Drinking Fountain

Biggleswade Drinking Fountain: Jubilee Heritage Project

fountainBefore the advent of piped water most premises in High Street and Market Square had deep wells. In addition to the Town Pump on the Square, there was one in Hitchin Street and another on the south side of the churchyard. In 1896 the Shambles burned down and the Town Pump ran dry when The Fire Brigade pumped water to the blaze.

Following Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in 1897 there was a small surplus and to this was added cash left over from celebrations for the Coronation of King Edward VIII. The total amounted to just over £124. With this in mind a committee was set up to erect a red granite Drinking Fountain to replace the Town Pump; it was a handsome structure. Charles Lindsell, Chairman of Biggleswade Urban District Council performed the opening ceremony; on 14th October 1908 commemorating the reign of Queen Victoria and the Coronation of King Edward VII. He pressed the button for the first drink and pronounced the water to be very good.

The cost was £131.13s.3d (£131.66) but there was a deficiency of £7.10s 1d (£7.50) to be made up from public subscriptions. A hundred years ago drinking fountains in various shapes and sizes were a feature of both town and country in England; there were over 3,000 in London

Following Biggleswade Water Board sinking a borehole at New Spring, tap water gradually became available from 1907, but many houses had to share an outside tap. Passers by used the Drinking Fountain to quench their thirst, but more importantly were the two troughs, one for horses and the other for cattle. These were very handy for dray horses and the large number of Market Gardeners with horses and carts taking their produce to the nearby railway station for delivery to the London Markets.

The Coronation of King George VI in 1937, and the need to widen the High Street, resulted in reconstructing the Market House, redesigning the Market Square for motor vehicles and removing the Drinking Fountain to make way for Keep Left Signs and a lofty Lamp Standard. The Fountain stood for many years in the Council Yard in Church Street. Councilors debated its return, there was a lengthy debate in February 1938 when the matter was deferred for six months, but no decision appears to have been made and once the War started in 1939 there were other priorities. It was eventually moved to a storage area in what is now the Dan Albone Car Park and later moved behind the stand at Fairfield and some granite was used to shore up the river bank

From time to time people worried about its absence and in September 1985 the History Society decided to do something about it. As our Secretary, I wrote a letter to Biggleswade Town Council with an estimate from Ivan Quince the stonemason of £4,620 plus VAT to restore it. They decided that it was too expensive. We persevered over the years and eventually the remains were recovered by Mr Quince and stored in his yard, until in September 2001 Paul Fox and Ivan Quince presented a scheme to the Town Council to restore the Fountain at an approximate cost of £30,000.

The Town Council and BHS supported the Heritage Project headed by Paul Fox, with Bernard Briars, Town Mayor and BHS Chairman, Ken Page. Funding came from various sources including EB Bedfordshire, Mid Beds District Council, Biggleswade Town Council and local companies. as a total of £60,000 was raised the scheme expanded to include conservation paving, resurfacing the small car park, installing two seats and no loss of car parking space

The current location in front of the White Hart public house is not far from the original site, which unfortunately corresponds approximately to the new mini-roundabout.

The restoration marked the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Ken Page
10th May 2004