The supply of water has always been a problem in London. There was never enough of it and when supplied by private companies it was also absurdly expensive.

Mind you, there was one medieval drinking fountain in the City which had a semi-naked young lady perched regally on top. On public holidays her substantial breasts flowed with wine.

In the early 17th century Sir Hugh Myddelton hit upon a more practical if less seductive way of satisfying the populace. He built the New River which made its way from the springs of Amwell in Hertfordshire down to Sadler's Wells, where the Thames Water Authority still has its headquarters.

The problem with Myddelton's system was 'no pay, no water. Which meant that by the Victorian period the provision of water was still chaotic and a number of philanthropists decided to install public drinking fountains. The first such organisation was set up in 1859, the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association.

If not blessed with the snappiest of names, the association did at least unveil its first fountain that same year amid scenes of public celebration. It was soon being used by about 7,000 people a day.

The association soon decided to extend facilities to animals. The troughs can still be seen by the side of several London roads.

The first drinking fountain stands modestly but proudly on the corner of Giltspur Street, opposite the Old Bailey. Even if the fountain no longer works, at least it still retains original bronze cups and chains.

Critics of water privatisation predict that the fountain will soon have to be pressed back into service. And let anyone today who takes a refreshing free public drink in the sweltering weather murmur 'Thank God for the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association.

The fountain is by the churchyard of St Sepulchre's church, at the corner of Holborn Viaduct and Giltspur Street, opposite the Old Bailey, EC1.

(Photograph omitted)