Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
At the heart of Dulwich Village, just in front the gates to the gardens that lead to the Old College and Christ's Chapel of God's Gift, is a red granite drinking fountain on a small planted island. It bears the inscription:
“To George Webster MD, JP 1877
To commemorate his long and varied services
Both Public and Private
During a residence of 60 years in Dulwich
This Fountain is erected from the contributions
Of many friends and neighbours of every station
He died 19th November 1875 aged 78 years.”
Grade II listed, the drinking fountain is a grand affair, topped with a cast iron lamp.
Born in Brechin, Forfarshire, George Webster trained at Edinburgh University. Upon graduation, he received an appointment to serve with the medical staff of the army based in Belgium but when he was on his way to take up the appointment, word reached him of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. He was then offered a post in India but this he refused, instead taking up a position in Dulwich. His tall figure was a familiar sight in Dulwich, known and liked by all. W Blanch wrote “The poor have always found in him a warm friend, and though Dulwich has ever been first in his affections, he has found time, during a long professional career, to minister to the comfort of the poor and afflicted far removed from the hamlet. … it is no secret that for many years it has been his habit to visit weekly the aged poor within the walls of the parish poor-house at Camberwell.”
Dr Webster also involved himself with the conditions and status of the medical profession and was President of the British Medical Association for 14 years. Initially founded for the sharing of scientific and medical knowledge, during Webster’s presidency, the BMA became more concerned with the politics of the medical profession and officially represented the profession’s views on matters regarding healthcare and public policy to the governments of the day. Locally, Dr Webster was a member of the Camberwell Vestry and a Guardian of the Poor.
At a time when it was only just being understood that diseases like cholera were contracted by drinking contaminated drinking water, it is fitting that Dr Webster should be commemorated in the form of a drinking fountain that provided clean drinking water. It is as well that today we do not depend on water from such a drinking fountain and we all have clean drinking water either from an inside tap or from a plastic bottle as the fountain is not easily accessible, situated in the middle of a road system and guarded by chain ropes.
The fountain was restored in 1977 by Southwark Council, the Dulwich Society and the Civic Society and the Civic Trust to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.