Site Unseen: The Drinking Fountain, Newmarket

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The Independent Culture
Shame about the name: "street furniture". But what better collective noun can be applied to the miscellaneous assortment of street lights, bollards, signposts and fountains which adorn our highways and byways?

Like it or not, all our lives are shaped by the quality of the objects which surround us in the street. Only hermits and cave-dwellers can freely ignore the clutter inevitably spawned by the modern world.

Sadly, our contribution has been wholly negative. The red telephone box is ousted by a characterless replacement unerringly situated on the busiest part of the road. Teams of large-buttocked cable-layers tear up pavements and never replace them evenly. And, finally, clusters of ugly satellite television dishes disfigure rows of houses and blocks of flats.

For this last desecration alone, I am happy to pay my licence fee and hope that one day soon extraterrestial television loses its moorings and floats off towards Saturn, never to return. With luck, Mr Murdoch will be on board.

The Victorians and Edwardians had no qualms about displaying civic pride out on the streets. Any number of memorials, statues and fountains graced their thoroughfares. To our visually impoverished eyes, they may seem over the top. But would you rather look at a flat and stained concrete surface or at an intricate creation which pleasures the senses?

Newmarket, home of racing since the days of the Stuarts in the 17th century, possesses two particularly fine examples of street furniture - even if, like me, the words "100 to 8 on" are a kind of gibberish which makes one suspect the Martians have already landed.

The surrounding neighbourhood is full of neat and well-ventilated stud farms inside which equine passion is presumably at its hottest. The pavements are thronged by bandy-legged gentlemen whose miniscule stature would make Little Tich look like a basketball player.

At the east end of the High Street is the Clock Tower that celebrated Queen Victoria s Golden Jubilee. At the other end of the town, past the Museum and the omnipotent Jockey Club, is a drinking fountain. From here the racecourse can be seen rolling away into the distance, the height of the rails emphasising the physical splendour of the racehorse.

But this is not any ordinary drinking fountain. Look more closely and you will see that it is adorned by saddles and stirrups - exactly as it should be here in Newmarket, the home of racing.

As a fitting symbol of the 1990s, why don't we all apply for National Lottery money to pay for drinking fountains decorated by satellite dishes?

The drinking fountain is in Cambridge Road at the west end of the High Street, Newmarket, Suffolk