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How old is the Drinking Fountain in Torrington’s Square?

The drinking fountain in the High Street was a gift from the lord of the manor, Mark Rolle, in August 1870.  It bears the inscription: ‘Presented to the Town of Torrington by the Honourable Mark Rolle, 1870’ and ‘This fountain was restored by public subscriptions during the Mayoralty of Thomas J. Dyer, 1928-9’.

It was restored and cleaned in the 1970s, and again in recent years, and Gabriel, son of the vicar, Jeremy Hummerstone, repaired some of the ornate stonework.

I’ve been told by someone who was a teenager in Torrington in the 1980s that ‘everyone climbed the fountain on New Year’s Eve!’

The fountain is built of stone and granite and consists of a Gothic style square with a crocketed spire of carved stone and a round basin for drinking water on each face.  It no longer functions as a drinking fountain and these four basins are now filled with flowers which were maintained for years by local florists, Ken and Irene Daniel.  They handed over this duty to Val and Mick Knight.  The structure is 18ft (4.5m) high and approached by two rows of steps.  In the higher portion is a clock with a face on the north and south sides.  The clock needs to be wound twice a week and this was done for many years by Derrick Reed (along with the church clock). Colin Beer took over from him, and Colin Davies is now the clock winder.

There used to be two-way traffic in the square which went either side of the fountain.

Next to the fountain in the pavement is a small manhole cover which is 16ins (40cms) square.  This covers a well which used to feed the fountain.  In the mid-1990s this well was explored by Pete Sawyer, son of the then publicans at the Black Horse.  It is hard to imagine an adult being able to squeeze through the opening but Pete somehow managed it.  His diving equipment was handed down to him once he was through and he climbed down a ladder the fire brigade had let down into the well.  I had heard tales that he’d discovered arches and tunnels which were part of the sewers rather than the secret tunnel that many people believe runs under the square from the church to Castle Hill.  I’d also been told that, before Pete went down, the well had been ‘seeded’ as he’d found the scull of an animal and a pair of glittery red scanty knickers down there!  However, I learnt from Pete himself that in fact the well went straight down into the earth.  He’d hit water at a depth of 2 metres and silt at about 6 metres.  His main memory of the experience was how very black and mucky it was down there.