Stanstead Abbotts Local History Society

It is hard to imagine the streets of London at the time. Herds of cattle were driven to market or the abattoir through the streets. Thousands of horses were used for all kinds of transport - horse drawn buses and trams (the London Transport website states that 12,000 horses were kept to provide changes of horses for all their routes), 5000 cabs, numerous private carriages of different kinds, privately owned horses ridden in Rotten Row and in parks, police horses, army horses, horses pulling drays and all kinds of carts etc. There were traffic jams in those days, and pollution, the latter caused by the vast amounts of manure accumulating. Much of this got into the water supply and was partly responsible for the periodic cholera outbreaks. (The Times in 1894 estimated that at the current rate, by 1950 London would be submerged in nine feet of horse manure!) The stench of the manure must have been awful. Nowadays we complain of being choked by the toxic fumes coming from the rear ends of cars, buses and lorries; then it was the fumes coming from the rear end

of animals!!

By 1882, the year that Samuel Gurney died, the Association had erected 462 drinking fountains and

459 cattle troughs in London and the provinces. To quote the official history again

“Although the Association has the word Metropolitan” in its title, there is evidence that from the beginning its activities spread beyond the London metropolitan area. As early as 1862 orders for fountains were received from llfracombe, Dundee, New York and Sydney; and, in 1877, Queen Victoria, who had donated £100 to the Association in 1869, presented a trough and fountain which was erected in Esher, Surrey.

The Associations policy has been, and still is, to erect fountains and troughs and assist in the provision of drinking water wherever needed, and its work overseas has ranged far and wide, including such places as Africa, Australia, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jerusalem, Korea, Rumania and Syria.”

Stanstead Abbotts

So, what about Stanstead Abbotts? (Mains water was not piped into the village until 1938! Before that communal pumps around the village supplied water from the water table in the Lee Valley. There is a surviving pump outside a garden in Thele Avenue.)

Photo Brian Johnson

Thomas Fowell Buxton would have been well aware of the work of the association in London, being closely related to Samuel Gurney and also travelling to and around London and visiting the Truman, Hanbury and Buxton Black Eagle Brewery in Spitalfields of which he was a director. The brewery used scores of horses to draw their drays. When he provided the land and the money for the building of a new parish church which would be within the village, not some way from it as was the case with the existing church of St James, he commissioned the architect Zephaniah King (NOT Alfred Waterhouse as is widely believed!) to include a drinking fountain and a dog trough in the surrounding fence.

The road on which it was to be built (now named Cappell Lane) was, as now, a back road to Ware. It was probably more of a track than a road. It had been excessively winding, going through the trees of Easneye at some point and Buxton had donated a strip of land which allowed it to be straightened out considerably. One is reminded of G K Chesterton’s poem:The Rolling English Drunkard made the Rolling English Road”!

The fountain was obviously for anyone who passed along the road to use but maybe he had in mind particularly folk going to or from the church. Perhaps they needed physical refreshment before and/or after the sermon! There is no inscription on the fountain, unlike some around the country erected by other Christian philanthropists who often used a Biblical verse connected with water to draw the analogy with spiritual water and eternal life.

There are examples in Hull and Bristol (and Hertford Heath) of such.

And what about the dog basin? We know that Ethel, Buxton’s youngest daughter, had a dog (named Prince) of whom she was excessively fond. Perhaps she persuaded Papa to incorporate it for Prince and others like him!

Thomas Fowell Buxton had also given the land and paid for the school and the parish room in Roydon Road, so it seems most likely that he also contributed the drinking fountain and horse/cattle trough outside. When it was built it consisted of a drinking fountain with a lion’s head from which the water flowed and below it another outlet that fed a large trough. It seems from a photo taken around 1900 that a step would be needed at the side to allow access to the fountain, especially if used by children, as it undoubtedly would have been, standing outside the school. At some time the trough was removed and it is possible it might have bought by the then owner of Bonningtons in Hunsdon Road where at present it lies outside the house (the Listed Building website which includes Bonningtons as a Grade II Building, mentions a Large granite fountain bowl in front of house brought from elsewhere in C20.”)

The road, which led to Roydon but also Hunsdon, was used much more than the back road to Ware. At the time John Henry Buxton, the heir of Easneye when his father died, lived at Hunsdon in Hunsdonbury.

From the bottom of Cat’s Hill, where the Hunsdon Road joins the Roydon Road, one would pass the Queen’s Head public house on the left and the Five Horseshoes on the right; at the point where the main road turned left into the High Street, stood the Red Lion and the Pied Bull (the Prince of Wales and the Hope and Anchor were in Cappell Lane to the right); halfway along the High Street on the left was the Oak (now the Lord Louis); just before the bridge,also on the left, was the Rose and Crown; across the bridge and technically in St Margaret’s stood the George and Dragon (later known as the Railway Tavern and now the Jolly Fisherman); a little further on and just a few yards along the Hoddesdon Road on the left was the Crown. The two villages together numbered c 1400 inhabitants according to the Kelly’s Directory of 1890; with ten public houses that is one for every 140 inhabitants!! P G Wodehouse comments on the fact that English country towns and villages usually have more pubs than inhabitants!

“ In most English country towns, if the public houses do not actually outnumber the inhabitants, they all do an excellent trade. It is only when they are two to one that hard times hit them and set the innkeepers blaming the Government.”
Something Fresh (1915)

Not quite true of Stanstead Abbotts, but not too far out!

If any of the innkeepers provided a wooden horse trough outside their premises (expecting the drivers or riders to sup the local ale), the drinking fountain and horse trough would provide free refreshment for horse and rider and enable the latter to finish their journey or carry on with their work with a clear head!

Drinking fountains continued……
The water pump outside
21 Thele Avenue