Victorian London - Health and Hygiene - Sewers and Sanitation - Drinking Fountains


IN old tines, when watches were unknown, and clocks were few, the erection of a sun-dial was a frequent way by which a rich man did benefit to his neighbourhood. Some striking motto affixed to the dial was also made to read a lesson to the passenger. In these days, a new field for kindly munificence has been opened in the supply of free drinking-fountains in our great cities.
    In many of our' populous towns, thousands of the poor, daily engaged about the streets in hard bodily labour, have scarcely any other means of quenching their thirst than what the public-house affords. The intensity of the thirst produced by severe physical exertion, especially in hot weather,  cannot be fully realized by those leading sedentary lives, and having at command the means of supplying such wants.
    When a poor man enters a public-house, though for the purpose simply of quenching his natural thirst, it is not water he drinks. On the contrary, he is obliged to pay for a beverage which but stimulates the thirst it momentarily allays, and, if drunk beyond a certain limit, must always not only incapacitate him from work, but deaden his moral sensibilities, and even dethrone his reason.
    The prevailing vice of this country is intemperate drinking. More than nine-tenths of our pauperism and convicted crime, together with a large proportion of incubi and physical maladies, proceed from this cause. It is, therefore, worthy of consideration by all, and particularly local bodies, elected by tax-payers, that every social improvement that promotes temperance must diminish the taxation, which is so largely due to pauperism and the suppression of crime. It is, indeed, scarcely possible to estimate the amount of practical good which will most surely, though perhaps indirectly and silently, flow from the general establishment of suitable drinking-fountains.
    Under the auspices of a metropolitan association, many fountains have already been erected in London, the expense being borne either by individuals or by corporate bodies. Mr. Samuel Gurney, M.P. had the honour of leading the way in this good work, as Mr. Melly had before done in Liverpool.
    The water supply for drinking-fountains will, it is hoped, be provided by the liberality of the water companies, as three have already consented to do ; but until a memorial, which the association has now prepared to be sent to the general companies, be answered, no exact statement as to terms can be made.
    The experience already gained from the fountains erected proves how thoroughly appreciated and how eagerly made use of they are by all classes and ages. At Snow Hill, the number of drinkers seems only limited by the time taken to fill the cup, amounting to upwards of six thousand in a day. When there are four hundred fountains in full play, the aggregate number of draughts of water taken at them may be estimated at from two to four hundred millions in the year. It is an interesting speculation how many of these draughts will prevent a visit to the public-house. Mr. Wakefield, in his very able pamphlet, "A Plea for Free Drinking-Fountains," calculates that the saving to the working-classes of the metropolis in this way will be £360,000 per annum. The iron mugs, usually chained to the fountains, are the least inviting part of the establishment. A great improvement would be to line the inside and the rim with glazed clay or porcelain. Working- men would do well to carry an elastic drinking-cup in their pockets.

The Leisure Hour, 1859

[ ... back to main menu for this book]

Drinking Fountains.—. Until the last few years London was ill-provided with public drinking fountains and cattle troughs. This matter is now well looked after by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, which has erected and is now maintaining nearly 800 fountains and troughs, at which an enormous quantity of water is consumed daily. It is estimated that 300,000 people take advantage of the fountains on a summer’s day, and a single trough has supplied the wants of 1,800 horses in one period of 24 hours. Several ornamental fountains have been provided by private munificence. Amongst these may be instanced the Baroness Burdett Coutts’s beautiful fountains in Victoria-park and Regent’s-park the Maharajah of Vizianagram’s in Hyde-park; Mrs. Brown’s, by Thornycroft, in Hamilton-place, Mr. Wheeler’s at the north of Kew-bridge; and Mr. Buxton’s at Westminster. 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879