‘Invaluable, highly valued, very grateful’

These were comments, a couple of years ago, from head teachers when the Association asked their views on the drinking fountains their schools had been given. In fact in 2003 the Association donated 69 fountains to schools in the UK and supported five overseas projects, which would bring clean, running water to people and animals in Third World countries.

However, when the Association was set up in London in 1859 it was against a background of a filthy river Thames full of untreated sewage, rubbish and effluent from factories, water borne cholera, but most importantly inadequate free drinking water. An article in Punch magazine at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 said ‘Whoever can produce in London a glass of water fit to drink will contribute the best and most universally useful article in the whole exhibition’. Then in 1858 a paper read to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science on the work being done to improve sanitary arrangements provoked much nation interest, and Samuel Gurney M.P rapidly took up its comments. He set up the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association (as it was then called) in 1859. Prince Albert wrote conveying his deep interest in the objects of the Association. Others giving their support included the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of other prominent people.

So it was the first fountain was unveiled, on 21 April 1859, at the boundary wall of St.Sepulchre’s church, Snow Hill before a large enthusiastic crowd. (In fact it was recorded for posterity in an engraving, which appeared in the Illustrated London News as shown below).

Within a short time it was being used daily by around 7,000 people. Philanthropists started to contribute funds, and so more fountains were erected, and within 11 years there were 140 fountains in place, in addition to 153 cattle troughs. In 1867 the Association’s official title was changed to include ‘cattle troughs’ when the Association decided they must help the plight of animals who could be driven to London markets for days, without water. By 1885 over 50,000 horses were drinking daily from the Association’s troughs in London.

Changes came at the beginning of the 20th century with local authorities taking responsibility for the maintenance of fountains and troughs, and also paying the appropriate water rates. Another change that came was in the 1930s. People were moving away from drinking from the same cup as other persons, and using cup less fountains.

After the Second World War people had more leisure time and the demand for fountains increased particular for recreation grounds and parks. It was at this time the Association held a design competition for a reasonably priced fountain to suit the modern taste, rather than the expensive free standing granite structures that were erected in the 1870s - 1890s.

Now approaching its 150th year the Association has provided over 4,000 drinking fountains, nearly 1,000 cattle troughs and 40 water wells overseas since 1859.

Download a full History of the Drinking Fountain Association by clicking here

Download a schedule of DFA records held at the Greater London Record Office

Should your school wish to be considered for a drinking fountain write to the Secretary,
Mr Ralph Baber, "Oaklands", 5 Queenborough Gardens, Chislehurst, Kent, BR7 2NP