A Trough in History

by Ray Holmes

Few will need a reminder to recall those once fashionable drinking fountains of childhood days, especially those equipped with a long dangling chain, securely attached to a much dented cup!

Elsewhere memories of grey stone horse troughs loom clearly in one’s mind. Although catering mainly for the horse, they were never the less called cattle troughs. Now, like the horse itself, fountains and troughs have been removed from our streets. But just how quickly things drop out of mind, once out of sight! Recently, when chatting with our grandson, he remarked ‘What’s a horse trough?’ This came as quite a shock, having just listened to him describe ‘Internet values’! However, this set me thinking and I started to probe the history of our own local ‘trough’. For those unacquainted with Hunton Bridge trough, like many others, it provided a two-tier water receptacle: the top trough designed for cattle and the lower one for those animals blessed with shorter legs. However, our ‘trough’ differs from others by the fact that on one side there is an engraved message: ‘The gift of Mrs W. F. M. Copeland 1884’. Today, 116 years later, this handsome relic stands redundant and where, seemingly abandoned on the A41 verge, anyone leaving the Old Mill Road can find it situated on their left, now occupying a site allotted by road contractors some fourteen years ago during a new road layout.

I can recall from school days that the trough stood in a more prominent position on the Watford side of the Canal Bridge, where it had previously stood for a 100 years. This ‘souvenir’ from a bygone age of transport holds a special niche in our local history. Yet how had such an expensive granite trough, when troughs were usually made of wood, come to be placed there in this somewhat isolated spot at Hunton Bridge?

One gentleman in particular who warrants a mention was Samuel Gurney, MP. He was often spoken of as being one of those who dispensed with timber troughs because he thought them uneconomical. In 1859, as founder of the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association, Gurney organised a skilled workforce of stonemasons to furnish the London streets with stone drinking fountains and cattle troughs. Their workmanship was soon to be seen around the city, where public praise and recognition quickly flowed into the Association’s mail, accompanied by requests from overseas seeking their masons’ products. Further accolades followed when in 1877 Queen Victoria presented a ‘trough’ which was to be erected in Esher, Surrey.

In 1850 Russells Farm Estate, off the Hempstead Road, Watford, near Hunton Bridge, became the home of William Taylor Copeland, MP (ex Lord Mayor of London; Head of Copeland & Sons, Potters of distinction). At Russells, William sought to establish a country family home, while furthering his interest in horses. His eldest son, William Fowler Mountford Copeland and his young wife Elizabeth Mary (née Lane) then joined his parents on their newly acquired estate. Sadly in 1868, William, Sr., died, aged 71 years. Then to complicate the situation it was realised that St Pauls Church, Langleybury was still awaiting ‘consecrated ground’ for burials. The funeral arrangements made a Watford cemetery the final resting place for William T. Copeland.

This was a great disappointment to the family and while a commemorative wall plaque could be arranged for inside St Pauls church, nothing would stand to honour their family name in Langleybury churchyard!

From Russells Estate to the St Pauls church, the family used a horse and carriage which no doubt meant the horses required ‘watering’ on such occasions. This may well have inspired the family to recall the Royal presentation to Esher in 1877 and so decide on a similar idea of a presentation ‘trough’ in memory of William. Perhaps the family were encouraged further by the fact that his son held office as a local Magistrate and in 1884 the arrangements were completed.

A report in the Watford Observer stated: ‘A grey granite cattle trough arrived in Hunton Bridge, positioned on the Watford side of the Canal Bridge, bearing a strong resemblance to the style adopted by the Metropolitan Cattle Drinking Trough Association. Suitably engraved on one side: "The gift of Mrs W. F. M. Copeland 1884"’.

As to whom the ‘gift’ was intended remains unanswered – probably any traveller on the ‘Queen's Highway’, one can only conclude. For a trough, Mrs Copeland’s gift excelled as a family Masterstone – and is still in use today in the year 2000! n


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