Stanstead Abbotts Local History Society

Drinking fountains in Stanstead Abbotts.

Ron Davies

The study of local history produces a number of interesting features, some of which have great significance, others not so great. The history of Stanstead Abbotts is no exception, as it evident from the SALHS website and the new history of the village written by Ron Dale.

Perhaps one of the features of minor significance is the presence of not one, but two, drinking fountains, one with a dog basin attached and the other originally with a horse or cattle trough, which has now sadly gone. This one does look a little in need of restoration although not the sort which has recently been applied to the drinking fountain in Hertford! This has been painted with magnolia and mustard yellow paint, supposedly to restore it!! Understandably there is a local outcry.

The first is found on one of the pillars supporting the fence outside St Andrews parish church in Cappell Lane, the second outside the parish room and school in Roydon Road. The first dates from 1881, being built at the same time as the church; the second has the date 1884 engraved on it, which was the year after the parish room was opened.. For some reason, while the one outside the church is a Grade II Listed Building, the other is not. Both were paid for by a brewer (!!) the brewer in question being Thomas Fowell Buxton, the first owner of Easneye Mansion. Maybe there is more than meets the eye in all this and we will try to fill in some of the background.

Drinking fountains in the nineteenth century

The first steps to provide safe water for drinking began in the 1850s, in Lancashire and in northern cities including Hull (which still has at least a score of such fountains). However, the provision of such fountains (and soon after of horse and cattle troughs, as we shall see) really took off in 1859 which the formation of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association” in London in 1859. The moving spirit behind it was Samuel Gurney, a banker and MP, who soon made it one of his main preoccupations. It may be significant that he was Thomas Fowell Buxtons brother-in-law. Rachel, Thomass wife, was Gurneys sister. Later John Henry Buxton, Thomass eldest son who inherited Easneye when his father died in 1908, was a trustee of the Association which had then expanded to provide horse and cattle troughs (John Henry had a deep concern for animal welfare evidenced in several ways.)

To quote the official history of the Association:

The supply of drinking water generally available to the poorer classes in London was in those

days lamentably deficient both in quantity and quality, coming as it did mainly from pumps and surface wells. A report made in 1866 showed how contaminated this water was, and not only was the impurity of the water held to be largely responsible for the outbreaks of cholera in 1848-49 and again in 1853-54 but the heavy consumption of beer and spirits was in great measure also attributed to this cause. It was therefore high time that something was done to provide a readily available supply of pure drinking water in the cause of temperance, as well as of hygiene and it was to meet this need that the Association came into being.

Prince Albert, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other public figures supported the work, which,

to cite a Resolution adopted at the inaugural meeting:

That, where the erection of free drinking fountains, yielding pure cold water, would confer a boon on all classes, and especially the poor, an Association be formed for erecting and

promoting the erection of such fountains in the Metropolis, to be styled The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association, and that contributions be received for the purposes of the Association. That no fountain be erected or promoted by the Association which shall not be so constructed as to ensure by filters, or other suitable means, the perfect purity and coldness of the water; and that it is desirable the water-rates should be paid by local bodies, the Association only erecting or contributing to the erection, and maintaining the mechanical appliances, of the fountains.

In the first two years 85 drinking fountains had been erected. By 1865 the majority of those built had dog basins attached. In that year the name of the society was changed to The Metropolitan Drinking-Fountain and Cattle Trough Association An explanation was given in the following words:

“The intense suffering which is experienced by all kinds of animals from thirst in the streets of London has long been a source of anxiety and grief to all humane and benevolent persons, and the need of public free supplies of water, both for man and beast, has now been greatly increased by the fact of most of the pumps having been closed, either in consequence of the impurity of the

water during the late attack of cholera, or through the drainage of the surface wells by the low level sewers.”

And in 1872:

The sufferings which were endured by parched and wearied animals in our streets before this Society undertook the erection of cattle troughs in addition to drinking fountains must have been

past all imagination.

Some inn keepers provided a wooden trough outside their premises for horses, but the car-men and

others were expected to patronise the establishment! One such had the sign outside

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

The drinking fountain outside
Saint Andrews Church in
Stanstead Abbotts.
Now a plant container.

The fountain and the railings
are listed and protected.
Photo Brian Johnson