Southend's civic fountain granted Grade II listing

Southend's civic fountain on Victoria Avenue has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of Historic England.

The fountain that sits outside of the Civic Centre building. 3 carved pillars standing within a low brick finished base.

An accomplished and high quality work of art, the fountain is designer William Mitchell's only known public sculpture in Faircrete (a fibrous concrete which could be moulded like potters' clay). It is a rare surviving example of a public fountain by the artist.

Eilíse McGuane, Historic England listing advisor, said: “This exciting sculptural work was an integral part of the post-war renewal of Southend-on-Sea and represents the innovative approach taken to civic design at that time. It is a rare surviving example of a public fountain by William Mitchell, one of the most celebrated sculptors of the late twentieth century. Seen and enjoyed by local people and visitors every day, it celebrates Southend's unique heritage.”

Councillor David Garston, deputy cabinet member for arts, culture, heritage and leisure at Southend-on-Sea City Council, added: "Preserving our cultural heritage is not just about conserving artefacts; it's about safeguarding the stories and memories they hold. The listing of the Civic Fountain underscores the importance of recognising and celebrating our shared history. It's a testament to the innovative spirit of its time and a cherished part of Southend-on-Sea's identity."

A post-war civic centre for Southend

In 1967, a new civic complex was created in Southend, which included a car park, council suite and 16-storey council office block (known as the Civic Centre), a college, police headquarters, and a courthouse. The complex was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. A civic square was designed to form the central heart of the scheme, with a round pool and fountain.

An innovative sculptural design

The Borough Council was persuaded by its architects to commission William Mitchell to create a sculpture for the fountain and a coat of arms for the nearby council chamber, at a cost of £8,500. The fountain panels were crafted on-site in Faircrete and completed in 1971.

The fountain has three sculptural panels, which stand in a circle in a round pool. The imagery represents the motto of Southend-on-Sea ‘Per Mare Per Ecclesiam’ (Through the Sea Through the Church) and the city's coat of arms.

Details include a trefoil (the emblem of the Holy Trinity, representing the parish church of Southchurch), an anchor (the emblem of St Clement, the Patron Saint of Leigh) and a grid iron (the emblem of St Lawrence, the Patron Saint of Eastwood) either side of a vase of lilies in a triangular surround (the emblem of the Virgin, representing the parish of St Mary, Prittlewell).

The south-facing panel has a bearded religious figure on its outward face, possibly representing St Clement, and a hooded monk-like figure on its inward face (likely representing the Cluniac Priory of St Mary, Prittlewell).

The west-facing panel has a fisherman in medieval dress on its outward and inward faces (representing Leigh Port), and the fisherman's net trails along the north side into the water of the round pool.

Additional photographs of the fountain can be found on our Flickr site.

Published: 15th May 2024

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