From the mid 1700s, as the industrial revolution gathered pace and more workers moved into London, large numbers of animals were driven into the city to feed this growing population.

Later in the 19th century, when many philanthropic and welfare organisations were founded, dozens of water troughs were erected along drove routes for the benefit of beasts on the hoof.

We are fortunate to have one of these troughs in Highgate in Church Road, at the junction with Archway Road, as a visible reminder of those herds of cattle and the men who drove them.

It has a large rectangular basin for cattle and horses to drink from, above a ground-level trough for sheep and possibly geese, with a small fountain spout at one end for thirsty drovers. It was erected in the late 19th century, made of granite, and carries the inscription:


Set up in London in 1859, by MP and philanthropist Samuel Gurney with his associate Edward Thomas Wakefield, it provided free, clean water.

This important initiative was crucial after Dr John Snow discovered that cholera, then endemic in parts of London, was caused by polluted water.

Ham & High: Highgate Society's Celia Davies is concerned about the future of the 19th century water troughHighgate Society's Celia Davies is concerned about the future of the 19th century water trough (Image: Highgate Society)

Originally called the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association with the aim of providing clean water to humans, it teamed up with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1867 to provide troughs for horses and cattle too. Gurney believed that all should have access to clean water.

By the 1930s, the association stopped installing troughs as there were no more droves of cattle, while mechanised trucks, trains and cars were largely replacing horses.

Across London these troughs are now widely used as attractive planters. Sadly, the trough in Highgate currently lies unloved and in a sorry state of neglect.

Highgate Society members value our heritage and volunteers on its active Community Projects group cherish and clean listed phone boxes, reporting damage to BT. We photograph our historic letter boxes and encourage maintenance by Royal Mail. Our guerrilla gardening volunteers have supported residents to successfully adopt and maintain planters in their area.

If any nearby residents or business feel moved to adopt this trough, replant, and maintain it, our local environment and community would undoubtedly benefit.

Do get in touch to find out more and offer your support via:

  • Celia Davies is part of  Highgate Society's Community Projects group.