It was a momentous day on Friday as the Marquis of Bristol, Frederick Hervey and his new wife Meredith, were welcomed to the town to officially unveil the completed restoration of the public water fountain built in 1874 in his ancestor’s memory.
The £40,432 project has been led by Sleaford and District Civic Trust, aided financially by a £34,000 Heritage Lottery grant together with support from Sleaford Town Council, North Kesteven District council and the Dulverton Trust.
In a midday ceremony, the Town Crier led the civic party to the Market Place, where the 12th Earl and 8th Marquis of Bristol was invited to turn on the water fountain and take the first drink, blessed by Vicar of Sleaford Rev Philip Johnson.
The Marquis and Marchioness had travelled up from their home in Battersea, London. He said: “I have often walked past it and always hoped that it would be restored. I am really pleased for the history in commemorating my ancestor and helping the environment in getting rid of single use bottles.”
The Marchioness, a former history graduate from Boston, USA, described the water as “delicious”.
David Marriage from the Civic Trust explained the fountain had been built by tenants of Frederick William, the 6th Earl and 2nd Marquis of Bristol on his death in response to a need for clean drinking water for the poorer people of the town as the River Slea became increasingly polluted. The source appeared dried up and it fell into disrepair, closing in 1927, forgotten until the new restoration drive kicked off.
An important part of the project is the outreach to the community and schools, urging people to do away with single-use plastic bottles. The project has funded 2,500 free reusable bottles for schools. Coloured blue, they have been nicknamed Blue Walter, and each comes with a little poem.
The couple visited St Denys’ Church to view his family tombs and then Sleaford Museum where an exhibition tells the story of the fountain.
Sleafordian of the Year, David Marriage, has been instrumental in seeing the project to restore the Bristol Water Fountain come to fruition.
He said it stems back to the year 2000 when he first came to Sleaford and saw ths “eclectic but quite ornate” water fountain in the middle of the town and resolved over time to rescue it and get it going again.
Mr Marriage said: “Working with the Civic Trust and Heritage Lottery, the team built up that worked very closely to achieve this goal and it has been really good.”
He said to get the latest Marquis of Bristol to open the fountain was the icing on the cake. Coincidentally he had grown up close to Ickworth House, the family estate of the Marquis.
He said: “I thought it was a long shot but let’s write him a letter and he has been a really superb man to work with, so helpful, constructive, even down to details of the design for restoration.”
Mr Marriage said that when the fountain was built it lifted water from a spring near Lloyds Bank and then piped from the Sessions House.
“To our amazement a few months ago during restoration we found that spring still flows underneath the market square, unseen by everybody. But we have run the water supply from the market holders’ hut with great cooperation from North Kesteven District Council, so the water has been tested to safety standards and NKDC pays for the water supply.”
He said encouraging children to make use of reusable bottles was a very important educational aspect of the project and there will be a teaching programme supplied to schools.
He also felt confident that now that it was restored and well cared for, the fountain would not attract further vandalism in future.
Meredith Hervey, the Marchioness of Bristol said it was “remarkable” to be shown around the family tombs of her husband’s ancestors in St Denys’ Church and learn about the heritage.
She said: “It is my first time up to Sleaford. To see the history behind the monument and the amount of people working to preserve it is just very impressive. I am very happy to be here, as is Frederick and I would love to return.
“It is quite moving as I find people now like to reconnect. We are very grateful to everyone who has worked behind the scenes.”