The Drinking Fountain in Saffron Walden Market Square commemorates the marriage of Queen Victoria’s son Prince Edward to Princess Alexandra of Denmark in 1863. It was a gift to the town from George Gibson, the town’s Mayor.
George Gibson and his family also gave the town the Town Hall, the Barclays Bank building, the Friends’ School, additions to the almshouses and the Hospital (now the offices of Uttlesford District Council).
The fountain provided a much needed centre-piece for the market square and, indeed, the whole town of Saffron Walden. Gibson purchased it at the Imperial Exhibition in London.
The fountain features four scenes from the book of Exodus in the Bible. These scenes show Moses liberating the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt.
The North Side
Moses is about to kill an Egyptian who is smiting a Hebrew labourer.
Did Gibson see here a picture of the trials suffered by early Quakers such as Fox and Penn at the hand of the authorities in 17th century Britain? Their response (unlike Moses) had been non-violent. Gibson too was an example of patience and perseverance in the town politics of his time.
The East Side
Moses is helping Reul’s daughters to water their father’s flock.
Moses learnt the gentle way of the shepherd when he lived for 40 years as a refugee in the wilderness.
Gibson was acutely aware of the abject poverty of many in Saffron Walden. His maltings provided cheap and safe drinking in the absence of a clean water supply. He also had a tolerant attitude towards people who disagreed with him.
The South Side
Moses is finally leading the Hebrews out of Egypt in a peaceful exodus.
Was Gibson touched by the gentle compassion of Moses which is captured so well in this carving? Gibson was not a harsh administrator; every Friday his backdoor was open for anyone in need to call.
The West Side
Moses patiently receives the cries of the thirsty Hebrews as they struggle with life in the wilderness.
In a similar way, Gibson and others set up a Town Mission to see to the needs of the many slum-dwellers of Saffron Walden.