We have a Victorian Water Pump in our History of Medicine Collection.
Victorian houses did not have running water and toilets. Up to 100 houses might share an outdoor pump to get their water. The water from the pump was often polluted.
In 1854, there was a cholera outbreak in London, and many people became ill and died. John Snow was an anaesthetist and physican who had studied cholera in South London in 1848-9. He developed the theory that the disease was linked with drinking polluted water. At first, medical professionals and the public were reluctant to accept this idea, so he spoke to locals and used hospital and public records to gather data. He wrote:
“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 of cholera, I suspected some contamination of the water of the much-frequented street-pump in Broad Street.”
He plotted cholera cases against a geographical grid, creating an informational chart to prove his point.. He eventually convinced the Soho Parish Council to remove the pump’s handle, which prevented further use of water from the pump.
Listen to Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive of WaterAid UK, talk about the water pump here: