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Peaks at troughs from past

PUBLISHED: 18:18 10 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:54 03 July 2010

TOWERING VIEW: Great Yarmouth seafront

TOWERING VIEW: Great Yarmouth seafront

LADIES and gentlemen! Please be upstanding and raise your glasses to drink a toast with me. your glass must be filled not with fine wine but pure water - Adam's Ale.

LADIES and gentlemen! Please be upstanding and raise your glasses to drink a toast with me. your glass must be filled not with fine wine but pure water - Adam's Ale.

The toast is: “The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. May it continue to slake our thirsts and that of animals for another century and a half.”

In recent years, water has come to the fore again with the craze for the bottled variety promoted by the healthy living industry. It is an expensive drink, always allegedly drawn from pure springs often far afield, and has become almost a fashion accessory as countless people are seldom spotted in public without the obligatory bottle from which they swig frequently.

Even in these times of recession they persist, despite their attention being drawn to the fact that if they refilled a bottle from their tap at home, they would have equally pure water for a fraction of a penny. Only recently a national commentator described bottled water as a rip-off, reporting that two billion litres of it are consumed annually in the UK: the human body needs eight glasses of water a day, costing £500 a year if bottled but only £1 from the tap.

Indeed, a campaign has been launched encouraging the public to ask for tap water when eating out.

But if you fancy a drink of water in a town centre nowadays, there is little option other than to buy a bottle of this overpriced liquid because public drinking fountains are very few and far between.

Time was when they were much easier to find, most of them provided by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association that, this year, celebrates its 150th anniversary. It was founded in 1859 as the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association by MP and philanthropist Samuel Gurney and barrister Edward Wakefield to provide the populace with free drinking water “of perfect purity and coldness” at a time when water quality was so poor and contaminated that beer was a safer option although it had its obvious disadvantages.

Eight years later “Cattle Trough” was added when this extra need for livestock was identified. Today the name has been streamlined to the Drinking Fountain Association, reflecting its 2009 role, but seldom do we spot them as part of our street scene although there are some about.

One is on Gorleston's lower promenade, opposite the yacht pond and just through the posts preventing vehicular traffic from encroaching into this prime pedestrian area. It is no longer working, the trough weed-filled, but Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association remains prominently sculpted into the stone side.

Prime beneficiaries of the trough used to be the donkeys on which holidaymaking kiddies enjoyed rides on sands or promenade.

In 1887 no fewer than three were placed on Marine Parade in Great Yarmouth, although their sites were not specified; one was near the Britannia Pier, I believe. For decades a drinking fountain for people, not livestock, was attached to a toilets block midway along the parade.

There used to be other troughs in the borough but none was been listed as being of special historical interest and I know of nobody who has logged them. By far the most prominent stood plumb in the middle of what was to become known as the Golden Mile, that stretch of Marine Parade renowned for its places of entertainment, amusement arcades and eateries.

Its location was near the old Coastguard station and cottages around their barrack-square forecourt - one of the last bastions of non-commercialism that were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the building of the Tower complex that has morphed into Atlantis. However, that particular trough/fountain was not one provided by the nationally-known Metropolitan benefactor, for it the inscription on its concrete side recorded that it was a gift from the RSPCA's N and N branch (Norfolk and Norwich, one presumes) in 1912.

The Tower developers regarded it as an eyesore and strove vainly to persuade Yarmouth borough council to remove it, but in the mid-1970s they were delighted to see the facility uprooted - was not because of any campaigning but due to the fact that it was the right place for a bus stop and then a pedestrian crossing.

Where did it go? Just south of the Britannia Pier, a boon for the horses that draw the landaus which are a pleasant reminder of the Golden Mile's more stately and elegant past. Is it still there? I know not.

I think another was sited near the Pleasure Beach main entrance. Without doubt, there was one behind Fishwharf buildings, busily used during the huge autumn herring fishery in the era when horse-drawn carts were in prolific use there.

One summer evening in the Seventies I went in search of that Fishwharf trough, strolling along the quay-edge public right-of-way through an unlocked gate and having to wend my way between passengers walking from Norfolk Line's terminal to a berthed ferry…at which point a security man accosted me, accused me of being on private land and asked me what I was doing.

“Looking for a horse trough,” I replied with honesty, an answer that he did not receive calmly, assuming I was being facetious.

I left unscathed, only to learn later that I had been looking in the wrong place by a couple of hundred yards and, even had I been spot-on, my quest would still have been unfulfilled, for it had gone.

Years later I learned that John Green, whose family firm had been demolishing unwanted Fishwharf buildings, had been given it and had kept it safe. And in1986, when John and his wife, Rita, opened the Priory Farm Restaurant at St Olaves, the old Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association relic was brought out of obscurity and filled with flowers to provide a colourful and historic welcome to diners.

It forms part of the front wall on the main road.

And two decades ago, when the topic was aired in this column, reader Ambrose King, of Coronilla Green, Gorleston, sent me a photograph he took of the Fishwharf trough before the area was razed “because it held memories of the days when, as a boy, with a few pals, we used to pick up the loose herring that fell from the baskets until we had a large string of them.

“Then we'd give them a good wash in the old horse trough and go up and down the Yarmouth Rows selling the herring at ten a penny.”

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