St Sepulchre's Drinking Fountain

Restoration of the drinking fountain

St Sepulchre’s Fountain was the first public drinking fountain in London. It was built into the railings of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church on Holborn Hill and it opened in 1859. It’s funding came from Samuel Gurney, MP, co-founder of the ‘Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association’ (later the ‘Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association’ and surviving today as the Drinking Fountain Association). The St Sepulchre’s fountain was opened to great fanfare and became very popular. Public drinking fountains were strongly supported by the church and associated with the Temperance movement, a cultural position that can be read in the frequent situation of drinking fountains opposite public houses or beside churches.

The fountain originally had an elaborate Neo-Norman surround but this was dismantled when it was moved nearby in 1867. The smaller, inner part of the fountain was relocated back to its original place in 1913, where it remains, although no longer functional. The granite base of the fountain is set into the coping stones of the brick dwarf wall. Two granite columns support the upper semi-circular granite arch.

The fountain is lined with two marble panels, the upper in the shape of a carved shell, the lower bearing the lettering “The first Metropolitan drinking fountain erected on Holborn Hill 1859 and removed when the viaduct was constructed in 1867”. Two further simple shaped marble side panels were added as an adaptation after the surmounting stone arch was removed. Remarkably, the fountain’s original copper cups survive, chained to the railings.

The restoration of the fountain will restore its waterflow. Its missing spout will be replaced and a matching brass or bronze push button installed. The brickwork of the fountain will be cleaned and mortar repairs made where necessary. To protect and retain the original copper cups, HOLT will mount these upside down on the side panels. The existing lettering on the granite of the fountain will be gilded for visibility and the lettering on the marble repainted.

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