A Reading drinking fountain restored in 1990 allows a look back at Reading’s drinking water supply in the 1860s.
The provision of drinking fountains was part of a national movement to provide safe drinking water in towns. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Horse Trough Association was founded in 1859 to promote this objective and support also came from temperance sympathisers who saw the fountains as an alternative to the public house.
The St Laurence drinking fountain was the second to be erected in Reading, and was donated by Mr Thomas Rogers, the clerk to the board of health committee.
Despite being restored by Thames Water and Reading Borough Council, the current fountain does not match the scale and beauty of the original. It would seem that this architectural gem was doomed from the start.
The location on the wall of St Laurence’s church was deemed unsuitable by some, although the churchwardens pronounced that they were happy [ref 1]. Within weeks of the opening, one of the drinking cups and the chain that attached it to the fountain had been removed. The act was blamed on a visitor to Reading; ‘… one of the ruffians who attended the races.’ [ref 2].
Then there were concerns that it might be damaged during frosts as water had been absorbed by the porous stone [ref 3]. A year passed and another drinking cup disappeared [ref 4].
Only six years later in 1866 when Martin Hope Sutton proposed the provision of more drinking fountains in a letter to the mayor, the clerk to the board of health (the same Mr Thomas Rogers) said:
… the best comment on this letter would be for the members of the board, when they left the hall, to look at the present fountain adjoining St Lawrence’s church (sic). It was in a most disgraceful state.
The mayor issued an instruction for it to be cleaned up [ref 5].
The board of health response provoked a letter to the Reading Mercury from Mr Sutton. He contrasted his request for simple drinking fountains in poorer parts of the borough with the town centre location of the fountain referred to by the board. However he hoped that the board of health…
… will at least see the propriety of occasionally cleansing and keeping supplied with water those which have, with their consent, been erected at the cost of private individuals [ref 6].
When it was formally opened by the mayor, newspaper reports carried glowing descriptions of the beauty of the design and the benefits of the water provided by the fountain.
It has been admirably executed in Mansfield stone by Messrs Wheeler. The principal basin, which is semi-octagonal in outline, projects from the face of the stone a considerable distance, and bears upon the edge the text from Proverbs 16, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life”, and is supported by a marble column… In the recess above the upper basin there is an elaborate piece of carving in imitation of a water lily, and nothing could be more perfect than the workmanship… Upon the edge of the canopy is the date of erection, and the name of the donor [ref 7].
Together with a finial which no longer exists, the fountain was11 feet tall (over 3 metres). At the base of the fountain were two small overflow troughs to provide drinking water for dogs [ref 8].
All the Whitley Pump’s twin pumps and troughs are on the map. If you would like to add some more, e-mail us at [email protected].
- Berkshire Chronicle 28 July 1860 p5.
- Reading Mercury 11 August 1860
- Berkshire Chronicle 27 November 1860
- Reading Mercury 26 October 1861
- Reading Mercury 2 June 1866
- Reading Mercury 9 June 1866 p6.
- Reading Mercury 28 July 1860 p5.
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