I was in my home town of Liverpool at the weekend, and my favourite sculpture is not working – again. The Bucket Fountain (or to use its given name – The Piazza Fountain) was a gift to the city in 1967. It is a work by the Welsh sculptor Richard Huws and there is an inscription that tells you about its history.
“The old Piazza was severely bombed in the air raids of 1941 and finally demolished between 1948 and 1950. In 1967, to mark the completion of the new piazza this plaque was kindly presented by Cammell Laird and Co, builders of the fountain.” (Cammell Laird’s are known for building large ships rather than small buckets.)
What I like about this fountain is the way the smaller bucket tips a measure of water in to the medium buckets, and in turn, they fill up the larger buckets until a gush of water tips all the water into the pond below.
It’s a bit like a secret. At first, a small amount of information escapes into a discrete group of confidantes. At some point, the secret will leak until nearly all of the information is in the pond for everyone to see. But up at the top, where the secret was initially viewed to be safe there will be a residue of information, still private, still secure.
The Williamson tunnels (once a Liverpool secret) are now open to the public. They are extraordinary because no one knows now, why they were built. Did anyone know at the time? Was this a scheme to keep people in jobs, a private job creation scheme, two hundred and fifty years ago?
Please don’t think of small crawling spaces – this was not the “Great Escape”, don’t think of crouching miners’ tunnels with pit props and water running down the sides, you have to think big – really big like the Vienna sewer system in “The Third Man.” They are a beautiful brick lined labyrinth of tunnels.
Could they be called a Folly? It makes as much sense as a small castle comprising a single tower.
Perhaps Williamson wanted to visit his mistress unseen from the street, but of course, to stop at his mistresses’ house would have given the game away and so the tunnels continued. Perhaps he hated walking round the city in the rain and decided that an underground system was a more civilised way of doing business. Maybe he was inspired by smuggling caves in Cornwall and felt that a port like Liverpool could have some potential for piracy and smuggling.
If you wanted to build something extraordinary, would it be a labyrinth of tunnels? Would you be able keep the purpose secret? What did he tell the workforce and why can’t we find any record of what they were used for?