On a day when spring seemed to have sprung but winter was still very much with us we visited the Diana Memorial Fountain.

We had never seen it before, nor even read overmuch about it.

Neither of us were rabid Diana fans or indeed denigrators. And the hype, the emotion, the lengthy commissioning and the troubled opening were, if we are honest, something of a turn off factor. So we had no expectations of any kind really.

A memorial represents a person and so should capture something of their essence. A tombstone can either deal with the plain facts, or, more movingly, the bereaved indicate to the world the person’s character in a few well chosen words. A memorial independent of a tomb, however, is quite definitely a celebration. With so few words to accompany it, this one had to communicate with us big time – and it did!

After the build up of the Memorial Walk from Hyde Park Corner there was actually just a ‘So this is it, then’ moment. It is certainly not magnificent. Constructed on one of the shallow slopes which typifies Hyde Park, it is, in simple terms, a silver loop of Cornish granite which contains a twisting flow of water descending on both sides to meet at the bottom.  

Even quite close to, it can be at times almost imperceptible, contained to a very large extent within the lie of the grassland. There is none of the show off baroque excess of Alnwick, but it is instead modern, quirky and very English in its understatement. So its very humanity was an instant hit.

The circular nature of the watercourse verifies how comforting this kind of shape is. The flow is sometimes broad, sometimes narrow, and the progress of the water is organic. Jets bubble from beneath and from the sides in various places, the walls are either shallow or taller, smooth or sculpted, the surface troughed with pits or coruscations, or on occasion routinely or even roughly facetted.

In all senses it is interactive. Following it is a voyage of discovery as it reveals its secrets. If you are with someone you do find yourself exclaiming out loud – you probably do even if you are on your own. Sitting on the edge and dabbling one’s hands, feeling its contours would be a given on a warmer day than we had! Aside from touch, there is sight-the light on the water and its playfulness. And sound with the rush and on occasion the thud of the jets within.

It was this very interactivity that was obviously its health and safety danger. Supposedly one doesn’t walk on or tread in, but I imagine that is a vain hope. We cannot think HRH would have minded overmuch. As to its overall effect, she must have opened less vibrant things and, as for us, we liked it! Put another way, it was graceful, lyrical even, exciting and intriguing, simple yet complex. Yes, contradictory – very much how we understand her character was.

However, while the construction captures her mercurial charms and while the feature is of itself exciting, what it lacks is a suitable setting for its silvery ribbon like grace.

There is no reveal. And no foil. Turf and tarmac make for dull accompaniments. There are some ugly lopped off trees in the background and some small new trees within, which are to one side only. We know there were maintenance concerns about leaf fall into the fountain, but there is no backing, nor shrubby matter to protect the fountain from windblown leaves which might have solved the problem.

Doubtless there will have been committee-led compromises, and practically based management issues to be dealt with in its birth pangs. And of course managing such a twisting, crystal clear combination of smooth stone and flowing water will have its own technical requirements. And yet at the end of the day, the whole memorial, whatever its problems, has to work visually or not and stand or fail as an artistic entity.

The quantity of accompanying tarmac is a pity There is at least as much tarmac as granite. Why does one path end in a dead end rather than in a crossing point? In another area a simple bridge crosses the stream. Why couldn’t this be repeated again? Maybe some form of metaphor was intended?

If we could have landscaped the area, longer almost jewelled turf would have been our choice. Lily Turf is another possibility – and inclusion of a Carex of some type  – and maybe even the bottle green darkness of Ophiopogon jaburan. All these, studded with seasonal bulbs in huge swathes instead of a boring expanse of some rather yellow London Park grass would have made the ribbon sing as it should. Silver birches behind and to the sides would have lent grace and elegance.

In simple terms, a thing of distinct grace, delicacy and winning eccentricity has been pinned, like a butterfly in a box, in the bland boringness of Hyde Park. If you then think of the location as a metaphor for what is traditional and hierarchical in our society, maybe the fundamental  miscasting of the real life drama has been perfectly represented!

So almost in its shortcomings it has worked!

Give us your thoughts.

Lesley and Robert

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