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)

Located on the corner of Broadwick and Lexington Streets in Soho, this pub is named for the man who, through his meticulous research, was able to show that London’s cholera epidemic of 1854 was the result of a contaminated water supply.

A physician then working in London, John Snow didn’t believe in the current theory that diseases such as cholera were caused by bad air and instead, through a study looking at where those affected by the disease in 1854 lived and obtained their water, was able to pinpoint a water pump in what was then Broad Street (the ‘wick’ wasn’t added to the street’s name until the 1930s) as the original source.

The pump, which initially apparently stood just outside the pub, is now located down the street. A pink granite curbstone outside the side door of the John Snow pub and plaque on the pub wall mark where the pump formerly stood.

The building housing the pub dates from the 1870s and the pub was apparently initially called the Newcastle-upon-Tyne but this was formally changed to John Snow in May, 1955, to mark the centenary of Snow’s research into the 1854 epidemic.

For a terrific book about John Snow’s work, see Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks.