The Victorian enthusiasm for the garden and the conservatory encouraged many potters to make large sized ornaments for these locations and by the 1850s the level of technical expertise had so improved that the manufacture of larger pieces became possible with majolica being the favoured material for the manufacture of fountains.
The heron fountain basin was originally modelled by the sculptor John Thomas (1813-1862) in the 1850s and was first used in the Royal Dairy at the Model Farms at Frogmore. The dairy's interior was designed by Thomas in collaboration with Prince Albert. The form was then adapted for use in other locations, generally as a free-standing fountain. Most famously it was included as part of the grand 'St. George and the Dragon' fountain created by Minton for the 1862 London International Exhibition. This magnificent construction, also designed by John Thomas, stood at over thirty-six feet high and consisted of three hundred and seventy-nine separate pieces. The figures of Saint George and the Dragon formed the centrepiece on a crowned central column surrounded by four winged Victory figures. Below, heraldic British lions supported small fountains and on pedestals attached to the lower part of the structure were four more fountains, each composed of a heron supporting a shell in which a nereid or triton bathed. See Marilyn G. Karmason and Joan B. Stacke, Majolica, A Complete History and Illustrated Survey, New York, 1989, pp. 140-147 for a discussion of this fountain and for a reproduction of a chromolithograph from the Minton Archives illustrating the fountain. See also D. Corbin, 'A Most Exquisite Display, European Ceramics at the Centennial Exhibition', The Decorative Arts Society Journal, 2006, p. 24 for an illustration of A.B. Daniell & Sons' display of majolica at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, illustrating the present basin form to the left of the image.
The 1862 'St George and the Dragon Fountain' took two months to be assembled at great cost, but realising the commercial appeal of smaller components of the design the Minton factory went on to reproduce the heron basin form, often in combination with differing fountain designs, according to the individual preference of the costumer. A boy and dolphin fountain designed by Lady Marian Alford was also shown at the London International Exhibition of 1862, see Paul Atterbury and Maureen Batkin, The Dictionary of Minton, Suffolk, 1990, p. 88 and the Minton 1884 Shape Book records shape number 911 as 'Amorini Fountain', see Victoria Bergensen, Majolica, British, Continental and American Ware, 1851-1915, London, 1989, p. 181.