I love finding old quirky bits of London, and came across this recently: a milestone, just outside the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, opposite the entrance to Hyde Park.
Milestones have a very long and important history, from the days of the Romans until the 19th century, when they were the direction signs of their day. They were also used for keeping coaches on schedule in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and were used as the basis for postal charges until a standard postal rate was introduced in 1840.
From 1888, local authorities took over the responsibility for major roads from the turnpike trusts, and with it responsibility for the upkeep of milestones. This example, a triangular design (presumably in cast iron) by the City of Westminster from 1911, is relatively late, and is a rare survivor in London. It points from Hyde Park Corner to Hounslow – clearly an important place in 1911!
What are Ghostsigns?
Ghostsigns are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings. They can be found in cities, towns and villages across the country advertising many different products and services, some familiar, some less so.
The ones on this photos I found in the areas around Kilburn High and Willesden Green.
Victorian taxis were horse-drawn carriages. Taxi drivers were not allowed to leave their carriage unattended, so when they needed a meal or protection from the weather, they used to head for the pub – often paying a child to look after their horse while they were inside. Members of the Temperance Movement, a Victorian group against excessive alcohool, built these shelters as an alternative to the pub. As they were on busy roads they couldn’t take up too much space (they weren’t allowed to be bigger than a horse and cart) yet they squeezed in a kitchen and a room for 13 people to sit down. Many are still used for the same purpose today.
The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was an association set up in London by Samuel Gurney an MP and philanthropist and Edward Thomas Wakefield, a barrister in 1859 to provide free drinking water. Originally called the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association it changed its name to include cattle troughs in 1867, to also support animal welfare.
The Society was inaugurated in 1859 with the requirement “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.”
Gradually the association became more widely accepted, benefitting from its association with Evangelical Christianity and the Temperance movement. Beer was the main alternative to water, and generally safer. The temperance societies had no real alternative as tea and coffee were too expensive, so drinking fountains were very attractive. Many were sited opposite public houses. The evangelical movement was encouraged to build fountains in churchyards to encourage the poor to see churches as supporting them. Many fountains have inscriptions such as “Jesus said whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again but whosoever drinketh of the water I shall give him shall never thirst”. By 1877, the association was widely accepted and Queen Victoria donated money for a fountain in Esher.
The surviving cattle troughs are mainly large granite ones, in many cases planted with flowers. Earlier designs were of cast iron or zinc lined timber, but both were too easily damaged.
The association survives as the Drinking Fountain Association and received a National Lottery grant to build more fountains in 2000, and to restore existing ones. It now builds drinking fountains in schools, restores existing fountains and provides wells and other water projects in developing countries. Much of the archival material is at the Museum of London.