If you wander towards Regents Park from Camden you may come across a pile of old stones, and on top, a statue of a milkmaid. The bronze statue of a milkmaid is shown looking towards Regents Park with right hand raised to shield eyes, left holding a pail, astride rocky granite grotto having to the left a water jet.
And she is a drinking fountain – or at least, was a drinking fountain, the functionality having long since ceased to work.
The sculptor of the statue is Joseph Durham is chiefly notable for his Albert behind the Albert Hall in South Kensington (not the one in Hyde Park), and the St Lawrence Jewry memorial drinking fountain. This piece though is a casting from Durham’s earlier work, called either ‘Girl at the Spring’ or ‘Early Morning’ made in 1867 and is currently in Blackburn Town Hall.
Sadly for the artist, he wasn’t to attend the unveiling, as he died nearly a year earlier, in a home that was only a short walk away, in Devonshire Street, just off Portland Place. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetary.
The sculpture was presented as a public drinking fountain by Matilda, wife of Richard Kent, churchwarden of St Pancras. One presumes that the family was rich as this would have cost a lot to install.
It was to replace an existing drinking fountain at around this location next to a small bridge over the Regents Canal. The fountain was added as part of the plans for the newer and much wider bridge that it sits on — that most people don’t realise is a bridge.
The bronze was cast by Messrs Gardner on Strand and paid for by Mrs Kent.
Oddly, the news reports of the time say that the statue is called Sunshine because of the way the girl is shading her eyes, but Sunshine was a very different statue by Durham.
The granite stones were brought from Cornwall and were chosen to be weather-worn and lichen-stained to create a rustic scene for the drinking fountain.
The statue may have a literary connection as well.
In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Peter Walsh reminiscences “Yes, he remembered Regent’s Park; the long straight walk; the little house where one bought air-balls to the left; an absurd statue with an inscription somewhere or other. He looked for an empty seat.”
The very worn bronze plaque reads:
AND WORKS CONNECTED THEREWITH
WERE PRESENTED TO THE METROPOLITAN
DRINKING FOUNTAIN ASSOCIATION ON
THE 3RD DAY OF AUGUST 1878 BY
WIFE OF RICHARD KENT ESQ.
JUNIOR CHURCHWARDEN 1878
THE FIGURE NOW CAST IN BRONZE
WAS DESIGNED BY JOSEPH DURHAM A.R.A