A plaque was placed in 2010 near London's River Thames remembering the cholera epidemic of 1848-49. The narrative was written by Amanda J. Thomas, author of a well-known book on the Lambeth cholera epidemic of 1848-49. In addition to the Lambeth scourge, the plaque mentions the work of Dr. John Snow, who wrote of the Lambeth cases in part three of his 1855 book, On the Mode of Communication of Cholera.

The New Plaque

Where the New Plaque would have been in 1846 map of London

In an 1846 map of London, the plaque would have been located at the base of Broad Street by White Hart Stairs, a few blocks South of the Lambeth Palace. Notice that White Hart Stairs is the dividing point between two sections of Fore Street. It was at 26 Lower Fore Street that the first cholera case in the Lambeth area, 22-year old John Murphy, showed symptoms on September 30, 1848 before dying the next day (see above plaque for details).

The Third London Cholera Case of 1848

While John Murphy is now remembered in the new plaque for his cholera death in the Lambeth neighborhood, the 1848 cholera epidemic actually started elsewhere in London. Murphy was the third cholera case in London during the 1848 epidemic. As John Snow described in his 1855 book, "The first case of decided Asiatic cholera in London, in the autumn of 1848, was that of a seaman named John Harnold, who had newly arrived by the Elbe steamer from Hamburgh [Germany], where the disease was prevailing. He left the vessel, and went to live at No. 8, New Lane, Gainsford Street, Horsleydown. He was seized with cholera on the 22nd of September, and died in a few hours."

Snow went on to state, "Dr. Parkes, who made an inquiry into the early cases of cholera, on behalf of the then Board of Health, considered this as the first undoubted case of cholera."

The second case of cholera in London in 1848, occurred in the same room in which John Harnold, the above patient, had died.

The third case, identified in the new plaque as John Murphy was described by Snow, but without a name, "In the evening of the day on which the second case occurred in Horsleydown, a man was taken ill in Lower Fore Street, Lambeth, and died on the following morning." Snow continued to write, "Now, the people in Lower Fore Street, Lambeth, obtained their water by dipping a pail into the Thames, there being no other supply in the street." It is likely that this practice brought the cholera organism from the River Thames to John Murphy, and lead to his demise.

Continuation of Cholera Epidemic in Lambeth in 1849

More on cholera in Lambeth in 1849 was written by Snow in his 1855 book, describing his personal field observations. "When the epidemic revived again in the summer of 1849, the first case in the sub-district 'Lambeth; Church, 1st part,' was in Lower Fore Street, on June 27th; and on the commencement of the epidemic of the present year, the first case of cholera in any part of Lambeth, and one of the earliest in London, occurred at 52, Upper Fore Street, where also the people had no water except what they obtained from the Thames with a pail, as I ascertained by calling at the house."

Snow went on to write, " Many of the earlier cases this year occurred in persons employed amongst the shipping in the river, and the earliest cases in Wandswroth and Battersea have generally been amongst persons getting water direct from the Thames, or from streams up which the Thames flows with the tide. It is quite in accordance with what might be expected from the propagation of cholera through the medium of the Thames water, that it should generally affect those who draw it directly from the river somewhat sooner than those who receive it by the more circuitous route of the pipes of a water company."

Location in 2011 of The New Plaque

The new Lambeth cholera plaque is located near the east bank of the RiverThames, and is shown with a red circle. The Lambeth Palace is off a few blocks to the North (i.e., left). The cross streets by the location of the new Cholera Plaque are Albert Embankment and Black Prince Road. The large building facing the river just above the words "Albert Embankment" is the London Fire Brigade Headquarters.

The next photo is taken on Black Prince Road by the side of the London Fire Brigate Headquarters looking South (i.e., right). The plaque is located on the brick post at the right. Funding for the plaque was provided by Planning Gain, a financial requirement of developers and builders to put money into cleaning up the walls of the dock, adding artistic improvement to the waterfront region, and promoting awareness of London's history.

Acknowledgement: the photographs and awareness of the new plaque were kindly provided by Adrian Prockter, a London photographer, historical guide, and volume editor of A to Z of Elizabethan London.

Sources:

Prockter A. Photographs and description of plaque location, 2011.

Snow J. On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, 1855.

Thomas AJ. Commissioned author of The Lambeth Cholera Epidemic plaque, personal communication, 2014. Thomas AJ. The Lambeth Cholera Epidemic of 1848-1849 -- The Setting, Causes, Course and Aftermath of an Epidemic in London. McFarland and Co, North Carolina, USA 2010.

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