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Drinking Fountains from the Victorian Era

Fountains were both decorative sculptures and symbols of wealth back in the early centuries. Their magnificence captures the attention of visitors and locals alike, that is why they make an astounding centerpiece for any grand building or monument. But before they were treated as a form of art, Victorian era fountains were first used as drinking fountains.

Before the movement for clean and public drinking water, nine private companies had monopolized access to London’s water supply. This might not have been a problem if the companies provided sufficient and safe water to their consumers. Unfortunately, not only was the supply limited and inadequate, it was also greatly polluted and rarely even drinkable.

So how did the first public drinking fountain come to be? Due to the unsanitary supply of water, London had more than one cholera outbreak and finally realized its need to provide the public with better health services, starting with the problematic water supply.

Philanthropists of the city initialized the movement to improve public health and safety. Amongst them, Samuel Gurney was one of the first to answer this call. Financing the first ever drinking fountain in Holborn Hill in St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church, many other philanthropists followed suit.

The Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association was then formed to encourage donations and contributions for the construction and maintenance of many other drinking fountains. After the passing of the Metropolis Water Act, the city went through a colossal and rather complex change. The government bought out all of the private companies and the first drinking fountains were constructed in Liverpool. Plenty of other fountains were also constructed along publicly accessed places such as markets, parks and squares.

Gurney Fountain

Amongst the many drinking fountains built since 1859, the Gurney Fountain is by far one of the most popular and most important milestones in London’s movement for public water access. When it was built and immediately attracted over 7,000 people daily, the change in the city’s water supply took off from there. The fountain, made of simple granite basin, features two cups chained for drinking. The design was the basis of the construction of latter drinking fountains. It was moved from the gates in 1867 but was eventually reinstalled in 1913.

How Victorian Fountains Were Powered Before Electric Pumps

With the limited resources of years past, powering drinking fountains and maintaining a constant and consistent water supply was a challenge. Most fountains can be supplied by reservoirs located several feet above the fountain itself, ideally a neighboring hill. However, there are a few other alternatives if this is not possible.

Water from public waterworks is one option. The supply from these waterworks are still paid for and may vary from 10d to 14d per 1000 gallons. Some fountains opt to get their supply from an iron tank. The size of the tank depends upon the overall size of the fountain. Every now and then, the tank needs to be refilled to sustain the supply of water.