About this image
Three roads meet at this point: Baslow Road, Station Road and Coombs Road. The drinking fountain at the centre of the crossroads was built in 1880, and is also known as 'Crosses Folly'. Towns and cities in the mid nineteenth century were very unhealthy places. Water was in short supply and drinking water so heavily polluted that most of the working population drank beer instead. Disease and alcoholism were rife: cholera outbreaks in 1847 and 1858 killed over 58,000 people in London alone. In 1859 the MP Samuel Gurney, a nephew of the social reformer Elizabeth Fry, was inspired by public drinking fountains newly installed by civic authorities in northern cities like Liverpool and Hull, to found the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association. The Association's first fountain was opened on 1859 on the boundary railings of St Sepulchre's in Snow Hill, London, paid for entirely by Gurney himself. Within a short space of time it was being used by 7,000 people a day and by 1865 over 85 fountains had been erected. By 1867 provision of drinking troughs for animals was being included and the Society changed its name to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. The cost of the clean water supply was met in some cases by the Association, in others by the local parish. Many drinking fountain and animal trough were donated by local philanthropists. Drinking fountains were typically built in granite or other stone and carved by professional stonemasons. The result is that many have survived to the present day, although sadly neglected and without water supply or drinking cups. Slowly and increasingly the will and the means are becoming available for restoration, though in some cases it has been impossible to reconnect the water.