Francis Calder Commemorative Fountain

The founder of the USPCA is remembered in Custom House Square

Belfast's historic Calder Fountain - located on the southern fringe of the newly revamped Custom House Square - is one monument that the people of Northern Ireland can truly be proud of.

Increasingly, more and more tourists are flocking to our historic capital with the aim of witnessing for themselves the sectarian murals and architectural scars that speak of our bloody past. And yet the Calder Fountain is just one of the many landmarks that time and the Troubles forgot: a symbol of our city’s rich moral heritage and a testament to one of Belfast’s most famous sons.

With its staid Georgian design, single cast iron gas lamp and somewhat lengthy double inscription, the Calder Fountain, originally erected in Queen's Square in 1859, could easily have been overlooked by tourists and residents alike as a rather hefty and unremarkable remnant of a bygone Belfast, free from guns and bombs and therefore insignificant.

Indeed, for many years the forgotten fountain lay open to the elements in Albert Square, where it was replaced in 1870 to make way for the building of a railway line along the quays, decaying along with the memory of its subject and crumbling beneath the strain of a city at war.

But in August 2003, the Laganside Corporation saw fit to revive the ailing fountain with the help of stone restoration experts, S McConnell & Sons. And today it stands revitalised near its original location in Custom House Square, the epicentre of 19th Century Belfast.

The Calder Fountain was designed by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Chief Engineer, George Smith, also designer of the Italianate Harbour Office in Corporation Square, and was dedicated to the life and memory of the inimitable Commander Francis Anderson Calder, founder member of the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

FA Calder was born the son of Alexander Calder and Barbara Gray - a lawyer’s daughter – in Edinburgh in 1787. It is quite possible that his father was also a lawyer – one Alexander Calder is listed as such in the Edinburgh directories of 1775 to 1790. In an age of patronage, this relatively affluent upbringing stood the young Calder in good stead, and in 1803 he joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.

It was the time of the Napoleonic Wars, and the valiant Calder played his part, graduating to Second Master in 1809 and obtaining his Lieutenant's commission in 1811. He served on a number of exulted warships, from the Merlin to the Tremendous. But in 1815, at the age of thirty-two, his naval career was cut short when the Napoleonic Wars came to an end. He was thereafter made a Commander following his retirement in 1853.

Having spent a total of twelve years at sea, Calder was loath to leave the service. But leave he did, and the next record of his whereabouts, the Belfast Street Directory, places him firmly on the cobbled streets of Belfast itself, working as an agent for the Sunday School Society of Ireland.

As Belfast soared in the grips of the industrial revolution, a new and disquieting cause presented itself to the benign Calder: the fight for the prevention of cruelty to animals.

Calder was a profoundly religious character, and it seems that his deepest sympathies lay with the beasts of burden upon whose shoulders Belfast’s industrial evolution weighed heaviest. Stories of cock-fighting and bear-baiting only added to Calder’s moral sense of anguish, and in 1936, along with a number of highly respected citizens and clergymen, he founded what is now the USPCA.

The Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals went on to make history in its unprecedented struggle for animal rights, and just over a year after its inception had successfully lobbied for the act of Parliament ‘relating to the cruel and improper treatment of animals’ to be extended to Ireland.

Although acting as an independent entity, the BSPCA soon became renowned throughout the British Isles particularly for its work in regards installing water troughs for horses and cattle in Belfast’s streets. Indeed, between the years 1843 and 1855 – the year of Calder’s death – ten such troughs had already been installed, with a further eleven to follow in the next eight years.

The double inscription on the Calder Fountain pays credence to the high esteem in which FA Calder was held by his fellow committee men:

‘Erected by Public Subscriptions As a memorial to the labours of Francis Anderson Calder, Commander RN. In the cause of humanity, and to whom is mainly to be attributed the erection, between the years 1843 and 1855, of ten water-troughs for the use of cattle in Belfast. A Righteous man regarded the life of his beast’, and ‘ Erected by public subscriptions. In Commemoration of Francis Anderson Calder, Commander R.N. Founder of the Belfast Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and for twenty years its active Honorary Secretary. Blessed are the Merciful A.D. 1859’.

Lee Henry