My little ‘culture’ venture out for this week focussed on a particular aspect of London landmark, that we have all probably passed by on many occasions but never really noticed or given too much thought about – however, these particular landmarks have been around a long time and have certainly seen a bit of life and have outlived many major events and transformations throughout the years – but are still standing, for us to see and appreciate.
The topic in question is London’s surviving old Water Pumps / Drinking Fountains & Horse Troughs!!!
Today, we take for granted that fresh running water is readily available in our houses and business premises, and is provided by regulated utility companies – However, not that long ago really, such a luxury did not exist, as Londoners had to draw their drinking water from designated wells, pumps and fountains that were scattered around the City and nits neighbouring boroughs.
At that time, water was either drawn from the Thames or fed by rivers or wells from outside the City, and because there was no formal treatment process (until such time Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned by the Government to design and implement a new sewage network) – and as a result drinking water was riddled with contamination, as the feeds to these water pumps, often passed underneath graveyards, and would pick up bacteria from the soil from the decaying corpses – and so you were literally taking your life in your own hands by drinking it.
The disease ‘cholera’ was rife, and claimed the lives of hundreds of Londoners – however, it was thought that these cholera epidemics were as a result of contaminated air, and nothing to do with the water supplies.
It wasn’t until a physician by the name of John Snow conducted a programme of research following a severe outbreak of cholera in the Soho district that claimed the lives of some 600 residents in 1854 – when he proved that the source of the disease was nothing to do with contaminated air, but was as a result of a public water pump situated in Broad Street (now called Broadwick Street).
John Snow’s discovery had a major influence on the future of public health and the construction of improved sanitation facilities from the mid 1800’s onwards.
In 1859 the “Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association” was set up by the MP Samuel Gurney, to provide free (and clean) drinking water to Londoners and cattle and in particular horses, as they were the main form of transport.
London’s very first public drinking fountain was designed and constructed by the “Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association” in 1859 – and is still around today, and can be found embedded in the railings of the ‘St.Sepulchre-Without-Newgate’ church down by the Holborn viaduct. At its peak, this fountain was used by 7000 people per day, and was so successful that further drinking fountains were erected all over London – some of which still survive today.
Another famous historical pump that is still around today, is the one situated in the Cornhill area of the City. This pump was erected in 1799, but evidence exists to indicate that a ‘well’ had been situated there as far back as the 1200’s. This pump was paid for by a number of institutions that traded in the area such as the Bank of England / the East India Co, and numerous fire, insurance and banking companies – and some of their emblems are adorned on the renovated pump that stands on the original site today.
There is a pump that stands in Bedford Row (within the ‘legal’ district of the City) which was built in 1826, and is adorned with 2 spouts, a handle and the arms of St Andrew and St George near the base. Back in the early 19th century, lawyers from the nearby inns and other locals would draw their water from the pump. In fact Charles Dickens worked as a junior clerk at nearby Gray’s Inn between the years 1827-1828 and so would have most certainly have used this pump as one time or another.
The public pump at Aldgate is another one steeped in history. Although it was formally erected in 1876, the site had been a ‘well’ as far back as the late 1500’s. It is located at the busy junction of Aldgate / Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street.
Similar to the pump in Broadwick Street in Soho, the Aldgate pump was responsible for hundreds of deaths as a result of its contaminated water – it is also a significant landmark as it is the point where all mileage distances to Essex towns are measured – and it allegedly, is the last spot where a ‘wolf’ was shot and killed in the City – hence the reason as to why its drinking spout is in the shape of a wolf’s head!!
Photographs of the following sites visit visited as part of this particular gig, accompany this post:-
- London’s very first public drinking fountain – Holborn
- Aldgate Pump
- Bedford Row pump
- Edgware Road – public drinking fountain
- Cornhill pump
- Broadwick Street pump – Soho
- Staples Inn – public drinking fountain
- West Smithfield – horse trough
- Edgware Road – horse trough
- London Wall – horse trough
All of which was followed up with a ‘cheeky’ one in the “John Snow” pub in Broadwick Street (the location of the infamous ‘cholera’ outbreak of 1854).
As I mentioned earlier, there are still a number of these pumps/fountains and horse troughs scattered around London, some of which are now designated as Grade II listed, and therefore should hopefully be around for many years to come, to provide a little bit of visual history for future generations.