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Bedford Row water pump: A pretty piece of Georgian street furniture

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The 19th century water pump in Bedford Row, Holborn, has been converted into a street lamp

Long before the likes of Thames Water pumped water directly into our houses, Londoners had to rely on outdoor, public pumps for our essential utility. While these days, we have the luxury of running water inside, many of the outdoor pumps – mostly out of use – remain as part of London’s street furniture.

Located on Bedford Row – a predominantly Georgian road in the heart of London’s legal heartland – is one such remainder the early 19th century utilities. The road is named after the town of Bedford – the hometown of Sir William Harper (1496-1574), Lord Mayor of London in 1562. He bought 13 acres of land in Holborn in 1562, but later bequeathed the land to charities. The cast iron pump sits at the junction between Bedford Row and Brownlow Street, a few metres away from the Gray’s Inn – one of London’s four inns of court.

Built in 1826, the pump features intricate strapwork, two spouts, a handle and the arms of St Andrew and St George near the base. Back in the early 19th century, lawyers from the nearby inns and other locals would draw their water from the pump. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) worked as a junior clerk at Gray’s Inn in 1827-1828 so would have certainly used the pump as one time or another.

In the 20th century, the pump fell into disuse, with the local council adding a lamp to the top of it and surrounding bollards to protect it. It was Grade II listed in 1951.

  • Water Pump, Bedford Row (opposite Brownlow Street), Holborn, WC1R 4BS. Nearest station: Chancery Lane or Holborn.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Revisiting the now-restored Georgian water pump on Cornhill

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Before and art: Peeling blue and red paint (left) of the Cornhill water pump has been restored to a white and cream colour (right)

Less than two years ago, I blogged about the sorry state of the old Georgian water pump on Cornhill in the City of London. I’m happy to say, it has since been restored and repainted a completely different colour. This post will revisit the history behind the Cornhill pump, which has long stopped providing water, but is now an attractive piece of London’s street furniture and a protected piece of our heritage.

Cornhill is a road in the heart of the City of London, known for its bustling offices and designer boutiques. Located a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, the name Cornhill comes from it being one of the city’s three hills – the others being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill.

While demand for public wells has ceased over the past 100 years, the staggering history and aesthetics of the City’s old street furniture means many of these pumps can still be seen today. The Cornhill pump is outside the Gucci store at the Royal Exchange, just a minute’s walk up from the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Street, the location of ‘The Standard’ – the first mechanically pumped water supply in London. Constructed in 1582 on the site of previous hand-pumped wells, it was discontinued in 1603. As well as being a source for water, The Standard became a meeting place and also the mark from which distances from London were judged, before this later moved to Charing Cross.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Shiny and new: The restored pump is looking a whole lot better following its restoration

Although The Standard pump was discontinued in the early 17th century, back down the hill outside Gucci, the current pump was erected nearly 200 years later. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the rapidly expanding population of the developing city, there was a growing demand for water pumps in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1708, the Government passed the Parish Pump Act, ordering that every parish in London must have a water pump and designate men to extinguish fires.

In the late 18th century, two of the City’s big players of the time, the East India Company and the Bank of England, together with the local fire stations and the bankers and traders who worked in the area, jointly funded the cast iron pump (it is believed adjoining granite trough is likely from a later date). It was designed by architect Nathaniel Wright, who built St Botolph Aldersgate in Postman’s Park and was the surveyor to the north district of the City of London.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Sorry state: How the pump looked in 2012

The inscription on the road-facing side of the pump reads: ‘On this spot a well was first made and a House of Correction built thereon by Henry Wallis Mayor of London in the year 1282.’ It continues on the Royal Exchange-facing side: ‘The well was discovered much enlarged and this pump erected in the year 1799 by the contributions of the Bank of England, the East India Company, the neighbouring fire offices, together with the bankers and traders of the Ward of Cornhill.’ As well as the inscriptions, the Grade II-listed pump has fire insurance emblems on each side at the top – Royal Exchange, Sun, Phoenix and County. The base facing the Royal Exchange reads ‘Phillips & Hopwood, Engine makers, fecerunt’, which was practically invisible when it was previously painted in black until the restoration. Philips & Hopwood were a Blackfriars-based firm co-owned by Samuel Philips and James Hopwood, who made pumps and fire engines, which existed between 1797-1811. Fecerunt is a Latin term, meaning ‘to put in place’.

When I first spotted the pump in 2012, it was in a sorry state. It was painted in the City of London’s light blue colour, just like the Old Police Telephone posts. However, the paint was peeling, rust was setting in and it generally looked neglected amid the flashy surrounding buildings of the City. The pump had actually been Grade II-listed by English Heritage in January 1950. Fortunately, at some point in 2013, the pump was restored and repainted. It now stands shiny and bright, in cream and white paint, complementing the nearby boutiques of the Royal Exchange. The inscriptions have been painted black so are now clearer to read. Unfortunately the granite trough has gone and has been replaced by a small wrought iron railing – presumably to protect the pump from potentially bad parking or drivers! However, the missing trough means you can now read the architect’s name across the road-facing base.

As a little side note, the pump in it’s original blue state can be seen in the climax of the first Bridget Jones’s Diary movie, where Renee Zellweger’s Bridget enjoys her first kiss with Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy after he buys her a new diary from the Royal Exchange.

  • The Cornhill pump is located on the north side of Cornhill, outside Gucci (9 Change Alley), City of London EC3V. Nearest station: Bank.
© Working Title Films

The pump in its original blue state can be seen in the climax of Bridget Jones’s Diary film (2001)
© Working Title Films


For a Metro Girl post on London police telephone posts, click here.

Or to read about the history of Charing Cross – the ‘centre’ of London after The Standard click here

Or for other Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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The water’s run dry: A Georgian pump lanquishing on Cornhill

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Historic: The Georgian water pump outside the Royal Exchange, Cornhill

For a blog update on the Cornhill water pump, which has now been restored, click here.

Cornhill is a road in the heart of the City of London, known for its bustling offices and designer boutiques. Located a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, the name Cornhill comes from it being one of the city’s three hills (Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill).

In a world before cars, travelling around on a horse and carriage was the way to get around. Just like today the city is dotted with petrol stations to refuel, in Georgian and Victorian times there were wells, troughs and water pumps to water the horses and refresh the people. With an extensive underground sewer network and piped water supply, thankfully these days we don’t need to grab a bucket and head to the nearest pump for some water.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Joint project: The Bank of England, East India Company and fire offices funded the pump

While demand for public wells has ceased over the past 100 years, the staggering history and aesthetics of the City’s old street furniture means many of these pumps can still be seen today. Earlier this autumn, one such pump caught my eye. Located outside the Gucci store in the Royal Exchange, it looks very different to other stone and black ones I’ve seen on the streets. Painted in the City of London’s light blue colour, just like the Old Police Telephone posts, it stands out amongst the bins, post boxes and street lighting. While to some, it looks like a tired piece of old London, the pump actually has a significant tie to the history of London and distances from the old capital. A minute’s walk up to the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Street is the location of ‘The Standard’ – the first mechanically-pumped water supply in London. As well as being a source for water, the pump became a meeting place and also the mark from which distances from London were judged (until the marker later became Charing Cross – see Civil war, centre of London and a memorial to a queen: The story behind Charing Cross).

Although The Standard pump was discontinued in 1603, back down the hill outside Gucci (of course it wasn’t Gucci then!), the current pump was erected nearly 200 years later. Two of the City’s big players of the time, the East India Company and the Bank of England, together with the local fire stations and local bankers and traders who worked in the area, jointly funded the cast iron pump with an adjoining granite trough.

Designed by architect Nathaniel Wright (who built St Botolph Aldersgate in Postman’s Park), the inscription on the road-facing side, it reads: ‘On this spot a well was first made and a House of Correction built thereon by Henry Wallis Mayor of London in the year 1282.’

It continues on the Royal Exchange-facing side: ‘The well was discovered much enlarged and this pump erected in the year 1799 by the contributions of the Bank of England, the East India Company, the neighbouring fire offices, together with the bankers and traders of the Ward of Cornhill.’

As well as the inscriptions, the Grade II-listed pump has fire insurance emblems on each side – Royal Exchange, Sun, Phoenix and County. Although the pump is in good condition considering it’s 213 years old, it’s definitely been slightly neglected in recent years and could do a bit of tender loving care.

  • The Cornhill pump is located on the north side of Cornhill, outside Gucci (9 Change Alley), City of London EC3V. Nearest station: Bank.

Metro Girl Likes: While you’re in Cornhill, pop into the Counting House for a drink or pie. Built in 1893 as Prescott’s Bank, the pub has stunning woodwork, paintings and tiling, which helps the venue retain its 19th century charm.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Pump it up: It’s been a while since someone used the pump to water their horse


For more Metro Girl blog posts on London’s street furniture, read about the myth of the Coco Chanel street lights. 

Find out the story behind London’s police telephone posts.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.