Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Snow, so to celebrate this week’s curiosity is the John Snow Cholera Pump in Soho. If you are familiar with the area of Soho, chances are you’ve walked past the pump, but do you know why it is there?
In 1854 there was a severe outbreak of cholera in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street), Soho. The physician, John Snow, managed to identify the source of the outbreak by linking the disease with contaminated water coming from the water pump on Broad Street. At the time people generally thought that disease was spread through ‘bad air’ but Snow was not convinced. He managed to work out that all the cases of cholera matched up to those using the pump for their water supply.
In those days buildings often contained cesspits in their basements. Cesspits often overflowed allowing raw sewage to find its way into the water supply. The only people in the local area that were not affected were those in the workhouse (where they had a well) and the workers of the local brewery who drank only beer (there’s a lesson in there somewhere). After removing the handle from the pump the cases of cholera quickly decreased.
Since 1992 a replica pump has stood on Broadwick Street near the site of the original pump. The replica pump was erected by Westminster Council to mark the pioneering medical research in public health. The original site of the pump is believed to be outside The John Snow Pub marked by a pink granite slab.
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