Iconic East End water fountain can quench your thirst again after JEECS campaign
The success of a long-running fight by JEECS chairman Clive Bettington to save the drinking fountain memorial to Leonard Montefiore at Stepney Green was celebrated on Sunday February 26 when the iconic landmark, beautifully restored by the Heritage of London Trust, had its grand unveiling.
Derelict for many years, the fountain had faced possible demolition. Now, it can dispense a refreshing drink of water again and looks great.
The newly restored fountain
Among those taking part were Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE, who said Kaddish for Leonard Montefiore, Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, former president and now a vice-president of Liberal Judaism, Professor Michael Berkowitz, Professor of Modern Jewish History at UCL (University College London), and Dr Nicola Stacey, Director of the Heritage of London Trust.
The celebration started with a guided walk, led by Clive Bettington, from Whitechapel station to Stepney Green, with Clive discussing the various landmarks and points of interest in Jewish East End history along the way. At the fountain itself, both Dr Goldstein and Lady Neuberger cut a ceremonial ribbon and a number of us enjoyed a ceremonial drink from its newly working water spout.
Rabbi Lady Neuberger prepares to cut the ribbon, watched by Clive Bettington and Nicola Stacey
Refreshments in a nearby sports hall followed, and Dr Stacey paid tribute to Clive for his campaign and its successful culminaton with the restoration of the fountain. We had a fascinating talk by Dr Goldstein about the Montefiore family, their philanthropy, and their approach to Judaism, followed by an equally fascinating talk about Leonard Montefiore from Professor Berkowitz, who also read a very illuminating story written by Leonard Montefiore.
The drinking fountain was originally unveiled in 1884 at Rutland Street School to commemorate Leonard Montefiore and was moved to Stepney Green in 1939.
Leonard Montefiore was born in London on May 4, 1853, the son of Nathaniel Montefiore, who was the great nephew of the legendary Sir Moses Montefiore and the nephew of Sir Anthony Rothschild. His brother was Claude Montefiore, one of the founders of Reform Judaism.
Leonard was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was greatly influenced by Professor Benjamin Jowett, a theologian and classical scholar who became one of the great public figures of Victorian England. One of his closest friends at Oxford was the economic historian Arnold Toynbee, who died at the age of 30 and after whom Toynbee Hall in the East End is named.
Leonard wrote numerous articles for learned magazines. At the time of his death in 1879 he was working on the history of the German struggle for emancipation. He was associated with many philanthropic movements and was very supportive of the movement for women’s emancipation.
Leonard was on a visit to America when he died of “acute rheumatism” in Newport, Rhode Island, aged only 27. The New York Times gave great prominence to his funeral service at the prestigious Fifth Avenue synagogue the Temple Emanu-El in the presence of leading members of the New York Jewish community. His body was embalmed and shipped to England for burial.
His Literary Remains were published privately by his family a year after his death.
The drinking fountain is made of red and grey granite, but became covered in graffiti and parts of the structure, including the taps, had been removed. It is Grade II-listed.
The wording on it reads: “In affectionate remembrance of / Leonard Montefiore / who loved children and / whom all children loved.”
JEECS' role in preserving the drinking fountain from demolition and ensuring its restoration is being marked by a commemorative plaque on the fountain bearing the JEECS logo alongside those of the Heritage of London Trust and Tower Hamlets Council. Shown below is the draft plaque design. The missing wording in the middle has yet to be finalised and will comprise of a brief history of the fountain and its original location.