Goodwin Fountain: ‘Magnificent’ Sheffield fountain that ended up as a soggy bin

To the accompaniment of Handel’s Water Music – and the sound of rain – the Lord Mayor of Sheffield flicked the switch and turned on the glittering Goodwin Fountain for the first time.

Monday, 6th December 2021, 10:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 3:24 pm
The Goodwin Fountain freezes over - 29th December 1995

The Goodwin Fountain freezes over - 29th December 1995 Sheffield

Hundreds of Sheffield folk braved the rain on November 3, 1961, for the big occasion.

Lord Mayor Alderman JW Sterland was full of praise for the £5,500 new addition to the top of Fargate describing it as a ‘magnificent job’.

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Goodwin Fountain, Sheffield in the 1990s

Moreover he declared it proved the ‘corporation’ – as the council was commonly known back then – was not just trying to make the city centre beautiful but also trying to make the city centre interesting to young and old alike. Not unlike today then.

He also paid tribute to Sheffield steel industrialist and philanthropist Sir Stuart Goodwin and his wife who paid almost entirely for the project saying: “We have had many benefactors in the city but I don’t know of any living or dead who have been more generous to Sheffield than they have.

“They have contributed to every good cause with a warm heart and generous feeling.”

A view of the Goodwin Fountain and flower beds at the top of Fargate, taken from Sheffield Town Hall - 10th August 1967 H.L. Brown Cantors Sheffield

In its pomp, the fountain featured seven central jets throwing water more than 30ft in the air and 217 smaller jets shooting water to the centre of the pond in the shape of an inverted saucer. Oh, and 99 lighting units.

Pretty as it was, it wasn’t without its issues. Just a year after it was unveiled a prankster took it upon themselves to tip a load of soap flakes into the water. The fountain was bubbling over and huge bubbles were shot out, bringing the traffic to standstill.

In 1971, the council was blasted for allowing a bus shelter to be erected at the fountainr. It was swiftly removed after an outcry.

Christmas lights on Fargate, Sheffield - 1967 Goodwin fountain Illuminations

Coun Ron Thwaites, chairman of the transport committee, admitted: “It was a mistake that the shelter was put where it was.”

And sadly it was sometimes something of a huge soggy rubbish bin, swimming with litter.

In 1980, the fountain was said to be ‘shaming’ the city because of its shabby state.

Church leaders were arriving in the city for a Methodist Conference – and the fountain was strewn with litter including poppy wreaths from the cenotaph and the metal surround in the centre had been torn off its bolts by vandals and left sticking out of the water.

“Any vandalism in a public place is an eyesore and reflects badly on the city,” said a tourism chief.

By February 1998, enough was enough.

The fountain was worn out, the pump bust and deemed too expensive to repair. It had to go.

But, we were promised, there’d be a piece of public art in its place.

A shortlist of three designs was drawn up and models put on public display. We didn’t really like any of them.

“Only a project with overwhelming public support will go ahead,” council bosses pledged.

A tall lead column glinting with gold leaf designed by acclaimed sculptor Shirazeh Houshiary was the frontrunner and she was asked to do a few tweaks to her design.

A lottery windfall of £361,000 meant the project was all set to go ahead.

But in the end we didn’t get our statue. In truth, it seemed no-one really wanted it.

What we did get was a brand new Goodwin Fountain in the Peace Gardens – 89 jets of crystal clear dancing water spraying kids and giving them a good soaking during the long days of summer. Much better.