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Postcards from France: fresh water for all - the Wallace Fountains of Paris

The Postcards from France have been stacking up in the postbag but haven't made it on to the blog. Oh dear! If you've been wondering what's been going on, join us in the Newsletter community to be in the know about France Where You Are the podcast and blog bringing France to you. Life has got in the way!

Recently, I read a book about Not Trying Too Hard. It resonated with me and my perfectionism (it's a superb read, much like a Francophile Alain de Botton book and a great tonic for all those books telling you to be "like the French" and be thin/parentally autocratic/terribly chic.) The overhwlem and perfectionism have been holding me back around here and so in the spirit of having a go, not trying or thinking too hard, here is this week's postcard.

I'm remembering that this series of Postcards from France are tiny little moments to lead you to something interesting in France. It's for Francophiles everywhere who want to have a little moment of France in their day. Simple, right?

So keep on reading for more today about a British philanthropist who moved to Paris and left a legacy that's still as vital today as it ever was.

Today's Postcard from France celebrates the Wallace Fountains in Paris. Beautiful, practical and available to everyone, they are street architecture of the best kind!

Polymago/ David Monniaux Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France license

Let's walk around Paris and explore some of these historic gems still bringing frech clean water to Parisians.

Somewhere tucked away in my memory I think I knew that the Richard Wallace who created the funding for the beautiful Wallace Fountains in Paris was the same wealthy philanthropist as the inheritor of The Wallace Collection. But like an archaeological relic, it took me some time to dig out that memory!

The Wallace Collection has always been one of my favourite places in London and if you've never been, it's well worth a visit (from Anthony Powell connections to fine paintings, there is much to enjoy.) As the museum describes Richard Wallace: 'The supposed illegitimate son of the Fourth Marquess of Hertford, Sir Richard Wallace unexpectedly inherited the Marquess’s dazzling collection of art, an act which was to change the direction of his own life and that of the masterpieces in his care.' (see their website) Find out more about Richard Wallace (in a French/English bilingual edition) in Richard Wallace: The English Millionaire and the Hertford Hospital.

A private person who inherited an immense art collection brought together by the four marquesses of Hertford, he seems to have been quite a Francophile. Living in Paris he wanted to help those around him. He saw the effects of the Franco-Prussian war, the Siege of Paris and the Paris Commune on the citizens of the city, where there was abject poverty, epidemics and health crises. At this time, Haussmann's renovation of Paris was partially completed but still very much in progress. Imagine, the Paris Opéra wasn't yet completed along with many of the avenues we today take for granted.

The lack of clean drinking water at that time led to alcoholism and despair for many. He was convinced that by providing clean drinking water he could help people from any and every social class to lead better lives.

Free from a reliance on alcohol instead of water (including for children who were often fed alcohol-soaked biscuits as there was little to eat or drink) and with disease-free water, a healthier city could prosper.

Was he correct? Were the fountains a success?

I think the longevity of the fountains alone marks their success as philosophically egalitarian mechanisms to bring fresh water to everyone. A recent article at the Paris Institute suggests we need more philanthropic actions like those of Richard Wallace in a post-pandemic world.

Well today, having survived the global pandemic, Parisians seem to enjoy using the water fountains just as much as ever. You can go along with your reusable bottle and top up with free, clean drinking water at many of the small or monumental fountains across the city. They were often built in a statuesque size so you could find them! Originally he funded 40 of them, later funding another 20 in the subsequent decade. He designed many himself to blend his vision with a desire for the fountains to be useful, beautiful and symbolic. Wallace hired his personal acquaintance, Charles-Auguste Lebourg, a highly regarded sculptor from Nantes to improve the sketches and turn the practical drinking fountains into true works of art.

Together they were able to create the fountains with Wallace's vision and ideas and Lebourg's skill and craftsmanship.( The website for the Wallace Fountains of Paris has more background.)

Allegorical meanings, beautiful architectural gems and egalitarian in spirit, the fountains still speak to us today if we are willing to listen.

Walking Paris - Find the Fountains Challenge

If you're feeling inspired to find today's total of 107 fountains in Paris, then why not take up the Challenge? When you find all 107 Wallace Fountains located in Paris and document your accomplishment by completing and returning the Wallace Fountains Chart, you will become a Friend of the Fountains and receive a Certificate of Achievement by email. Now that sounds like fun!

Whether or not you'd like to take up the challenge, there are many self-guided walks to take across the city. Why not have a look at 21 of them at the Wallace Fountains website?

If you donate over 20 Euro to the Society of the Wallace Fountains, you can get a free copy of the full guide to the fountains. Find out more here.

You can also purchase the guidebook at the following Parisian book shops:

Shakespeare & Company – 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris

Le Piéton de Paris – 58 Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, 75004 Paris +33 1 53 69 09 16

The Red Wheelbarrow – 9 rue de Medicis, 75006 Paris +33 1 42 01 81 47

If you're in Paris or planning a trip, you won't want to miss any of the 150 year anniversary celebrations in 2022 including the placement of a working fountain in the gardens of the fabulous Musée Carnavalet. You can follow them on Instagram also.

Do you have a favourite fountain? I'm not sure that I do but I adore finding one I've not seen before... and I just love the fact that they exist and continue to be maintained in working order for us all to enjoy. Thanks to Paris Water!

They feel like a feature of Paris that welcomes residents, tourists and all those from around the world. Thank you Richard Wallace.

Help support the upkeep and preservation of these monuments at the Society of the Wallace Fountains website.


I am in no way affiliated with the Society of the Wallace Fountains and have provided information and links in good faith. Please note that this Postcard blog post was not sponsored in any way.

Some links have been included which may contain affiliate links, which cost you nothing but help to support the blog and podcast. Thank you for your support and reading today's Postcard.

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