The Alice Mary Brown Drinking Fountain, Sudbury

Sudbury Sisters’ Determination to Provide Clean Drinking Water
The Victorian drinking fountain with the basins for cattle and dogs was presented to the Town in 1882 by the Misses Brown.  Alice Mary may have been the instigator of the gift as it is her name which can still be read on the rim of the basin today.

The larger houses in Sudbury had always had their own wells and pumps but the cottagers had often relied on water fetched from pumps in local public houses. In the most populated areas of the town, the water supply was inadequate.

Some of the wells had been contaminated through close proximity to cesspools, privies and dunghills. After the Government Inquiry into the water supply in Sudbury in 1868, excavations began in 1871 for a more efficient supply of clean water and many of the more prosperous families soon had water laid on from the Sudbury Water-works

By 1882, however, not everyone in Sudbury had a piped water supply inside as most cottagers lived in rented accommodation and landlords did not provide what was perceived as a luxury. Poorer Sudburians still had to collect water from communal pumps. The provision of clean drinking water outside St. Peter’s Church, opposite the Town Hall was, therefore, a welcome gift. 

Samuel Brown’s daughters were no doubt concerned about the temptations of Sudbury’s many public houses to thirsty people on the Market Hill but were also aware of the plight of thirsty animals. They made sure that animal welfare was not forgotten by the addition of basins for cattle and horses and two lower basins for dogs.

(Images from the Sudbury Historic Photo Archive)

The sisters concern for animals was reflected in the Scripture verses they chose to have engraved on the drinking fountain which was made up of a pinnacle decorated with leaves and flowers mounted on a pediment. On the base of the centre piece was a simple text: ‘Presented to the town of Sudbury’ and carved underneath the rim of the left basin were the words: ‘A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast’. 

On the opposite basin another text relating to animal welfare was engraved: ‘All the beasts of the forest are mine, and so are the cattle.’  The front panel of the central column also had a verse from the Bible: ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.’ There were lions’ head spouts for each cattle basin with the inscriptions: ‘Open thy mouths for the dumb,’ and ‘Not one of them is forgotten before God.’

The drinking cups were very well designed as they were made of bell metal and engraved with the Borough Arms.  The entire work was made by the sculptor and mason, Mr. E. Keogh of North Street and was opened to the public in April 1882.

Such was the concern of the Misses Brown for the safety and protection of the fountain that they arranged for a lamp to be put up near the structure so that it could be used at night. Water was supplied by the Town Council from the Water-works.

Unfortunately, over time, despite being made of the best beige Howley Park sandstone, the structure became damaged by the weather, so the remaining inscriptions are difficult to read today. 

At some point in its history, perhaps when it no longer functioned as a drinking fountain or when it was damaged by a lorry, the centre piece was removed.  On behalf of Sudbury Town Council, John Sayers initiated a project to create a new pinnacle and approached the Sudbury Freemen’s Trust for some of the funding.  Neil Luxton, stone carver, was commissioned to design and make a centrepiece and it was unveiled on October 13th, 2015.