As well as an executian site for heretics and dissidents, Smithfield Meat Market was once a slaughterhouse. The axious herds awaiting the butcher’s blade were at least granted a drink of water at the catle trough on West Smithfield.
The trough bears the logo of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, “the only agency for providing free suppliers of water for man and beast in the streets of London”, according to early advertisements. The association was established in 1859 by Samuel Gurney, an M.P. alarmed by the insalubrions quality of London’s drinking water after Dr. John Snow had identified it as the source of a cholera outbreak.
Down the road from Smithfield, on the corner of Giltspur Street and Holborn Viauct, is London’s first drinking fountain. It’s an inconspicuos red granite memorial to Gurney’s philanthropy, set into the railings of St. Sepulcre Church.
The church was keen to be seen as a patron of the patron of the poor – and to provide an anditote to beer. Huge crowds gathered for the fountain’s inaguration on 21 April, 1859. Mrs Wilson, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the first to taste the water from a silver cup.
The filtered water came from the New River. The inscription urges thirsty passers-by to “REPLACE THE CUP”. Today, in less trusting times, the two original (somewhat mildewed) metal mugs are fastened to the railings with chains. By 1870, the Drinking Fountain Association had installed 140 fountains in London. Many of them have also survived.