the early evening when walking East along the short few blocks of Broadwick Street in
the Soho region of London, a pump and public house (or pub) suddenly
The pump with no handle is a replica of the famous Broad Street pump. "Wick" was added to Broad in 1936 to distinguish this short road from other London streets identically named as Broad Street.
At the base of the pump is a commemorative plaque with the date of unveiling (July 28, 1992) and the pump's significance (It marks a pioneering example of medical research in the service of public health).
The John Snow pub is visible in the background, a few steps further along the road at the corner of Broadwick Street and Lexington Street. During the day it is easier to see. When lights come on in the early afternoon, they bring luster to the John Snow markings (click for enlarged view) . A picture of John Snow is on the sign board (click for enlarged view) above the right rear of the pub.
When entering the front door, the scene is of an ordinary pub, older than many but still functioning in a timeless manner as a seller of ale. The stairs at the rear of the pub lead to the John Snow room on the second floor where memories of the pub's namesake are recorded for those given permission to enter.
On one wall of the upstairs room is a description of John Snow and the importance of his actions with the Broad Street pump. Also included are several narrative frames which briefly present his seminal work in epidemiology and anesthesiology.
Another wall devotes all its space to the now classic portrait of John Snow which is seen in various forms in most settings that comment on his work.
THE ORIGINAL PUMP SITE
During the mid-1800s, the Broad Street pump was located at the corner of Broad and Cambridge, later changed to Broadwick Street and Lexington Street. The original pump was situated within a long-step on Broadwick Street of what is now the side door (click for larger view) of the John Snow pub. The location is currently marked with a pink granite curbstone (click for larger view).
A small plaque (click for larger view) can be seen on the outside wall of the pub, just above the potted plant. It identifies in plain language the importance of this historic site.
HISTORY OF THE PUB
The building housing the John Snow pub was built in the 1870s and was originally called the "Newcastle-upon-Tyne." Although John Snow was apprenticed in 1827 to a Newcastle-upon-Tyne surgeon, William Hardcastle, there is no evidence that the previous name of the inn was other than fortuitous.
In May 1955, on the occasion of the centenary of John Snow's researches into the causes of the cholera epidemic of 1854, its name was changed to the John Snow.
The new inn-sign was unveiled by Sir Austin Bradford-Hill, then President of the Section of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine of the Royal Society of Medicine.
If John Snow was alive today, he likely would not sip beer in the John Snow pub, being a long-term abstainer from the consumption of alcohol. Yet others appreciate the memories which the pub invokes, as is evident in the following short article published in more recent times in The Lancet.
A DOCTOR'S PUB (by T. Raju)
A short walk from London's Piccadilly Circus underground station to the intersection of Broadwick Street and Lexington Street leads to a public house that has a unique medical history connection. It was here some 145 years ago that an important discovery took place.
John Snow (1813-58), the London doctor of obstetric anaesthesia fame, was also an expert in epidemiology with an abiding interest in the study of cholera. During the severe cholera outbreak in 1854 in London, he analysed the geography of water supply and mortality patterns in Soho. There was a disproportionate number of cholera cases in houses supplied by one water company, with nearly 500 cases within a few blocks of a single water pump alone on Broad Street. This pump drew water from the heavily contaminated urban stretch of the Thames as well as a nearby well. Snow found a sewer pipe within a few feet of the well and reasoned that the pipe was contaminating the well and the pump water. The epidemic had started in August, 1854, and the pump handle was removed on Sept 8, but there is much debate about whether its removal halted the epidemic, which had already begun to wane. 6 weeks later the pump was back in use. Nonetheless, this temporary removal has since been hailed as one of the first public-health interventions of the modern era.
But, why a pub now? Over the years urbanisation brought new buildings and new restaurants to Soho. A pub (Railway) was built near the site where once stood the well. In 1954, the pub was re-named the John Snow, where a plaque hangs in recognition of Snow's discovery. The irony is that it seems that Snow, a shy and quiet English gentleman, was strictly teetotal.
Howat, DDC. Anaesthesia 28(4), 430-34, 1973.
J of History of Medicine 14(4), 524-26, 1959.
Raju, T. The Lancet 350 (9094), 20 Dec 1997