Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

The Horsman Fountain and the Harris Memorial

St.Peter's Gardens, Lichfield Street



St. Peter's Gardens, with the Art Gallery straight ahead, the Harris Memorial seen in front of it and the Horsman Fountain to the right.

Listings:

Horsman Fountain:  1894. Ashlar on granite base. Erected in memory of Philip Horsman, a generous benefactor to the town, who gave the adjacent Art Gallery.

Harris Memorial:  1917-19. Bust by R. J. Emerson. Bust of a sailor has a cap band of H.M.S. Admirable. Plaque to front has inscription recording heroic death of Harris and relief shows him slumped in the ship's wireless room. Seaman Harris was killed in the Adriatic Sea while remaining at his post in the wireless room of the crippled drifter Floandi.

Literature:  George Noszlopy and Fiona Waterhouse, Public Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country, Liverpool University Press, 2005, at p.195-197.

Comment

Lichfield Street and the buildings along it are among the most important parts of central Wolverhampton. The street is an ancient one, leading from the central market in High Green (now Queen Square) to all points west. But in the late 19th century it was cleared and widened; what we see now are all buildings of around that time. 

The area of the gardens was once part of St. Peter's churchyard.  The church gave it (and the cost and bother of maintaining it) to the town.  The graves were cleared and gardens created.  The arrangement of the gardens has undergone many changes from time to time, the most recent being finished in 2004, replete with "interpretation panels".

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A view of the gardens and the art gallery, from an early 20th century postcard.

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Another view, also showing Lichfield Street.

When the area of the gardens and fountain shown here was being cleared, the building then on this site was demolished and found to contain within it a medieval chimney breast with, carved into it, the arms of the Merchant Staplers and others.

It has therefore been suggested that this was the site of some kind of medieval merchants' hall, and the central point for the wool trade of early Wolverhampton.

The Harris Memorial is by Robert Jackson Emerson (1878-1944), a sculptor in his own right and with a small but varied output, but chiefly occupied as a teacher of sculpture and drawing at the Wolverhampton Municipal School of Art from 1910 to 1942.

He was very highly regarded as a teacher and very successful; Sir Charles Wheeler was one of his first pupils.

Emerson carried out the somewhat similar John Henry Carless Memorial in Walsall; and the quite dissimilar, but extremely effective, War Memorial which originally stood in the yard of Butler's Springfield Brewery.

He also executed the frieze of Mercury above the entrance to the Express & Star building in Queen Street.

Harris (who came from Penn and had worked in a bakery before signing up) is shown life-size, with the name "Admirable" on his cap, that being the name of the ship to which he was originally posted.  He was on loan to the Floandi, of the Italian navy, when it came under heavy fire.  Harris stuck to his post and continued sending messages and making entries in his log, until he was killed by a piece of shrapnel.  He died on 15th May 1917 and does not seem to have received any award from this country, though he was posthumously given a high award by the Italians.  And Wolverhampton did not forget him.  This memorial was paid for by public subscription.

The Horsman Fountain was unveiled by Mrs. Mander, the Mayoress, in (according to W. H. Jones) 1896 (not 1894);  but Jones is not terribly reliable on dates.  According to Noszlopy and Waterhouse the sculptors were Messrs Farmer and Brindley;  it has a red granite  lower bowl and the rest is in "stone"; siz dolphins support the central bowl and four putti support the upper bowl.  They also cite a letter from Farmer and Brindley, dated 21st February 1895, saying that they would be late in delivering the fountain because of difficulty in getting the red granite for the lower bowl.  This means the listing date of 1894 must be wrong and Jones, for once, is probably right in giving 1896.  Not that it matters much. 

Horsman was a self made man who became a very successful building contractor; amongst other things he built the town hall.  He also built the art gallery and is named as its founder because it was built on his initiative and he contributed £8,000 towards the cost (and his firm built it).  But the city council provided the site and other people provided the initial contents. The following words are inscribed round the fountain bowl:  "This fountain was erected by public subscription in grateful recognition of the generosity of the late Philip Horsman, J.P., who presented the adjoining art gallery and other philanthropic gifts to the town".   His other major "philanthropic gift" to the town was the Eye Infirmary, of which he was one of the founders and to which he contributed £5,000.  He also rescued the Blind School in Victoria Street by giving £800 (and persuading others to give generously).  Jones described him as "being of a modest and retiring nature ... and was considered a quiet, unostentatious man, of a kindly disposition".