's heritage cell tested the composition of the cast iron in the fountain. In a timely twist of fate, a British industrial archaeologist, Peter Perkins, discovered that the fountain in Mumbai was identical to a ‘lost’ fountain which had once resided in Northampton.
The Fitzgerald Fountain of Mumbai is actually a twin of the fountain monument in Northampton near London, in the United Kingdom, and was known as Isaac Fountain, which was installed around the same time Fitzgerald Fountain was set up in Mumbai, in the 1860s. Incidentally, the Isaac Fountain was also removed from the Northampton square in the 1960s. According to sources, there are records that its parts were separated and sold in scrap.
With his assistance, BMC procured pictures, drawings and designs . Sawant's team then referred to old photographs of the fountain and began to fit missing pieces in the structure one by one, like a jigsaw puzzle and more than 400 missing parts of the fountain were cast as replacements.
Sawant said, “We received two pieces from the Bhau Daji Lad Museum, who brought them to us to check if they were part of the fountain. Another piece lay unidentified somewhere inside the zoo, and was handed to us only last year.”
The fountain also served as a pyau during its time at the Metro Cinema Junction, and the two lion heads that spout water into a trough are the mouths of the pyau. At 45 feet, the monument has a gas lamp atop a tall pillar, which BMC is restoring to now work on electricity.
Once fully functional, the fountain will use 1,000 litres of water a day, which BMC plans to reuse every day by setting up a suction tank underground.
The BMC’s deadline to complete restoration on the fountain was April 2020 and has been installed near Metro Cinema Junction again, only a few feet from its original position near the Vasudev Balwant Phadke statue. The civic body will beautify the area around the fountain and has plans to develop two selfie points in its vicinity to attract tourists.