Monday 5 December 2011

Frederic David Mocatta, Victorian philanthropist

Among the many public drinking fountains in the City of London is this example outside St Botolph's, Aldgate. Dated 1909, it has a carved inscription bearing the name of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association - but below is a metal plate bearing a fuller explanation of its presence:
In honoured memory of Frederic David Mocatta, in recognition of a benevolent life, January 16th 1905.
It's a lovely epitaph for a man whose impact on the lives of the London poor was significant. Mocatta retired from Mocatta & Goldsmid, bullion brokers, in 1874 when he was not yet fifty. He thereafter dedicated himself to philanthropy.

He was involved in many charitable organisations working in London, particularly the East End, and was concerned that charities should encourage the independence of the poor. Although he had a particular interest in housing, many London hospitals and the RSPCA were among the beneficiaries of his philanthropy. Mocatta supported many Jewish charities, and for the last years of his life was chairman of the council of the West London Reform Synagogue.

Mocatta also engaged in study, particularly of Jewish history. He was the author of The Jews and the Inquisition, and funded publications by other authors. His library is now at University College London.

This isn't the most elegant drinking fountain in London, and it's unlikely that many passers-by today are tempted to drink from its chained cup. At least a few might, though, take a moment to ponder the 'benevolent life' of the notable Victorian philanthropist it commemorates.


Anonymous said...

I have "collected" quite a few troughs and drinking fountains myself but this is one I had so far missed. It's remarkable that the cup is still in place as in most other cases you'd be lucky to find more than the stud to which the chain was attached.

It's interesting too to learn of a less well known Victorian philanthropist, one who was ready to put his wealth and energies to work for worthy causes. The Victorian era, despite the misery we know existed, put ours to shame in many ways when we consider how many people were selflessly striving to improve the conditions of the needy.

As Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association fountains go, Mocatta's is a very unusual design. It's a good find from all points of view.

Deptford Pudding said...

Is it still working?

CarolineLD said...

I was surprised to notice the cup still in place - as far as I know, there's only one other fountain in the City which still has one.

I don't think the fountain is still working. Probably just as well, since the cup doesn't look too sanitary!