Unveiling, 1901

The iron statue of Burns in Walker Park was the gift of the Walker Burns Club. Cast by Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow, the statue was mounted on top of a ‘monumental drinking fountain’ on a site provided by the Union District Council which the local press described as ‘situated in the most favourable part of the enclosure’. Burns was depicted in the statue in the act of reciting ‘A man’s a man for ‘a that’. The statue itself was constructed out of six sections bolted together.

The water fountain itself was adapted from a generic one: Macfarlane & Co’s No. 19. The fountain had a long central column with decorative foliage and a shield inscribed with one of Burns’ poems: ‘It’s coming yet for a’ that/ That man to man the world o’er/ Shall brothers be for a’ that’. The column also featured four taps with tin cups suspended by chains. Water from the taps sluiced into four basins supported by figures of rampant lions. This arrangement was situated on a cast-iron base on an eight-sided podium with steps leading to the ground.

Amidst ‘delightful weather’, it was unveiled in ‘the presence of a large number of spectators’ and a ‘large and representative’ body of local residents on 13 July 1901. The ceremony was presided over the chairman of the club, John McKay, who was accompanied by many of the club’s members. He explained that the money to pay for the statue had been raised over a five year period from the proceeds of club concerts. In his speech, McKay paid tribute to Burns’s ‘beautiful and humane sentiments’, as expressed in his writings. Following this, H. Crawford Smith, MP, spoke, stating that Burns was ‘a man who they, whether Englishman or Scotchman, justly admired.’ He added that Burns would probably have liked something stronger in the fountain than water, to which a voice in the crowd shouted ‘Aye wad he, a glass o’th’ hard stuff’, which was met with laughter. Crawford Smith closed with the hope that ‘the Memorial would stand for all time as a practical manifestation of what the Burns Club had done for Walker’. The final speaker was Father Berry, who praised the fountain ‘as a thing of beauty which would be a joy for ever’ and he paid tribute to the local Burns club and to ‘what Scotchmen had done for the industrial development of Tyneside.’ Afterwards, Kitcheners’ Band of pipers from Hebburn played ‘selections’ and a local choir sang ‘There was a lad born in Kyle’ and other Scottish songs.

Sources: Evening Chronicle, 15 July 1901; Newcastle Courant, 20 July 1901; Newcastle Daily Chronicle, 15 July 1901; http://www.twsitelines.info/smr/13508.

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