Located at White Hart Dock on Albert Embankment in Lambeth is a plaque with a rather lengthy inscription commemorating residents who died in the cholera epidemic of 1848-49.

More than 1,500 inhabitants of this waterfront district died in the outbreak first reported in September, 1848. The River Thames was believed the cause – with people drinking the river water due to lack of alternatives – and the absence of sanitation in the area and close living conditions were seen as exacerbating factors.

The plaque records that the first victim was recorded as John Murphy, a 22-year-old unemployed labourer who lived at of 26 Lower Fore Street. He fell ill on 30 September, 1848, and died the following morning.

The inscription also states that at least 1,618 Lambeth waterfront residents perished in the outbreak and and were buried in unmarked graves in the burial ground in Lambeth High Street, now the Lambeth Recreation Ground. However, the plaque adds that “it is likely many victims were unrecorded and the death toll was much higher.”

The plaque also features the text of a letter to the editor written concerning the cholera outbreak which had waned by autumn 1849.

The plaque, the text of which was written by Amanda J Thomas – author of two books on the subject of cholera in the Victorian era, was erected on a public artwork commemorating the former White Hart Dock in 2010.

PICTURE: White Hart Dock with the plaque on the right-hand side (via Google Maps).

While there are plague columns and crosses commemorating those who died in plagues during the Middle Ages in other parts of the UK and Europe, London oddly doesn’t have a grand monument. But there are some smaller monuments to be found for those who really look.

A poignant one to just a few of the thousands who died in London of the “Black Death” (a particularly severe form of bubonic plague) between 1348 and early 1350s can be found in Westminster Abbey’s cloisters.

A large black marble stone set in the floor, it is inscribed with a statement recording that, according to the Victorian-era Dean, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the remains of 26 monks of Westminster who died in the Black Death of 1348 lie beneath it.

But the story isn’t so simple. The original stone – which had indeed been put in place by Dean Stanley with the inscription “Beneath this stone are supposed to be interred twenty six monks of Westminster who died of the Black Death in 1348” – was lifted to be recut in 1972 and it was found that there were, in fact, no bones beneath it – just one coffin which belonged to a Henrietta Pulteney who died in 1808.

It has been suggested that the bones may have been moved when new pipework was laid in the cloister in the 1750s and that the bones may have been reburied in the cloister garth (the grassed area at the centre of the cloister ‘courtyard’) due to the fact that a number of skeletons had been found here in the 19th century.

The current inscription – “Dean Stanley records that beneath this stone are interred twenty-six monks of Westminster who died in the Black Death in 1348” – was added in the 1970s.

Interestingly, there is another plague victim buried nearby – Abbot Simon de Bircheston, who only held the post for five years before he died during the Black Death in 1349, was buried in the east cloister. His name and dates were cut on a white stone in 1922 but the original epitaph was apparently more elaborate, reading: “Simon de Bircheston, venerable abbot, deservedly stands pre-eminent, with an everlasting name. Now, fortified by the prayers of the brethren, may he, with the kindly fathers, flourish in felicity before God”.

PICTURE: Kevan (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

 

With 2020 to be sadly remembered as the year of COVID-19 (and St Paul’s plans to commemorate those who have died in a permanent memorial in the cathedral), we thought we’d take a look memorials and monuments related to disease outbreaks of the past.

First up is a pump in Soho, a replica of the original Broad Street hand pump which lay at the centre of a cholera outbreak in 1854. Its commemorates the efforts of Dr John Snow, whose work in mapping the course of the outbreak lead to him identifying the pump as the source of the outbreak with the well beneath contaminated by human waste from an old cesspit.

The Yorkshire-born doctor’s work, which subsequently led him to have the pump handle removed and thus prevent further spread of the disease, was a breakthrough in preventing the spread of cholera by showing the source was contaminated water (many people had previously thought was spread through the air, the so-called “miasma theory”).

The replica pump was installed in what is now Broadwick Street, just outside The John Snow pub, in 1992 at the behest of the John Snow Society and Westminster Council. It was removed in 2015  as the area was redeveloped and was then re-installed – along with an explanatory plaque – in 2018.

It stands alongside a red granite block in the pavement which is said to mark the exact spot where the original pump was located (there’s another plaque mentioning that on the pub).

There’s also a blue plaque on the pub commemorating Snow’s work to determine cholera was a water-born disease which was erected by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2008.

PICTURE: The memorial pump with the John Snow pub behind and the Royal Society of Chemistry blue plaque (Matt Brown/licensed under CC BY 2.0)