• The Pagoda Fountain

    The following account is that of John Claudius Laoudon in 1834, who, in his Encyclopedia of Gardening, describe,

    The pagoda was intended to be eighty-eight feet high. It is placed on an island, in the centre of a small pond, and was to have been approached by a Chinese bridge richly ornamented. The diameter of the base of the pagoda is forty feet, and there were to have been six stories, the lower one of stone, and the others of cast iron. From the angles were to have been suspended forty highly enriched Chinese lamps, and these were to be lighted by a gasometer fixed in the lower story. Besides the lamps, there were to have been grotesque figures of monsters projecting over the angles of the canopies, which were to spout water from their eyes, nostrils, fins, tails, & a column of water was also to have been projected perpendicularly from the terminating ornament, on the summit of the structure, which, from the loftiness of the source of supply, would have risen to the height of seventy or eighty feet.

    However, the eventual design and build was by Robert Abraham, and was made by the Coalbrookdale Company, which, at this time had moved into the construction of ornamental iron works. It would eventually have, not the six storeys envisaged by Loudon, but three, and have ornamental bells suspended from its roofs, instead of lanterns. Its most impressive feature would become its fountain, which is still maintained, and delights visitors today.


    The original design of the Pagoda Fountain, was envisaged by renowned garden architect J.C. Loudon (1783-1843). Illustrations of this original design, see it as a six storey construction which had an array of lanterns hanging from the edges of protruding roofs.

    Although the construction of the Pagoda Fountain was started in 1826, under the direction of 15th Earl, he would not have seen its completion. It would eventually be finished in the early 1830s during the time of the 16th Earl. Many accounts refer to its relationship to a certain ‘To Ho’ Pagoda in Canton, China, with some such accounts stating that it was a direct copy, and others that it was modelled upon this so called ‘To Ho’ Pagoda. However, it appears that translated pronunciations and spellings often change and it is perhaps likely that this name ‘To Ho’ is what is presently well known as the Hua Ta, or ‘Flower Pagoda’ in Guangzhou, Canton. The current Pagoda Fountain in the Alton Towers gardens certainly is neither a replica, nor does it have much resemblance of any kind to the Hua Ta Pagoda, but if any link does exist, then it is perhaps most likely that it was Loudon’s original envisagement which took its inspiration from this celebrated Cantonese construction. Indeed this original does bare notable resemblances.

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    What is clear is that the Pagoda Fountain borrowed from signifiers representing other cultures, which was often a typical facet of the picturesque and gardenesque style, and likewise apparent at Alton Towers through the use of other garden features. Indeed, if comparisons with the contemporary manifestation of Alton Towers as a ‘theme park’ are considered, it can be argued that such borrowings from other cultures, times and locations are themselves ‘theming’.

    © Dr Gary J. Kelsall, 2007