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Charles Pierre Melly and his Drinking Fountains
By Patrick Neill
Charles Pierre Melly was the eldest son of Andre Melly of Geneva and Ellen Maria Greg, the youngest daughter of Samuel Greg of Quarry Bank, Wilmslow, Cheshire. He was born in Tuebrook, Liverpool on 25th May 1829. His birth place was regarded then as a country residence. The exact site of the cottage can be described as 100 yards to the north of St. John the Baptist’s church and at the west corner of Ivy Lea Street. He married Louise Forget in Geneva, Switzerland on 9th October 1854. They had eight children:
Charles Henry Melly, born
10th April 1856 in Geneva, Switzerland
Edward Ferdinand Melly, born 7th July 1857, Liverpool, England
Ernest Louise Melly, born 27th June 1859, Liverpool, England
Fanny Bertha Melly, born 12th October 1860, Liverpool, England
Andrew Leonard Melly, born 22nd November 1862, Liverpool, England
Augustus George Melly, born 3rd November 1864
Albert Melly, born 4th April 1866
Henry Greg Melly, born 11th October 1869, Liverpool, England
He got the idea for Drinking Fountains during a visit to Geneva in 1852. He later wrote “Observing the beautiful stone water Fountains which are so abundant in that city and elsewhere on the Continent”. At that time in Geneva, the water was the property of the town authorities and was distributed by them to the citizens through the means of large public fountains. Free of cost, every household would take water from the public fountain and put it in their private cistern, or pay someone to do it for them.
In Liverpool at that time with the exception of two troughs at the docks, water was supplied into people’s homes by pipes, only if they paid a ‘water rate’. Melly who spent a lot of time at the docks, noticed the working man could not quench his thirst without going into a public house “where they were expected to pay for a stronger and less refreshing drink than they required”. He was advised by policemen and others, that there was a great need for drinking water by the working man and the emigrants from Ireland and the Continent on their way to America, Australia and elsewhere. Many of these people were accustomed to public fountains in every town and village of their own country. Some were in such distress, they were glad enough to drink at the horse trough.
In 1853 the supply of water was limited, and it was not without great difficulty that two small drinking taps were put up at Prince’s Dock. The numbers who made use of were such, that the ball tap affixed to one of them, and the spring tap by which other was worked, were both worn out in the course of a few months, and it was necessary to devise some more durable way of giving water in the street. So it was decided the fountains should be supplied by a continuous flow of water day and night. This may seem to be a useless expense. But experience had shown this is the best way to provide water at the time, as even the best tap mechanisms were liable to fail due to the use put upon them.
In March 1854, the first granite Fountain was erected at the south end of Prince’s Dock. And three months later the numbers drinking there in the course of a twelve hours period, were carefully counted, and found to be 2336.
The Melly Fountain is made of polished red Granite, consisting of three pieces;
1. A Basin projecting from the wall by sixteen inches (The basin is fixed with it lip about three foot eight inches from the ground)
2. A Slab, about two foot square, fixed in the wall above it, and resting on it a bronze head, through which the water flows into the basin
3. A simple Pediment as a finish on the top which is usual dated
To drink the water from the fountain, two drinking cups were provided, one either side of the basin. The cups had long handles which resembled soup ladles; they were secured to the wall by small lengths of chain.
Charles Melly commented “Subsequent experience has proved that these small wall fountains are, both as a pattern and material, perfectly well suited to the object for which they are intended. No Material is equal in durability and cleanliness to polished granite; and fountains inserted in walls are more useful…”
Melly spent £500 of his own money providing Drinking Fountains, so it says in Andrew F. Richards book "Well I Never Noticed That!" part one.
Most of this information has come from ‘A Paper on Drinking Fountains’ by Charles P. Melly, held at the Liverpool Record Office (ref. H 711.68 MEL). Pages 5-8 and the annexed illustration of a Granite Fountain and Cattle Trough are missing. With the paper is a list of 43 Liverpool Drinking Fountains but it is not possible to read numbers 19, 20 & 21, due to the way the paper has been rebound.
The nine surviving wall Fountains are of great socio-historic importance, they were an everyday necessity for people at a time when pure drinking water was almost unavailable, a condition almost forgotten now. They are a unique group for the national heritage, predating London, they are extraordinary pieces of street furniture, adding destination to the sites they occupy. Further more they will become valuable teaching tools for the future. We propose they should be Listed to ensure their proper conservation and maintenance.
Charles P. Melly died on Saturday 10th November 1888, aged 59 years. A quote of George Melly, the writer, wit and Jazz player (a relative to Charles P. Melly); "He was a melancholy philanthropist who committed suicide". I think Charles Melly was a lot more; he was a man of vision and ideas, who saw a problem and came up with a solution. Liverpool’s workingmen and the citizens of the city owe a lot to this man. I hope that a fitting way to honour this great man can be found.
Charles Pierre Melly other achievements in Liverpool:
Introduced wayside benches
Started the first gymnasium in Myrtle Street
Organised the purchase of the land for Sefton Park and had a lot to do the the layout
Founder of the North East Mission
Founded the first night school in Beaufort Street in 1852
system of lighting gas lamps in the street,
having brought the idea of a long pole from Geneva, which superseded the
step ladder apparatus
In the Memoirs to Charles Melly which was completed and edited by his son Edward there is a copy of an article from a local new paper:
The Late Mr. C. P. Melly
Much regret will be felt in Liverpool at the death of Mr. C. P. Melly, which was announced in our obituary column this morning as having occurred on Saturday at his residence, Riversley, Aigburth. We understand from what we can gather that Mr Melly had been under medical treatment for some years, has been in the habit of visiting at Scarborough and at his sons' houses, and also his own home at Aigburth. Last week he was paying one of those visits to Riversley where he continued to show great signs of great nervous depression under which he had been suffering for so many years.
Mr Melly was well known and highly respected in Liverpool, and in his day and generation did great service to his fellow townsmen. The deceased, who is the eldest brother of Mr. George Melly, J.P., was born in 1829, and would have been sixty years of age next May. He was elected a member of the City Council for Abercromby Ward in 1866 without a contest. In 1869 he was opposed by Mr. Robert Vining, when he was re-elected by a majority of 68 votes. At the end of his next term he did not seek re-election. He took a great interest in the establishment of free drinking water Fountains in different parts of the city. He also interested himself deeply in the question of providing public seats in various quarters of the town, and was in way the leader of a movement which has become very popular in other towns, and has been of great advantage to exhausted pedestrians and others. Mr. Melly, it may be said, had more to do with the inauguration of Sefton Park than anybody else. It was owing to his exertions that the park was bought. At the time Mr. Melly was the chairman of the Parks Committee, and it was he who was entrusted with the arrangements which were subsequently made with the artists who came over from France to make the landscape garden. The whole idea was originally his, and was worked out by him to a successful issue. In addition to his public duties as a City Councillor, Mr Melly took a keen interest in other philanthropic work. He was the founder of the North East Mission, and was actively engaged for a long time in the arrangements of various local charities, which have since been got into such complete working form. The foundation of the first night school, which was established in Beaufort Street, Liverpool, in 1852, was due to his exertions. To Mr Melly, was due the credit of having been the means of getting the Liverpool Gymnasium, in Myrtle Street, erected. He was further instrumental in introducing the present system of lighting gas lamps in the street, having brought the idea of a long pole from Geneva, which superseded the step ladder apparatus formally in vogue. Mr. Melly leaves a family of seven sons and one daughter. He was a member of the well known firm of Melly, Forget and Company, Cotton Merchants.
A Paper on Drinking Fountains by Charles P. Melly Read in the health department of the National association for the promotion of Social Science, Liverpool meeting, October 1858.
C.P.M. by Edward Melly
For more information of Charles P. Melly and Drinking Fountains, see:
The Liverpool “Olympic Festivals” of the
Arms banded with muscle, bound with tendons of steel
By Bob Phillips
DRINKING-FOUNTAIN IN 1685
Alexander MacDonald & Co. Sculptor (fl. c.1848-c.1908)
FREE DRINKING FOUNTAINS.
Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association
Melly family and descendants