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Updated: Mar 11, 2023



The idea of a Drinking Fountain most likely arose from Bryant and May’s views on temperance, plus the growing influence of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountains and Cattle Trough Association. The latter had been formed in 1859 by Samuel Gurney MP and barrister, Earnest Wakefield, in response to the growing pollution in London’s waters. A filthy River Thames was full of untreated sewage, rubbish and effluent from factories, water borne cholera but most importantly there was inadequate free drinking water. Prince Albert supported the Association’s aims, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury.

By 1870 there were 140 fountains, so a fountain to celebrate the 1871 Match Tax victory was deemed very appropriate, thus architect Rowland Plumbe and sculptor J W Seale were appointed. The 5th October 1872 opening was recorded in The Illustrated London News.

Figure 1: Bow Fountain Opening/1 ILN Oct12 p300 1872

Funded by local public subscription, probably mostly from companies involved in match making, the Fountain costed £600.That’s about £75,000 today.

The construction was described in some detail:

The lower part of the structure is arranged as a fountain having on three sides water-jets, with bowls under, springing from a massive square base, with steps of approach from each. The jets spring out from arched recesses with goblets over them, flanked at each angle with buttresses having pilasters on the face, with carved caps and moulded bands and bases, the whole being surmounted by a moulded frieze containing this inscription – viz, “Bryant and May, Testimonial Fountain, Erected 1872”

Above this level is an open groined canopy supported by angled pilasters and columns, which contains a marble figure of Justice sitting on a throne. The design is of an Early Gothic character of Venetian type. The base, surbase and panels of the recesses are executed in Bristol blue penant stone; and the remainder is Portland stone relieved with red Mansfield columns and pilasters.


Bow Station had opened in 1850, and by 1872 was managed as part of North London Railway. An impressively sized station for its time, its street-level ticketing office was expansive, offering both waiting rooms and catering services to customers.

With its travelling public and its provision of social and concert facilities (the Bow and Bromley Institute and, later, the Palais), the area would be well attended by the public.

Figure 2: Bow Station, B&B Institute c.1907 – Wikimedia

The Metropolitan Drinking Fountains Association had been successful in promoting fountains to help counteract disease, so a celebratory fountain at Bow Station forecourt was deemed desirable.

It was also a short distance from the Bryant and May factory, and fitted well with William Bryant’s views on temperance – he had been teetotal for 35 years! [1].

The Station and the Fountain lived on into the 20th Century but suffered decline during the First World War, and the Station was seriously damaged during the Second World War.

Figure 3: Bow Station c1904 - Disused Stations
Figure 4 : Bow Station Track c.1904 - Disused Stations
Figure 5: Bow Station - Palais c.1945

The Drinking Fountain was removed in 1953, and in 1956, the hall was severely damaged by a fire, which led it to be closed.

Figure 6: Bow Station c.1960 - Inspiring City

We have been unable yet to establish if the Fountain was destroyed, or if parts survive elsewhere. However, there is a plaque, unfortunately not on the original site, but nearby. The site is now occupied by Enterprise cars.

Figure 7: Bow Fountain Plaque
Figure 8: Bow Station - Street View 2022
Figure 9: Bow Station - Satellite View 2022


Once the company had been assembled around the Drinking Fountain in front of the Bow and Bromley Institute, the Opening Ceremony started with music by the Band of the Hon. Artillery Company, under Band Master James Smyth.

Figure 10: James Smyth Band Master of the Royal Artillery Band 1854-1881 (H G Farmer 1904 Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band. (NLS))

The Rector of Bow, Rev G J Driffield, offered a prayer, and a documentary conveyance of the Fountain handed over to the Lord Mayor Gibbons. The Lord Mayor addressed the meeting and expressed his approval. He and the Lady Mayoress tasted the water and pronounced it pure and good. He formally consigned it, with the legal instrument, to the custody of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. Their Secretary, Mr Taylor accepted it with thanks, and the ceremony ended.

A luncheon was then provided in the hall of the Bow and Bromley Institute. After, the Lord Mayor presented Mr William Bryant with an engraved and illuminated testimonial address from subscribers to the Fountain.

Figure 11: Testimonial Framed – Beaver

Several toasts were proposed and were drunk in water or some other harmless liquor “that cheers but not inebriates”.

Afterwards, the company was shown over Bryant and May’s works by Mr Theodore Bryant, and the processes of manufacture were explained to them.

“They had the pleasure, also, of seeing a thousand of the work-people, mostly girls, enjoying their annual treat of a dinner given by the firm” [2]


William Bryant, Rowland Plumbe, J W Seale, Lord Mayor Gibbons and Lady Gibbons, Sir John Bennett, Sir Antonio Brady, Rev G J Driffield, John Taylor, William Adams, George Cruikshank


Born 1804 in Tiverton, Devon, William Bryant at the age of 28 joined the Society of Friends and remained a faithful Quaker all his life. He became a successful businessman in Plymouth, then London, and went on to found Bryant and May provision merchants in 1843. The Fairfield Road match factory followed in 1861.

His approval of the Drinking Fountain was emphasised by the report where he stated that “he had been a teetotaller for 35 years” [1]. He died in July, 1874.

Figure 12: William Bryant (House of Swan)


The Drinking Fountain was designed by Rowland Plumbe FRIBA who, after a spell in America, had started his own practice in London in 1860.

Figure 13: Rowland Plumbe 1890

The British Museum has a print which appears to be Plumbe’s original proposed design.

Figure 14: Drinking Fountain BM Print 1978, U.3658

It has been annotated in handwriting;

‘Opened by Lord Mayor at 12 Saturday 5 Oct

Temperance Banquet at 12.30

Rowland Plumbe

13 Fitzroy Squ.’

Figure 15: Drinking Fountain BM Print 1978 U.3658 Detail

This appears to be Plumbe’s writing and signature, as the same appears on Plumbe’s design for the Normansfield Boathouse (Riba Ref. 99008) – see Figures 16 and 17.

Figure 16: Design for Normansfield Velma Boathouse -
Figure 17: Detail Plumbe's Signature from Fig.14

So it seems likely that Plumbe gave the British Museum Fountain print to another guest at the opening, George Cruickshank, (below), as it was bequeathed to the Museum by Cruikshank’s widow.

Apart from becoming well known for his many developments in London and the Counties, in 1885, Plumbe also designed Woodland House, Stoke d’Abernon, Surrey, for Frederick Carkeet Bryant, son of William Bryant.


J W Seale was the appointed sculptor, well known for his high quality work as J. W. Seale & Son, of Apollo Works, Thurlow-street, Walworth. In 1868, he was the sculptor for another drinking fountain in Hyde Park [3].

Figure 18: Drinking Fountain Hyde Park - ILN March 7,1868 p12

Sadly, this no longer exists but is marked by a plaque, although this names only the funder and not the architect, nor the sculptor.

Figure 19: Drinking Fountain Plaque Hyde Park MDFCTA

Although the press reports on the Bow Fountain event acknowledged Seale as the sculptor, he is not listed as attending the unveiling ceremony. This is surprising as he was so well known, as was his younger brother G W Seale. More recognised sculptors emerged in J W’s son and two grandchildren.


Starting his business life with a wholesale tea dealer in the City from 1824 to 1831, Gibbons later became a hop merchant. He had become a freeman of the City through the Salters’ Company. He was a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works for the City of London 1868-71. He became Lord Mayor of London 1871-72.

Figure 20 Sir Sills John Gibbons Lord Mayor of London 1871

Gibbons died in Hastings in 1876 seemingly after a few difficult years of ill health and financial problems [4].


Figure 21: Sir John Bennett Sheriff of London (National Portrait Gallery)

Sir John Bennett (15 October 1814 – 3 July 1897) FRAS was a clockmaker and watchmaker. He was described by one biographer as a "flamboyant personality who seems to have aroused in his contemporaries varying degrees of ridicule, hostility, and admiration".

He was a Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1871 and a Lord Lieutenant of the City of London, and was knighted as part of the celebrations for the recovery of the Prince of Wales from typhoid in the same year.

He was a Common Councilman on the City of London Corporation for the ward of Cheap from 1862 – 1889. In October 1872 he was elected to the London School Board.

Although married with children, his long term mistress bore him seven more children.


Figure 22: Sir Antonio Brady Portrait (Barking History)

Sir Antonio Brady (1811-1881), civil servant and fossil collector was born on 10th November 1811 in Deptford, Kent. He died suddenly on 12th December 1881 at Stratford, Essex. Brady was knighted on 23rd June 1870. He was a great philanthropist and was always ready to help the poor. He prided himself on the simplicity of his tastes. He started to collect Pleistocene mammalian fossils from Ilford in about 1844. He devoted a large amount of his spare time and money to search for, and dig up, fossil bones. His finest specimen, found in 1864, was a complete mammoth skull with both tusks. Brady relinquished his claim to this specimen in favour of the British Museum.

His lasting legacy is his magnificent collection of fossil mammalian bones from the Pleistocene brick earth and gravels of Ilford, Essex, about 210,000 years old, which are still housed in the Natural History Museum.


Figure 23: George Driffield Rector Bow Church (Bow Church Heritage)

George Driffield, Rector from 1844 until 1880 made the greatest mark upon the parish, overseeing the transformation of Bow, as the small village was swallowed up by the monstrous sprawling wonder of Victorian London, with overcrowding, poverty, pollution and disease. Migration added to the population growth of Bow from 2,000 in 1800, to 42,000 in 1900. George Driffield joined the local Board of Guardians, working to ameliorate poverty in his parish, and founded three new churches for this growing population.

There is a Driffield Road off Roman Road in Bow.


Represented The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association. At the ceremony he “expressed a hope that no one would be so degraded as to injure so beautiful monument as was sometimes done in other parts of the metropolis” [1].


Figure 24: William Adams (Locomotive Magazine 1911)

Adams represented the North London Railway Company.

He was born in Mill Place, Limehouse, London, where his father was resident engineer of the nearby East and West India Docks Company. After private schooling in Margate, Kent he was apprenticed to his father's works. Some of his apprenticeship were spent at the Orchard Wharf works of Miller & Ravenhill, builders of engines for steamships.

Fluent in French and Italian, Adams progressed to workshops in Marseilles and Genoa to build and install marine engines.

On his return to England Adams initially worked as a surveyor: considering possible routes for a railway on the Isle of Wight, overseeing construction work at Cardiff Docks and planning and equipping new workshops at Bow for the East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway, soon to change its name to the North London Railway. This led to his appointment as the company's locomotive engineer in 1854, a post he held for eighteen years. Here he introduced his noted series of 4-4-0 tank engines, the first to use the laterally-sprung bogie, and the first continuous train brake.


Figure 25: George Cruikshank 1792 -1878 (NPG Ax28570)

George Cruikshank early work was as a caricaturist but by the 1820’s he also took up book illustration. However, In the late 1840s, Cruikshank's focus shifted from book illustration to an emphasis on alcohol temperance and anti-smoking. Formerly a heavy drinker, he now supported, lectured to, and supplied illustrations for the National Temperance Society and the Total Abstinence Society, among others.

Although married twice, Cruikshank is known to have had a mistress, and by her, fathered eleven children.


[1] The Oxford Journal, 19th October 1872

[2] Illustrated London News, 12th October 1872, p300

[3] Illustrated London News, 7th March 1868, p12

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