The Canal Pond and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth

The Canal Pond is set in the South Lawn at Chatsworth and was dug in 1702-3. It is set a few inches higher than the lawn, creating the illusion that the house rises out of the water when viewed from the far end of the canal.

Image by Johnnie Shannon from Pixabay

There had been a fountain at the north end of the canal since the pond was completed. Originally named the Great Fountain, it is flanked by two reclining river gods, created by the sculptor Nadauld. The gods can just be seen in this photo, one of them behind a lady photographing the dog structure:

Canal pond showing 2 gods and dog structure

When it became known that Tsar Nicholas 1, Emperor of Russia, would visit Chatsworth in 1844, the Great Fountain was replaced by the Emperor Fountain. Commissioned by the 6th Duke and created by Joseph Paxton, it was so named as a welcoming gesture to the tsar. Unfortunately, Tsar Nicholas never did make that visit but the fountain kept the name anyway.

Tsar Nicholas of Russia
Portrait of Emperor Nicholas 1 by Franz Kruger (1797-1857). Housed in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Creative Commons/Public Domain

Although the original Great Fountain had been the highest in the country, the new Emperor Fountain exceeded its reach and is on record as having reached 90 metres/295 feet. It was powered by the pressure of water dropping 297 feet through a 16 inch cast-iron pipe. It was the tallest gravity-fed fountain in the world for 160 years.

To provide enough water to power the new fountain an 8-acre lake, aptly named Emperor Lake, was dug up in the surrounding moorland of the Peak District. (This was in addition to the three existing lakes already providing the immense volumes of water needed by the house and its surrounding grounds.) Emperor Lake was finished in only six months in 1844.

The following painting, which I used in my earlier post on Chatsworth House, gives some idea of the height of the land behind the house and grounds:

A late 18th century oil painting by William Marlow. It emphasises the romantic aspects of Chatsworth’s setting on the edge of the Peak District. Public Domain

If you look closely at the hillside, you will spot a small building. That is the hunting lodge, situated in Stand Wood on the edge of the hills and moors of the Peak District. Emperor Lake can be seen from the lodge, should visitors choose to wander up there.

A two and a half mile channel was dug across moorland to gather rain that fell on the high ground. As mentioned above, the fountain was powered by the pressure of water dropping 297 feet through a 16 inch cast-iron pipe. In places, trenches up to almost 15 feet deep were cut through the rock to maintain the gradient.

In 2014 two new nozzles were made for the fountain. One is the same diameter as the original nozzle and the other is a little narrower, the aim being to create a column of water similar to the one that Paxton achieved. With the new narrower nozzle and a new debris grid in Emperor Lake, which supplies the water, the fountain can still reach 62 metres/200 feet on a still day.

Although this may not be the most attractive fountain in the world, the height it reached so long ago and the story about Tsar Nicholas, certainly make it interesting.


This is the second part of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. The first part was already rather long, so I thought I’d leave this short piece for another time.

A final note: Writing this has set off a discussion in our house about the spelling of tsar. I’ve always spelled it this way, but my husband argued that if should be czar. Well, after looking it up it seems there are three spellings of the word: tsar, tzar and czar. So it seems to be a case of ‘take your pick’!

14 thoughts on “The Canal Pond and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth

  1. Interesting…I’m in your husband’s camp with the spelling of czar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it spelled the other ways. Thanks for sharing your gorgeous photos, Millie.

  2. I notice that the Wikipedia page uses “tsar” and offers “tzar,” “czar,” and “csar” as alternate spellings. Personally, I like to use the letter Z whenever I have the slightest excuse to do so, and I prefer tzar. 🙂

    I’m curious about that fountain. The idea of a gravity fountain makes sense, and is pretty cool. But if the water fell that far, where’s the height where it’s dropping from? Everything around the pond looks pretty flat. And wherever it is, how did they get the water up there in the first place?

    1. I’ve just updated the post, Joy. It now has an extra paragraph explaining the location of the water source for the fountain. Your comment made me realise I should have explained that anyway! So thank you for that – and for your comments about the spelling. 😀

      1. Thanks for the update — ooh, how clever of them! And what an undertaking, too. It’s amazing how much rich people will spend on fancy stuff to show off their status — but what fun for the rest of us to enjoy it now!

      2. Hi Joy. I hope the extra info helped to make things a little clearer. I agree, throughout time, mega-rich people have had money to burn and, as you say, they are happy to use a lot of it to show off their status – and sometimes their achievements. And yes, the rest of us can enjoy many of the structures they had created. I have so many stately homes to write up about, and most tell similar stories and signs of wealth at every turn.

  3. I have seen Chatsworth many times, with my own eyes and via tv or photos, but nobody every mentioned that the pond was set a few inches higher than the lawn. This simple but clever trick really DID create the illusion that the house rose out of the water, when viewed from the far end of the canal.

    1. We didn’t get to the far end of the Canal Pond on the day we visited, so I hadn’t got a photo of our own to show, though we knew about it from the Guide Book. I agree, it was a very clever trick on the architect’s behalf and the photo from Pixabay shows the house ‘rising out of the water’ perfectly.

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