Blooming marvellous

Members of Selborne Bowling Club celebrate planting up a drinking trough in Southgate
Members of Selborne Bowling Club celebrate planting up a drinking trough in Southgate

Bowling club helps bring life to disused horse trough, writes Chris Horner

Horses are rarely seen now on roads, but were once a common sight. Cars have replaced carts and carriages, petrol stations have replaced drinking troughs.

In Enfield borough there are still nine drinking troughs that remain from the days when horse-riding was commonplace. Since they are not now needed for horses, they have been planted with flowers instead.

Members of Selborne Bowling Club recently took time out from their bowling championship match, being held on the club’s bowling green behind Ye Olde Cherry Tree pub in Southgate, to plant up the horse trough in The Green. They were keen to brighten up this part of Southgate opposite their club.

The horse and cattle trough at The Green is fairly typical; made from granite three metres long, it has a drinking fountain at one end and a water trough below for dogs and sheep. The trough was installed by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in 1886 at a cost of £50 and was paid for by public subscription. This association was set up in 1859 by Samuel Gurney MP, to provide free clean drinking water and support animal welfare.

In the 19th Century, London was short of public drinking water fountains and cattle drinking troughs. There was a need to provide clean sources of water in urban areas to meet the needs of horses transporting goods and for cattle and sheep being driven into central London on market days. The supply of clean drinking water was of major concern; there was a cholera epidemic in 1854 and London’s growing population put increasing pressure on the supply of clean drinking water.

Beer had been a safer alternative to drinking contaminated water and to counter this the temperance movement encouraged the installation of public drinking water fountains located opposite public houses and coaching inns. Troughs were funded by public donations and by wealthy philanthropic Victorian patrons, together with support from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). By 1879 there were 800 troughs supplying the needs of over 50,000 horses in London.

Drinking troughs were the petrol stations of the 19th Century, commonly located adjacent to coaching inns such as Ye Olde Cherry Tree. The troughs were a vital element to facilitate transport and patrons at private establishments were expected to pay for this service, or to use the inn. Notices usually stated: “All that water their horses here must pay a penny or have some beer.”

In 1936, as petrol-driven motoring replaced horse-drawn transport, the installation of water troughs ceased.

For more information about Selborne Bowling Club: