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.