Enigma Fountain

Throughout April 1999 Rose Garrard undertook a further month of public consultation for the Malvern Hills District Council to determine the theme for a major Great Malvern water feature in celebration of the millennium.  The Council's beautiful Victorian conservatory in Priory Park was opened to the public for the first time since its restoration and became the studio workspace for Rose as Artist in Residence for the second time (see Malvhina). Four relevant themes from Malvern’s history were identified; Silurian Fossils, Piers Plowman, the Green Man and Sir Edward Elgar. The majority of public support was for the last theme, and Rose's design and scale model for 'The Enigma Fountain' was chosen by the Council to provide the municipal landmark for the town centre.

The fountain was designed to celebrate Sir Edward Elgar, his music the ‘Enigma Variations’ written in Malvern in 1898, and Malvern's pure spring water.  The Variations themselves are made up of fourteen sections, each a musical portrait of one of his local friends represented as an 'enigma' by only their initials on the score, and these letters are each carved on the fourteen sides of the fountain in a facsimile of Elgar's own handwriting.  They begin and end with the initials of himself and his wife Alice, meeting at the feet of his bronze figure.  Carved above these is a line from a poem by Arthur O’Shaughnessy, “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams, … “, which inspired one of Elgar’s finest Malvern works, ‘The Dream of Gerontius’.


To meet the millennium deadline Rose immediately began modelling the figure of Elgar directly in plaster to be cast into bronze in a London foundry and she designed, supervised and co-ordinated all the work on site, even down to details of the plumbing. The conventional bronze figure outside the handrail now provides a popular photo opportunity for visitors but at first this caused some controversy in the local press as it was standing on pavement level, not elevated on a plinth.

The feature is fed by natural water pressure from three springs on the hills high above the town and water flows from the top of a three metre high gothic archway of Welsh slate, spanning the centre of a slate millennium cross symbolising the early ecclesiastical origins of the town.  Beneath the archway is a central water jet flanked by four, four metre high pillars of natural York stone, the same material used as the facia of nearby buildings, but here suggesting the hills themselves and the springs beneath them.  Rose travelled to a quarry near Leeds to select the single block of York stone to be cut just twice into the four pillars.  This design solution also prevents water from being blown onto the adjacent roads. Malvern stone could not be used as this very hard granite is difficult to cut and fractures easily into small irregular blocks. 

Duke of York and Rose

The town centre was filled with flags and crowded with excited people despite the rain when Prince Andrew, HRH the Duke of York, unveiled the fountain on 26th May 2000.  The project was funded by Malvern Hills District Council and supported by public donations, Severn Trent Water, Waitrose, Border Office Supplies and West Midlands Arts. The Enigma Fountain is at the northern end of Belle Vue Island, Great Malvern, at the top of the flight of steps above Church Street.