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Toynbee Fountain

Restoration of the fountain

This Gothic fountain in a prominent position at a Wimbledon crossroads commemorates Joseph Toynbee (1815- 1866), Victorian aural surgeon and philanthropist, father of the philosopher and economist Arnold Toynbee (d. 1883), grandfather of the historian Arnold Toynbee (d. 1975) and great-great grandfather of Polly Toynbee, Guardian journalist. One of fifteen children, Joseph Toynbee rose to lead the first ear and throat disease department at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington (during which he was responsible for syringing Queen Victoria’s ears). During his lifetime is said to have dissected two thousand human ears. He became one of the first fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons. He moved to Wimbledon in 1854 and became interested in the local history of the area, strongly opposing Earl Spencer’s plan to enclose the land which was later to become Wimbledon Common and founding the Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Working Classes.

Before restoration, the fountain was leaning towards the street, and not working. There was evidence of surface erosion throughout, some loss of detail and hairline cracks. The fountain had been previously repaired with cementitious mortar. The original bronze taps, cup fixing bolts and drainage covers remain in place, although the push button mechanism was missing on two of the three taps.The dog bowl has sunk level with the ground and was filled with debris.

Restoration took place in 2022, funded by HOLT and Merton Council. This involved cleaning, poulticing, then a complete dismantling of the fountain and preparation off site, removal of old plumbing, creation of a new concrete foundation, return and re-erection of the fountain, new clean water pipes and new taps. The fountain was launched in March 2023, with members of Merton council, pupils from Ursuline High School and Joseph Toynbee’s Great-great granddaughters, Polly and Celia Toynbee.

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