Return of the John Snow Water Pump
Today we feel virtuous when using our refillable water bottles. Thankfully, there’s no fear that the tap water we’re drinking could be deadly. This wasn’t the case in the 1850s though and the John Snow Water Pump has become a focus of London’s medical history.
The unassuming pump that’s missing a handle (more on that later…) was reinstalled on Soho’s Broadwick Street on 20 July 2018.
Why’s it so important?
19th Century Soho was not a pretty sight. No running water in homes meant cess pits in the streets, no clean water meant infection and disease was a ticking time bomb and Soho’s reckoning came with the 1854 Cholera epidemic.
A sobering statistic is that more than 500 Soho residents died between August and September.
Enter, John Snow. An anaesthetist and physican who’s studied a huge outbreak of Cholera in South London (1848-9). He developed a theory – previously unheard of – that the disease was linked with drinking polluted water.
At first, medical professionals and the public were reluctant to accept this notion. It led to Snow taking to the streets, talking to locals and using hospital and public records to gather data.
Snow wrote in his notes that;
“Within 250 yards of the spot where Cambridge Street joins Broad Street there were upwards of 500 fatal attacks of cholera in 10 days… As soon as I became acquainted with the situation and extent of this irruption (sic) of cholera, I suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street-pump in Broad Street.”
He began plotting cholera cases against a geographical grid, creating the first infographic to prove his point.
This too was slow to catch on though and eventually the frustrated Dr. convinced the Soho Parish Council to remove the pump’s handle preventing further use from the deadly pump.
Because of his work Dr John Snow is today considered a pioneer of public health and the study of epidemics, with Cholera thankfully being something in London’s distant past.
But it’s not the original?
Sadly no, but it has at least been restored. Complete (kinda) with its missing handle.
The exact spot of the original pump is helpfully marked out in the pink stone to the bottom left of the picture below.
So I welcome back this important bit of Soho history, right outside the John Snow Pub.
There’s something so satisfying about seeing happy – often oblivious – Londoners chugging back pints, leaning against a pump that over 100 years ago was at the centre of a liquid-based disease.
Find the John Snow Water Pump
Discover More Sordid Soho History
Join my Soho walking tour to get under the skin of this area.
In recent years there’s been a clear effort to ‘clean up’ Soho. But don’t you worry, there’s still plenty of sordid and saucy history to explore.
Soho has always been a place to let loose and dabble in the dangerous. We’ll be meeting characters who shaped its identity, looking out for history hiding above our eyeline and revelling in the naughtiness of its past. Find upcoming dates and book below;