Vic Keegan’s Lost London 132: Water troughs of a horse-drawn past

Vic Keegan’s Lost London 132: Water troughs of a horse-drawn past

This is a rare example of a horse trough in Central London, situated at Smithfield in front of St Bartholomew’s hospital. There used to be hundreds of them and, boy, were they needed. At the beginning of the 20th century, London had a population of well over 50,000 horses which needed to drink to survive. It apparently took 12 horses a day just to pull a horse-drawn bus, and there were also 11,000 horse-driven Hansom Cabs.

All of which produced an enormous amount of manure. So much of it accumulated that in 1894 the Times predicted that 50 years hence every street in London would be buried under nine feet of it. This was dubbed the “The Great Horse Manure  Crisis of 1894”. It didn’t happen because of the invention of an affordable mass-produced motor car. Thank you, Henry Ford.

We have to thank the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, based at 111 Victoria Street, for the proliferation of drinking fountains and horse troughs in London. It was set up in 1859 by two philanthropists, Samuel Gurney MP and barrister Edward Thomas Wakefield, to provide free drinking water for Londoners. In 1885, it extended its remit to providing troughs for horses, and for Smithfield cattle as well.

There are still horse troughs scattered around London, which can be found with the help of the website waymarking.com. Occasionally, they are stolen. But as the granite of which they are made contains unique constituent parts – a kind of DNA – they can be easily traced. No new horse troughs are being provided these days, but drinking fountains are making a comeback in order to reduce the considerable carbon footprint caused by the production of bottled water.
To close, a little-known fact. The very first drinking fountain, paid for by Gurney,  can still be seen at the end of the church of Saint Sepulchre near the Old Bailey.
All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.

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Categories: Culture, Lost London

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