Gardens and fountains a measure of Civilization
One of the first requirements for any permanent settlement is potable water from a reliable source. Indeed, without that no settlement can be contemplated.
The Fountains in early civilization had four principle functions.
In certain aspects it is only in the 19th century that we have exceeded the ancient Romans in our supply of domestic water supply.
In the 19th century the population of London grew rapidly and disease from water borne disease rampant. Many of the working class population drank beer and spirits in considerable quantity as they felt that brewing purified the water. Because of the resultant drunkenness amongst the working population the temperance movement grew up and a nephew of Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer, formed a Metropolitan Society whose aims were to bring fresh pure drinking water to the population at large. This led to fountains all over London for both man and beast . The first fountain installed by the society drew 7000 people per day to its font. Water supply reform followed and the water supply system was taken under public control and massively improved.
In Paris in the early 19th century the situation was similarly dire . When Haussman arrived in the capital in 1833 the water supply system had not been improved since the turn of the century. In Paris there were close to 2000 public fountains and the water from the Seine was raised by pump at Chaillot and Austerlitz. . Water porters carried the water to homes but the water was very polluted and water filters were on sale. In his design for Paris Haussman was committed to the provision of abundant, pure water to the domestic dwellings. The new systems being installed in London were used as a model.
Water was provided using a new system of masonry aqueducts and metal pipes. At considerable expense, an adequate sewage system was built with excellent sewers leading to land purchased by the city for safe disposal.
The supply of water for animals. Fountains provided an informal meeting point by necessity for drovers and herders marketing their animals. These are best illustrated by the water troughs which were widespread in this country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The supply of domestic water for washing, cleaning and cooking. This led to an informal meeting point where women in particular met on a frequent basis as it is often impractical to carry the quantity of water required for washing from a fountainhead. Indeed many women in warmer climes very much miss the social gatherings about the washing facilities that they had until recently enjoyed for centuries. The old washing tables can still be seen in the south of France and Majorca.
In this country the arrangements were not so sophisticated and consideration was not always given to other users of the fountain. In the Petworth Archives in the 17th century Lord Leconfield noted fines for washing bullocks entrails at the common tap.
Mankind loves to embellish and with the fountain he has had ample scope.
Monumental fountains are a rare feature of London's landscape. The best known are the Trafalgar Square Fountains (1845) originally designed by Sir Charles Barry and remodelled by Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1938-45. The most popular feature of the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851 was Follett Osler's Crystal Fountain, made from 4 tons of pure crystal glass. The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, or Eros Fountain, at Piccadilly Circus, designed by Alfred Gilbert, was opened in 1893. Fountains designed by De Caus in 1609 were a prominent feature of the original Somerset House, the London palace of Anne of Denmark, which had gardens leading directly down to the river. However, these were destroyed in the 1 8th century when Sir William Chambers designed the current building.
Somerset House, Strand, London WC2 1 LA http://www.somerset-house.org.uk Information line: 020 7845 4600. Admission free. Fountains switched on between 10 am - 1 1 pm daily: Short programme: 4 minutes on the half hour. Long programme: 1 1 minutes at 1 pm, 6pm and 1Opm Nearest tubes: Temple, Covent Garden, Charing Cross