Don’t Drink the Water… it’s full of Cholera!

Just kidding. Don’t let the title fool you.

Most people have heard of the disease cholera, but if you want to find out (in graphic detail) about it, I recommend reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. I mentioned this yesterday, but for one of our classes this summer, we had to read two books and write book reviews on them. I read The Lost City of Z and The Ghost Map, which details the 1854 cholera outbreak in London. 

Many cities all over the world experienced, and still experience, devastating cholera outbreaks, but this particular one in London proved to be significant – Patient Zero was located in Golden Square, in the Soho district; a local prominent physician, Dr. John Snow also lived in the neighborhood, as did a local curate, Henry Whitehead. Through these two men and their individual strengths and skill sets, it was discovered that cholera was not in fact an airborne disease, as was “common knowledge” at the time, but rather a waterborne disease. This eventually led to vast improvements in the sanitation facilities of London, which became a model for all developed areas. It is because of Dr. Jon Snow and Henry Whitehead that cholera is practically unheard of in developed countries.

The book was fascinating, and detailed the science behind the disease, but also the Victorian period of London, and the current scientific/medicinal beliefs at the time. So if you’re looking for a different summer read, go check this out!

So why am I telling you about cholera? Well today, Laura Douglass, Paul, and I went on an adventure to located the Broad Street pump  handle. Broad Street is the road where the outbreak officially began, and after John Snow formulated his theories about the spread of the disease, he pressured city officials to remove the water pump handle which he suspected was the source of the contamination. In doing so, Snow essentially and effectively ended the outbreak.

After traveling to Soho, and wandering around Golden Square, we found the pump!

Broad Street Pump Handle

As you can see, the pump isn’t particularly eye-catching… in fact, we almost walked past it. Since it was lunchtime, people were casually sitting around it eating. The woman on the right is actually sitting on the description plaque. It had me wondering – are the people of London, or even the people sitting around the pump, even aware about its significance? Certainly I would not have been if I hadn’t read The Ghost Map. But in a way, this pump was a crucial part of London’s history…

Diagonally to the left of the pump is a pub called … The John Snow! Yay! The three of us ate a delicious lunch there, and were pleased to see that there is information in the pub about its namesake:

The John Snow Pub


Things like this are exactly why I love London… I had no idea that such a place existed or knew of the 1854 cholera epidemic prior to completing my work for this class. But London is so chock full of history that you could explore forever and undoubtedly still not learn its entire background and uncover its secrets…

But before I speak TOO highly of London’s offerings, let me just say, Happy 4th of July!!

Now it’s time to go explore more of what this amazingly endless city has to offer…

Stay safe and have fun,