Nathaniel Montefiore Drinking Fountain

Restoration of the 19th century drinking fountain

This fountain stands in the centre of the churchyard of St James in Bermondsey. It was added to the churchyard when the land was transferred from the church to public use and it is now owned by Southwark Council. The fountain honours Nathaniel Montefiore, a surgeon and philanthropist. Its inscription reads:

1886 IN MEMORY OF NATHANIEL MONTEFIORE. ESQ. OF WHOM IT WAS WRITTEN
“HE SOUGHT TO DO THE MAXIMUM OF GOOD WITH THE MINIMUM OF NOTORIETY”
THIS FOUNTAIN HAS BEEN ERECTED BY HIS WIFE EMMA MONTEFIORE.

Montefiore was born in 1819 and died in London in 1883, having caught a cold at a funeral he attended in Berlin. He was buried in Ball Pond Cemetery in Dalston, an important Jewish cemetery (in use until 1951). Unusually for the Jewish community at this time, Nathaniel trained as a surgeon and practised at Guy’s Hospital. His main interest remained philanthropy. A letter to one of his sons noted: ‘Yesterday I had a good day’s work at the Schools – an hour at Bevis Marks – an hour at the Branch [Finance House] and an hour at the Orphan Asylum. So that was pretty good was it not.’

Prior to its restoration, the red granite fountain had lost its decorative capping and its cup and chain and was no longer operational. The restoration project included dismantling four of the fountain’s five sections; removing its old plumbing; reinstating new pipework and drainage; cleaning, waxing and polishing the stonework; reassembling and finally reconnecting the water supply.

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