Plenty of people pass it by, thinking little of this tall column that stands near the junction with Old Street, but it’s an impressive Victorian drinking fountain.
The fountain was originally erected to ornament Great Eastern Street, an important new thoroughfare connecting Commercial Street and the docks with the principal east-west route to the north of the City.
It stood in a traffic island at the junction of the two great roads, but was moved in 2002 to its current location just to the south-east as part of a road revamping programme. The old traffic island being now the cross-hatched section of no-stopping in the middle of the busy junction.
While the Victorians were very keen on building grand drinking fountains for the use of the populace (and in our second Elizabethan age, repeating the process), this is an unusually grand affair.
At the eye level, it looks fairly conventional, with granite steps leading up to four drinking recesses, and typical Victorian text about the installation of the fountain, so the poor would remember who to thank for their clean water.
What makes it stand out is what’s above eye level – the tall Ionic column of polished red granite with sandstone capital and a ball finial in the form of an orb. The fountain was officially inaugurated on 28th February 1881 by the Metropolitan Board of Works and Sir James McGarel-Hogg MP — and was funded by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association at a cost of £1,100.
Sadly, the drinking fountain is no longer in use, which considering the increasing numbers of modern drinking fountains being installed in places seems a sad oversight.