This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Red Letter Day

09 October 2015

"Now if everyone will just look this way," cried the photographer.

"That's fine, lads. Keep your instruments at the ready." 

"And if the honorable gentlemen and the little lady would turn
toward the camera, please. Thank you very much, vicar."

He snapped the shutter. "Very, very nice. Postcards will be
available at my shop on the High Street later today
and at Mr. Rush's stationery shop on Monday."

In just a fraction of a second the camera captured a proud civic moment in the life of a small town, complete with a brass band, local dignitaries, citizenry and children. All are gathered around a large stone monolith which has chiseled on its side:

Victoria Memorial
Erected by Public Subscription

It's a horse trough.  

This small photograph has no date or mark, but the inscription on the trough indicates a British origin as it honors the memory of the late monarch, Queen Victoria, who died in January 1901 in the 63rd year of her reign. Many places around the United Kingdom and British Empire built monuments to her life. Apparently water troughs and fountains were a popular choice.

The photo has a special quality in the way it fixes the direct gaze of each individual. It was a quick pose, almost like a modern snapshot, with some people still in motion. The image has a sense of anticipation or excitement about an object that seems very ordinary. 

The other quality I like is that most British brass bands pictured in my photo collection are set in a very formal and orderly arrangement of musicians. A casual view like this is rare. This band probably finished playing only a few seconds before the photographer took the picture. 

However, despite its British appearance, without identification this watering trough might be in Australia or Canada instead of England. The only sure thing was written in stone, the year 1906.

It happens that there were surprisingly few commemorative cattle/horse troughs built that year.
The Luton Times and Advertiser of April 27, 1906 reported on one
that was constructed for the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.

Luton Times and Advertiser
April 27, 1906
THE VICTORIA MEMORIAL — The cattle trough and drinking fountain erected in Golden Square as a memorial of the late Queen Victoria was formally inaugurated on Saturday evening. In the absence, through indisposition, of Mr. Leopold de Rothschild, the water was turned on by Mr. Richard Purrett, the Chairman of the Committee who raised the funds, and the originator and main-spring of the movement.

The memorial stands in the centre of the Square and consists of a cattle trough of axed grey granite with a small push tap and bowl at one end for human beings, and a trough for sheep and dogs underneath. The inscription is "Victoria Memorial; erected by public subscription, 1906." Many leading townspeople were present, and a large crowd of the general public.  

Mr. Purrett gave details of the Committee's work since the proposal was first mooted. A sum of £91 16s. 3d. had been raised, including £11, the net proceeds of the concert in December last, whilst there was a further sum of £9 8s. 6d. outstanding under the head of subscriptions promised.

The present fountain had been erected at a cost of £64, but there would be some further expense for paving and incidentals. It was estimated that there would be a sum of £27 left over for the second fountain, which it was hoped to place in North-street. Mr. Platten, a vice-chairman of the Urban District Council (in the regretted absence of Mr. George Payne, the chairman), formally accepted the fountain, and said it would not only be a Victoria memorial, but also a Purrett memorial. – Mr. Purrett, in reply to a vote of thanks, said that was one of the red letter days of his life. 

Now look at the lettering on the side of the vicar's carriage – *RRETT . It seems odd that no one stood in front of the carriage. Could the missing letters complete the name PURRETT ? Quite possibly it was an advertisement for his business. Certainly the detail of the stone inscription matches the report, but this may be only a coincidence. But the clues seemed close enough to warrant more investigation. 

The town of Leighton Buzzard is in Bedfordshire, England, partway between Luton and Milton Keynes, and about 35 miles northwest of London. The unusual name is derived from the 12th century Leighton clergyman Theobald de Busar, who the Dean of Lincoln used to distinguish this Leighton from another Leighton in his diocese by adding the qualifier Leighton Buzzard.

In 1906 this small town was in an agricultural area where drovers regularly brought livestock into the center of Leighton Buzzard on market days. A combination fountain/trough like this one was a relatively inexpensive solution to the problem of providing drinking water for cattle, horses, and sheep. The fountain for people and dogs offered an extra value, as public water spigots were a rare convenience in England at the turn of the 20th century, (and even now they are not common to find.) The basic design was first made in the 1860s by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, a group that advocated for public access to free drinking water in London and other urban centers. It was considered a humanitarian effort to improve conditions for animals, but it was also associated with the Temperance Movement as an alternative refreshment for the working classes. 

Cattle Trough on London Wall
Source: Wikipedia

Of course in today's world there is little practical reason to keep a public water trough for livestock, so the water trough in Leighton Buzzard's Golden Square was likely removed a long time ago.  

Indeed, it is long gone, but there is another picture of it.

Source: Leighton Buzzard Through Time
 by Colin Ashby, 2013
Google books provided a virtual copy of Leighton Buzzard Through Time, by Colin Ashby, published in 2013. This charming collection of photos and stories of Leighton Buzzard included another vintage postcard street view of the Victoria Memorial horse trough in Leighton Buzzard. The upper story bay window and the arched doorway of the building in the background are a perfect match for the building backdrop in my photo.

Today there is only a roundabout on this site, though the main High St. of Leighton Buzzard  retains a quaint attractive quality. No doubt it has been a long time since anyone needed to water their horse there.

* * *

But what about the chairman of the horse trough fundraising committee? The man described as worthy of adding his name to the memorial too – Mr. Richard Purrett of Leighton Buzzard, does he have a story too?

In 1906 he actually raised enough money to erect two horse troughs for the town. But the second one encountered resistance from the local council which initially objected to its placement on North St. After a few months of debate, the council finally accepted the plan and the second fountain was "inaugurated" on August 29, 1907, as reported in the Luton Times and Advertiser:

The opening ceremony  of the new fountain was performed last (Thursday) night by Mr. R. Purrett. The Leighton Excelsior Band marched through the town and a large crowd collected. The Vicar of Leighton (the Rev. G. F. Hills) presided. and after the singing of the hymn, "O God, our help in ages past," made a short speech.

Mr. R. Purrett said that through the generosity of many noblemen, including the Duke of Bedford, Lord Rosebery, and various members of the illustrious Rothschild family, and also of the ladies and gentlemen of the town, they had been able to erect those memorials to the late Queen. He thanked them for the honor conferred on him in asking him to open two such memorials in his own home town, though he had urged that some subscriber be found for that purpose. The late Queen's life was a fountain of goodness. Over 150 horses had been seen to drink at the Golden square fountain in one day. ....  Mr. Purrett then turned on the water, and after taking the first drink handed the keys to Mr. Platten for the Urban Council. 

It is this description and the arrangement of the people in the photo that makes me believe that the tall bearded man proudly standing in the center is Richard Purrett. I think the staff in his left hand is the plumber's "key" or wrench for the water supply tap to the fountain. 

In order to raise funds for these two troughs, Mr. Purrett organized at least two benefit music concerts in 1905-06, which was not an unusual project for him as he owned a music business, a "music warehouse" specializing in pianofortes, harmoniums and organs. As a young man he started life in Bedfordshire as a farmer, but some time around 1869 he took over an existing business to sell musical instruments in Leighton Buzzard.

1890 Kelly's Bedfordshire Directory

County and city directories are a wealth of fascinating trivia. Just a few pages away from the 1890 commercial section on Pianoforte Warehouses (there were seven listings), are four pages devoted to Bedfordshire's Straw Hat trades.  Besides the categories of Straw Bleachers & Dyers; Straw Factors; and Straw Bottle Envelope Manufacturers, there are dozens and dozens of  men and women working as Straw Hat Block Makers; Straw Hat Blockers; Straw Hat Blocking Machine Makers; Straw Hat Finishers; Straw Hat Machinists; Straw Hat & Bonnet Manufacturers (with over 530 names); Straw Hat Wire Makers; Straw Hat Polish Makers; Straw Hat Lining & Tip Makers; Straw Hat Tip Stampers; and Straw Hat Varnish Makers. 

Considering that everyone in the 19th and most of the 20th centuries always wore a hat, it's not surprising that there were places specializing in mass producing hats and hat materials. But Bedfordshire would not have been my first or last guess for the center of Britain's straw hat industry. 

Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade GazetteJune 17, 1869

Mr. Richard Purrett had two sons and two daughters. One son, John Purrett, followed him to work as an assistant music seller in the Purrett music store, and I believe he may be the man in the straw hat just behind Purrett. Likewise the little girl peeking above the stone trough would likely be Purrett's granddaughter.

In July 1913, the Bucks Herald reported on the death of Mr. R. Purrett, age 71.

Bucks Herald
July 19, 1913

Did you spot the giant too?
Go back an look at the full photo and see if anyone stands out.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday No. 300
where the hidden stories in vintage photographs are always the best fun.


Kristin said...

I didn't notice the giant until you mentioned him. I never would have thought a water trough would be dedicated to a queen. Turning them into flower boxes seems a good idea, once the animals no longer were around looking for a drink.

Wendy said...

The wording on the wagon looks like it could say "Music Warehouse." This is one of my favorite posts of yours. All the quirky little surprises and collected bits of information make it a fun read.

Little Nell said...

That’s a fascinating story, and in a way, they’re all trying to stand out - much as when groups of people today take a ‘selfie’ - they all want to be seen, even if it means peeking between an adult’s legs!

Postcardy said...

I never would have thought of a cattle trough as being a suitable memorial to a queen, but it does seem more practical than a purely decorative fountain.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you drew out attention to the child peeping out between the men's legs. I hadn't spotted him when looking at the full photo. Somewhere, someone must know who he is.

Helen Bauch McHargue said...

I was busy looking at the musicians and instruments and missed the giant entirely. We have a few very tall men in our family and they struggle to find clothing and shoes that fit - they're always more expensive and never really fit well. But, the big payoff for that height comes at the moment memorialized in your photo - at a parade. As usual a great post - such a lot of interesting research.

La Nightingail said...

The water trough turned flower planter was a nice idea. Is it still around? Like others, I didn't notice the 'giant' until you mentioned him. He was rather tall. I guess I initially thought he was standing on the same level as the other taller fellows but realized when I looked closely, he wasn't!

Martin Hodges said...

I enjoyed this, Mike. It started me thinking about the modern equivalent of a horse trough provided through public subscription. Somehow, benches and planted roundabouts don't have the same degree of utility or longevity.

Jo Featherston said...

Wonderful research as always. I imagine the band is likely the same as was present at the opening of the second fountain, so you could then go on to identify its members. I'm surprised you haven't discovered who the ladies observing the scene from the window might be - just joking, I think!

Nancy said...

Fascinating. I love how you go so in depth for your posts, Mike. I, too, was surprised that a watering trough would be dedicated to the queen. I would have guessed something more queenly would have been considered appropriate.

Thanks for sharing.

Lorraine Phelan said...

The photo is a delight and you are a master story-teller.

anyjazz said...

Love it when an old photograph sends us off on a romp through time. It's a good photograph that has so many clues, pathways back into history. An excellent find!

Tattered and Lost said...

Holy schmoly he's tall! Or the rest of them are very small.

And the little blurred fella amongst the legs adds some nice movement to the moment. I'm sure his folks weren't too happy to see him blurred, but without him a bit of the humor and fun of the moment would be lost.

Mr Purrett looks like a kind old gentleman. Let's hope he was. I mean, he raised enough for two troughs!


Quite the story telling
and I believe you have indeed reveal the mystery of this trough,
and its location.
Well done!!


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