Symbols & Secrets

Walking the City of London

Category: Water

Sculptures with striking poses

I’ll start with a work that caused some controversy, the Charity Drinking Fountain (also known as La Maternité) by Aimé-Jules Dalou (1877-9).

In his book Public Sculpture of the City of London, Philip Ward-Jackson describes the lady as follows:

Despite her casual garb she has a diadem or tiara on her head. With her left arm she enfolds a baby, who she is suckling, whilst with her right she draws to her knee a naked boy, who gazes up at her.

She is outside Royal Exchange Buildings EC3V 3NL.

Nearby is a very relaxed George Peabody who I have written about in an earlier blog

Ward-Jackson tells us that the suckling lady’s very authentic exposed breast produced at least one letter of protest to the editor of The Globe. The correspondent urged that ‘common decency’ should be observed and went on …

Do you not think, Sir, that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of ‘lacteal sustenation’ be concluded … or the young woman and youngsters provided with the requisite clothing.

On a more serious theme, St Thomas à Becket lies in agony in St Paul’s Churchyard on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral (EC4M 8AD) …

‘Becket’ by Edward Bainbridge Copnall (1970-71).

The Ornamental Passions website gives the following description :

(The sculptor) depicts the Archbishop in the agony of death, his right hand extended as if to ward off the blows of his knightly assassins. The plinth is stepped to recall the steps into the choir of Canterbury Cathedral … This memorable image was created in 1970 as part of the commemorations of the saint’s martyrdom.
The material looks like bronze but is in fact resin coloured to look like bronze.

Just across the road from St Paul’s, on the right as you approach the Millennium Bridge, you will see the National Firefighters Memorial (EC4M 8BX) which depicts a Fire Officer and two Firemen, cast in bronze engaged in firefighting duties. Unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991, it was originally called ‘Blitz’ and was dedicated to the men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II.  In 2000 it was renamed the Firefighters Memorial in order to commemorate all firefighters killed whilst in service and a new raised plinth now records almost 2,300 names.

Two of the men are ‘working a branch’, their legs braced to take the strain …

Churchill memorably called them ‘Heroes with grimy faces’.

The Officer below looking over his shoulder, possibly calling up reinforcements, is Cyril Demarne OBE who provided photographs to help the sculptor (who also happened to be his son-in-law) …

According to Philip Ward-Jackson, Demarne’s initials CTD are scattered among the brickwork on which the men stand but his old colleagues needed no such clues. One stated in an interview …

You can tell it’s Cyril by the way he’s standing … He always waved his arms about like that when he was ordering us about.

Officer Demarne in full flow …

By 1943 over 70,00 women had enrolled in the National Fire Service in the United Kingdom. This memorial commemorates those who lost their lives in the London Blitz …

The lady on the left is an incident recorder and the one on the right a despatch rider.

Finally, would you like to see Zoe, the floating Barbican Muse? If so, make your way to the Barbican Library on the second floor of the Centre, stand with your back to it, and walk through the automatic doors. She’s a few yards ahead on your left …

Sculpted by Matthew Spender in 1993-4, she is made of polyurethane and glass fibre and finished in gold leaf. She holds in her left hand the masks of Comedy and Tragedy whilst her right hand points the way to the entrance to the Centre (hopefully assisting folk lost in the highwalk system). She’s nicknamed Zoe after the Cambridge student who had posed for the sculptor.











City of London Ships (and a few boats)

Last year London was voted ‘the world’s leading financial maritime city’. The City, the judges said, ‘is home to world leading institutions such as Lloyd’s for insurance, and English law is the most widely applied in shipping disputes.’ The maritime connection does, of course, go back centuries and I have found some of the ways it has been represented for this week’s blog.

What better place to start than the Lloyd’s Register building at 71 Fenchurch Street EC3M 4BS.

It became apparent as the 17th century progressed that a central register of ships was needed to record their size, condition and other qualities. As Lloyd’s of London flourished this information would be valuable not only for underwriters but also merchants. Original regularly published ‘ship lists’ eventually became Lloyd’s Register of Ships in 1760 and, when a ship owners list merged with it, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping was formed in 1834 (and still exists today). The building, by acclaimed architect Thomas Colcutt (1840-1924), was completed in December 1901 and has been described as an ‘impressive classical stone palazzo in the 16th Century Italian manner’.

The building boasts not one but two ship weathervanes.

Galleon under sail.

Around the building elegant ladies protectively support various vessels …


The interior was also designed to impress. I love this picture of the General Committee meeting in what was then their brand new building …

The great and the good of Lloyd’s Register.

The Union of Benefices Act 1860 was considered a necessary piece of legislation to reduce the number of parishes in the City of London as the residential population declined. Between 1872 and 1926 twenty churches (some by Sir Christopher Wren) were demolished and the land sold for construction projects.

Artifacts from some of these churches were moved elsewhere and the pretty galleon weathervane from St Michael Queenhithe (demolished in 1875) can now be seen on St Nicholas Cole Abbey …

114 Queen Victoria Street EC4V 4BJ .

This picture, along with many others, appears in Hornak’s book After the Fire and more details are available here on the Spitalfield’s Life blog.

This square rigged ship once sailed above St Mildred’s Poultry (demolished in 1872) and can now be seen atop St Olave’s Old Jewry, now inhabited by a firm of lawyers …

St Olave’s Court EC2V 8EX. Photo again by Hornak.

The Corporation of Trinity House was founded in 1514 and is now responsible for navigational aids (such as lighthouses), deep sea pilotage and a seafarers charity. The building was seriously damaged in the war but was beautifully restored in the 1950s and in the process acquired this elegant weathervane …

Trinity House, Trinity Square EC3N 4DH.

What about these jolly ships bouncing around in choppy seas on the front of The Ship pub in Hart Street (EC3R 7NB) …

The facade includes a rather grumpy looking blue dolphin …

And now a few boats. If you want to know the difference between a ship and a boat I suggest you access Professor Google since there seem to be a number of definitions.

This Bawley fishing boat  is situated across the road from the old Billingsgate fish market (EC3R 6DX) and commemorates Gordon V. Young, a well-known Billingsgate trader …

A plaque gives more information …

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen was formed in 1555 – watermen carry passengers whilst lightermen carry goods and cargo. Tucked away down St Mary at Hill (EC3R 8EF) is their hall, the only original Georgian Livery Hall in the City. Their coat of arms portrays a skiff (a light rowing boat), crossed oars and two cushions for the comfort of passengers. And more dolphins …

I have written about this ship before. If you go to Holland House in Bury Street (EC3A 5AW), just opposite the Gherkin, just walk around to the south east corner of the building, step back and admire this brave vessel plunging through the waves towards you, the funnel smoking impressively …

It’s a granite structure by the Dutch artist J. Mendes da Costa.

When Lloyd’s Register outgrew their old building at 71 Fenchurch Street a stunning new extension was build alongside and this sculpture, called Argosy, is in the front courtyard. The website tells us that ‘the water action of the sculpture adopts the Coanda principle where water clings to overhanging surfaces, moving downwards over the reflective surfaces in rollwave patterns. The shape is suggestive of a ship’s hull and has been conceived to be seen and enjoyed from both below and above from the nearby building’. It is very different from Mendes da Costa’s work, isn’t it?

Sculpture by William Pye (2009).

Incidentally, the courtyard it is in used to be the churchyard of St Catherine Coleman which was the last church to be demolished under the Union of Benefices Act (in 1926) – the old church railings are still there.

Finally, let’s not forget the brave souls who protected the City and the country in time of war and the monuments to their memory.

On Tower Hill there are two memorials. The first, the Mercantile Marine War Memorial, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was for the the First World War …

The Lutyens Memorial, opposite Trinity House, EC3N 4DH.

Alongside is the second, the Merchant Seamen’s Memorial. It was designed by Sir Edward Maufe and was for the Second World War. This is a feature from it …

In both wars more than 50,700 Commonwealth merchant seamen lost their lives  and on Tower Hill are commemorated the more than 35,800 casualties who have no known grave.

The National Submariners’ War Memorial is on Victoria Embankment (EC4Y 0HJ) and the bas relief shows the claustrophobic interior of a submarine. On the left hand side is a list of 50 submarines lost during the First World War, and on the right a list of 82 submarines lost during the Second World War. A photograph really does not do it justice …

The monument was designed by the architect A H R Tenison and the bronze sculpture is by F B Hitch.

And as we all know, a real ship now stands guard over the City. The most significant surviving Second World War Royal Navy warship, HMS Belfast played a key role in the Arctic Convoys, the Battle of North Cape and D-Day …

You get a great view of her from the north bank.



Fish tales – a walk along the river

I started my westward walk at the old Billingsgate Market on Lower Thames Street. Once the centre of London’s fish trade, it has been comprehensively smartened up and no trace remains of its pulsating, pongy past, its interior now a soulless ‘event space’.

The market in its 20th century heyday.

Billingsgate was originally a general market for corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery, fish and miscellaneous goods and does not seem to have become associated exclusively with the fish trade until the sixteenth century.

In 1699 an Act of Parliament was passed making it ‘a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever’. The only exception to this was the sale of eels which was restricted to Dutch fishermen whose boats were moored in the Thames. This was because they had helped feed the people of London during the Great Fire.

The present building dates from 1876 and was designed by Sir Horace Jones, an architect perhaps best known for creating Tower Bridge but who also designed Leadenhall and Smithfield markets. Business boomed until 1982, when the fish market moved to the Isle of Dogs.

The south side of the old market today.

I love the weathervanes …

The weathervane at the west end of the market.

Similar weathervanes adorn the new market buildings in Docklands but they are fibreglass copies.

As you walk westwards you will see on your right a view of both the tower of St Magnus-the-Martyr and Wren’s monument to the Great Fire of 1666 …

The fishy environment is enhanced by the lamps that illuminate the path at night …

And, amazingly, I think the cloud formation behind is the beginning of what is known as a ‘mackerel sky’.

‘Hello, there!’ : Face-to-face with a fish at eye level.

Further along Adelaide House looms above you …

Built in 1925, it was then the City’s tallest block and is now Grade II listed. The building was named in honour of King William IV’s wife Adelaide who, in 1831, had performed the opening ceremony of London Bridge. Office workers there could once access an 18-hole mini-golf course on the roof. When I discovered this an image came to mind of an errant golf ball flying over the parapet and bonking a London Bridge commuter on the head.

Glance across the river for an interesting contrast of old and new …

On the right, the 16th century tower of Southwark Cathedral peeps over London Bridge. In the distance the Strata tower block at Elephant & Castle, with its three wind turbines, stares back at you. The turbines were supposed to generate electricity but I have never seen them move. I am told that locals have nicknamed the building Mordor.

The Fishmongers’ Livery Company is one of the most ancient of the City Guilds and you encounter the river frontage of their hall as you continue to walk westwards. You will also spot more fish motifs both on the lamps and on the railings …

The south side of Fishmongers’ Hall.

Glance across the river and there, perched in a dry dock, is a replica of a very famous Elizabethan vessel …

The Golden Hinde, under the captaincy of Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580. It is open to visitors at St Mary Overie Dock SE1.

And now some bollards …

After the Battle of Trafalgar, it was discovered that the captured French cannons could not be retrofitted to British ships, and many of them were taken to London and erected as bollards. A cannon ball too large for the barrel was welded into the muzzle to give a distinctive shape. Most have disappeared, or are actually modern replicas, but I do think these fat black and white ones have an authentic look.

Further on, another fish lamp …

This one dates from 1998 when this part of the Thames Path was opened.

You will now pass under Cannon Street Station through the atmospheric Steelyard Passage which I wrote about in last week’s blog about Cannon Street Station.

One feature I didn’t mention was these blue lights built into the path …

The lights illustrate the edge of the River Thames at high tide before the Embankment was built in the 19th century. Shame about the skip.

At the end of the path turn left and you can look down onto the River …

You are standing above the old Walbrook River which entered the Thames at approximately this point. Now totally covered over, it was once quite a torrent. The historian John Stow wrote that it had …

Such a swift course that in the year 1564 a lad of eighteen years, minding to have leapt over the channel, was borne down that narrow stream towards the Thames with such violent swiftness as no man could rescue or stay him.

If you turn round now and walk up Cousin Lane you follow the course of the old Walbrook. On the north side of  Cannon Street it is commemorated in this sculpture entitled Forgotten Streams by the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias …

Terminus tales – Blackfriars Station

Nowadays, if you want to travel by rail to Continental Europe, you head for St Pancras International and Eurostar. Once upon a time though, your gateway to the Continent was Blackfriars Station in the City.

The station was badly damaged during the Second World War but the wall displaying a selection of the locations you could catch a train to survived and you can see it today in the ticket hall. It was part of the original façade of the 1886  station (originally known as St Paul’s) and features the names of 54 destinations – each painstakingly carved into separate sandstone blocks.

The destinations are gilded in 24 carat gold leaf …

‘Where shall we buy a ticket to today? Crystal Palace or Marseilles? Westgate-on-Sea or St Petersburg? Tough choices!’

The new station gave the London Chatham & Dover Railway an important foothold in the City of London.

If you leave the station and turn left you can walk across Blackfriars Bridge and take in a few more interesting sights.

There are these columns rising out of the river …

In 1862-64 a bridge was built to accommodate four trains at one time. John Wolfe-Barry and H M Brunel built a second bridge to increase the number of trains coming into St Paul’s. The columns are the remains of the original bridge, which was removed in 1985 as it was deemed too weak for modern trains.

On the south side is the beautifully restored coat of arms of the London Chatham & Dover Railway …

Note the white horse rampant, symbol of Kent, and the county motto ‘Invicta’ meaning ‘undefeated’ or ‘unconquered’.

And now features not everyone notices. They are not related to the station but if you have ventured onto the bridge they are worth looking out for.

Peer over the parapet and on either side you will see some birds on the capitals of the bridge supports, beautifully carved in Portland stone by J.B.Philip.

The birds on the west side are fresh water birds and plants to be found on the upper reaches of the river …

And on the east side, sea birds and seaweeds to be found at the mouth of the Thames …

Just after you turn left outside the station you will see one of my favourite water fountains, recently liberated from behind hoardings and nicely restored.

Sculptor Wills Bros.

The pretty lady represents ‘Temperance’ and she originally stood outside the Royal Exchange.

The fountain was inaugurated by Samuel Gurney, MP, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountains Association, on 27 July 1861 and you can read more about him, and the Association, in my earlier blog Philanthropic Fountains.

A shop, a tree and a poem

Although it doesn’t look it at first glance, the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside is a little historical treasure trove. Here it is today, a card shop, a tree and a bit of open space – and all offer a fascinating sense of continuity with the City’s past.

Copyright Katie at ‘Look up London’

Cheapside had originally been known as West Chepe to distinguish it from East Chepe at the other end of the City and the name comes from the Saxon Ceap, meaning market. For centuries it was a scene of medieval pageantry, being wide enough for horse racing and jousts. It was also a place of grisly executions and the punishment of the likes of errant tradesmen and apprentices, usually utilising the permanent pillory and stocks. Facing Wood Street was the Eleanor Cross, one of a dozen lavish monuments erected by Edward I between 1291 and 1294, in memory of where the coffin of his wife Eleanor of Castile rested overnight as her body was transported to London.

The Cheapside Cross, with the Great Conduit to the right of it. Illustration: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty

Before its demolition in 1643, the Cross was adjacent to a conduit, one of three providing fresh water piped from the River Tyburn, giving the citizens of London an alternative to the foul water from the wells and the Thames. It was the custom, on days of celebration, for the conduits to run with claret. The historian Bernard Ash observed that it was …

‘Claret undoubtedly as coarse and bloody as the mob which drank it’.

By the beginning of 1666 the street was dominated by traders: mercers, drapers, haberdashers, furriers and also Cheapside’s ‘greatest treasure’, the goldsmiths. Most of the messy, smelly trades had migrated to London’s rim.

As the Great Fire fire spread, people dug desperately into the earth to puncture the conduit’s water supply, hoping the water might quench the flames – in vain – and the Great Conduit itself was razed to the ground along with Cheapside on Tuesday 4 September 1666. A post-fire visitor declared in amazement …

‘You may stand in Cheapside and see the Thames!’

I would like to start my story with the little shop on the corner, which I have been tracking through time …

An anonymous drawing from the 1860s.

The 1920s – From ‘Spitalfields Life’ – pictures selected from the three volumes of ‘Wonderful London’ edited by St John Adcock and produced by The Fleetway House in the nineteen-twenties.

As I remember it in the 1970s through to the late 1990s. Sadly the lovely glass door engraved with the words ‘L R Woderson under the Tree’ has disappeared and been replaced with plain glass and a security grille.

The rebuilding of the City after the Great Fire took over forty years, but the little shop on Cheapside, along with its three neighbours to the west, were some of the earliest new structures to be built as the City recovered. The site is small and each of the shops in the row consists of a single storey above and a box front below. According to Peter Ackroyd, in his London, the Biography, many trades have operated there since the stores were built in 1687. These included silver-sellers, wig-makers, law stationers, pickle- and sauce-sellers, fruiterers, florists and, as can be seen above, shirt-makers. The shop now sells greetings cards.

The little garden at the back of the shop used to be the churchyard of St Peter Westcheap (also known as St Peter Cheap) which was destroyed in the Great Fire and not rebuilt. Three gravestones survive as do the railings which date from 1712.

The railings and the names of the Churchwardens who probably raised the money for them.

The railings incorporate an image of St Peter. In his lap and above his head are the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The plaque in the churchyard attached to the Cheapside shop’s northern wall confirms the age of the building …

And finally to the magnificent London Plane tree that you can see in most of the pictures. It stands 70 feet high and is protected by a City ordinance which also limits the height of the shops.

No one knows precisely how old it is but what we do know is that it was there in 1797 when its presence inspired the poet Wordsworth to compose a poem ‘where the natural world breaks through Cheapside in visionary splendour’. The poem, The Reverie of Poor Susan, records the awakened childhood memories of a country girl now working in London, possibly as a servant. I think it is rather sad. An excerpt is displayed in the churchyard, but here is the complete version:

At the corner of Wood-Street, when day-light appears,
There’s a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years.
Poor Susan has pass’d by the spot and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the bird.

‘Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripp’d with her pail,
And a single small cottage, a nest like a dove’s,
The only one dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in Heaven, but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade;
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all pass’d away from her eyes.

As Ackroyd declares, in his unique, poetic style …

Everything about this corner of Wood Street suggests continuity … on every level, human, social, natural and communal.

I thought this picture was worth including. Sir Robert Peel looks east down Cheapside around the turn of the 20th century (and a uniformed ‘Peeler’ stands beneath the lamp post). The shops gradually disappeared for a while as commerce took over but now they are back in abundance, especially with the new development at New Change.

Sir Robert was moved in 1933 to reduce traffic congestion. He is now outside the Peel Centre in Barnet (more familiarly known as Hendon Police College).









The Romans in London – Mithras, Walbrook and The Games

My two Roman London blogs this month are in celebration of the opening of the London Mithraeum in Bloomberg Space, Walbrook, which I enjoyed tremendously when I visited last week.

If you want to immerse yourself more completely in the Mithras Temple story, you might like to call in to the Museum of London beforehand and view the treasures there from the Walbrook excavation. I have put together a small selection.

There is this head of Mithras …

Head of Mithras, marble, late 2nd century

He is shown as a handsome youth, the head probaly part of a large sculpture forming a focal point at the apse end of the Temple.

Serapis, the Egyptian God of the Underworld, was also represented …

Head of Serapis, marble, late 2nd – early 3rd century

He carries a corn measure on his head symbolising the wealth and fertility of the earth.

And Minerva, the Roman Goddess of Wisdom …

Head of Minerva, marble, early 2nd century, possibly AD 130

Again, the head was probably originally part of a larger statue.

So now on to the Mithraeum itself at 12 Walbrook. Entry is free but you must book a time slot in advance using the website.

The first thing you see is this stunning tapestry by Isabel Nolan …

Another View from Nowhen, 2017

There are helpful guides ready, and very willing, to introduce you to the Mithraeum, explain the tapestry and an accompanying sculpture, and hand you an excellent printed guide. There is a well organised display of Roman artefacts which can be explored using your own mobile device, a tablet that they provide, or just by reading the labels. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a good enough photograph of these for the blog – please take my word for it that they are fascinating.

Then you are ready to descend through time, seven metres or so, from modern London to the very last days of the Romans in Britain, about AD 410.

Various levels of history are inscribed on the wall as you descend – there is also step-free access

At mezzanine level there is a further exhibition consisting of a reproduction of artefacts from the site including, of course, the head of Mithras, and a helpful commentary.

You then descend further to see the Temple itself. Initially it is dark and shrouded in mist but, as this gradually clears to the sound of evocative chants, you will see an accurate reconstruction of the ruin as it was on the last day of excavation in October 1954.

All the stone that you see and most of the bricks are from the original structure

The central icon of the cult is Mithras killing a bull

All I can say is ‘well done Bloomberg’.

The Walbrook stream played a very important part in the establishment of Roman London. Originating in what is now Finsbury Park, it carried fresh water in to the walled City and carried waste away to the River Thames. As the City developed it became imprisoned underground.

The stream lives on in the name of the street

The area has been difficult to access lately because of construction work, but is now a new open space and I took the opportunity to explore.

What a wonderful surprise! It looks like the Walbrook is flowing again above ground through the City…

Alongside Cannon Street

Parallel to Queen Victoria Street

Entitled Forgotten Streams, and cast in bronze, the Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias took as her inspiration the ancient Walbrook itself. It looks very authentic and quite beautiful.

And finally, to complete a Roman London experience, you might want to visit the Guildhall Art Gallery, in the lower level of which you will find Roman London’s Amphitheatre. An 80 metre wide curve of dark stone in Guildhall Yard marks out the area of the Amphitheatre, the site of the famous Roman ‘Games’ …

An outline of what existed about 8 metres below

The site of the Amphitheatre

Once inside you will see the remains of the original walls, the drainage system, and a rather impressive digital projection that fills in the gaps in the ruins.



Philanthropic Fountains

It was a nice sunny day when I stood in front of this modest little drinking fountain outside St Sepulchre’s Church on Snow Hill near Holborn Viaduct and recalled a picture of the scene on 20th April 1859 when it was unveiled as the first public drinking fountain in London.

A stern reminder to ‘Replace the Cup’ common on many fountains

To me the fountain represents the coming together of some of the great influences on people’s lives in the 19th Century – the philanthropic initiatives of the Quakers, the gradual recognition that access to clean water was essential if London was to continue to flourish, and the temperance and teetotalism movements striving to combat drunkenness.

In the early 19th century water had become a valuable commodity and by 1860 the supply of drinking water to London was controlled by no fewer than eight private companies. It was generally acknowledged that its quality was unsatisfactory to say the least, as outbreaks of cholera earlier in the century had demonstrated. This, combined with a shortage of availability, contributed to a heavy consumption of beer and spirits, particularly among poorer citizens and the ‘labouring classes’ whose workplace was the London streets. Making available free, safe water was to enable a common cause to be established between those seeking to improve hygiene and reduce disease and the anti-alcohol campaigners.

If you look at the picture of the fountain, you might just be able to make out the inscription on the arch above the scallop shell which reads ‘The Gift of Sam Gurney MP 1859’. Gurney was a Quaker, and although Quakers numbered less than 14,000 people in Britain in 1861 their influence in business and philanthropy was disproportionately great – think, for example, of Cadbury, Fry, Barclay and Rowntree. They believed that good works were a sign of man’s sanctification and their economic and religious philosophies ran parallel to one another.

Gurney was present in spring 1859 for the inauguration of The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association. At the meeting the unveiling in two weeks time of his new fountain was announced along with the intention that it would be the first of many. The Earl of Albermarle got rather carried away and stated his hopes that the fountains would …

Check those habits of intemperance which caused nine-tenths of the pauperism, three-fourths of the crime, one half of the disease, one-third of the insanity, one-third of the suicide, three-fourths of the general depravity and (amazingly) one-third of the shipwrecks that annually occurred.

The opening of the fountain was an incredibly well attended event …

 Copyright Illustrated London News.

‘The Lady’ newspaper’s view was that the fountains would help by ‘providing an alternative to the public house and the low company found in those establishments’. To demonstrate the water’s purity the inaugural first sip at the opening was taken by a Mrs Wilson – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s daughter, no less – who declared the taste excellent. Just for the removal of doubt, however, a final announcement was made that the fountain was for the special use of the working classes and was committed to their care. Incidentally, Mrs Wilson used a specially engraved silver cup which she was presented with after the ceremony.

Over the next six years 85 fountains were built, most using granite in order to keep the water supply cool. In summer 1865 the Association conducted a twenty-four-hour survey, which produced some very satisfying results. For example, 2,647 drinkers were recorded at the St Sepulchre’s site; at London Bridge more than 3000 people visited and at Bishopsgate an extraordinary 6,666. By 1867 it was estimated that up to 400,000 drinkers a day were using the amenities and by 1875 there were 276 fountains across the capital.

Charles Gilpin was another Quaker whose fountain can still be seen at St Botolph Without Bishopsgate

‘The Gift of C. Gilpin Esq. M.P. 1860’

Getting the fountains built was no easy matter with protracted negotiations often needed with, for example, local vestries, and of course the water companies themselves, who had to be paid for the water used unless they could be persuaded to become donors. Also, water was a precious commodity, and some objected on moral grounds to the wastefulness of the water flowing continuously when the idea of using taps was rejected, given the wear and tear involved. Before the end of its first decade the term ‘free’ in the Association’s title had been recognised as a misnomer and it was dropped. About the same time it elongated its name to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association to embrace public water provision for animals. Previously troughs had been sited outside public houses with free use only for patrons or on payment of a fee, as one poetic sign declared:

All that water their horses here
Must pay a penny or have some beer

At least one of the horse troughs has survived in the City – although many more can be found around London, usually adapted to accommodate flowers.

Trough and fountain for use by the public, and animals large and small, on London Wall

Remarkably, the cup is also still attached to this nice fountain in Love Lane at the junction with Aldermanbury, the gift of Robert H. Rogers, a Ward Deputy.

Robert H. Rogers’s gift dated November 1890



Love Lane fountain cup and chain


If you thirst for more knowledge about London’s water-related history get hold of a copy of the excellent book ‘Parched City’ by Emma M. Jones on which much of this post is based, including the title.


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén