Home > Travel > Travel: London curiosity – Broadwick Street and the birth of epidemiology

Travel: London curiosity – Broadwick Street and the birth of epidemiology

In the picture: the small historical pump of Broadwick Street Source: samfrecchiero.wordpress.com

Every city hides strange and unusual stories – sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are dramatic, and sometimes they have a huge historic importance.

Broadwick Street (previously named Broad Street) is a small road in London, situated around Carnaby Street in the Borough of Soho.

Unlike its neighbour this road is not so famous and important, but in the central part there is an old water-pump, located on eight-sided cement platform, which has an enormous scientific value.

The story begins in the Nineteenth century, when a big amount of people poured into London to get job and new opportunities.

Soho became overpopulated, and the basic sanitary services were not sufficient – the authorities decided to get rid of waste by throwing them in the Thames River, contaminating the water supply.

In 1854 the city was scene of a terrible cholera epidemic, in which almost 127 people living in this zone died.

John Snow, a York doctor working in London, started studying the event – sceptic of the predominant medical vision based on the theory of “bad air” (miasma) – he used a new approach, which depended on the ability of diseases, such as Black Death or cholera, to be transmitted by germ contamination.

In one year, he gathered an impressive quantity of data, and, with the help of Reverend Henry Whitehead, he could contact and interview people living in this road.

After this preliminary investigation, he could create an accurate map of the outbreaks of cholera, and the result of his report was surprising – the epidemic was not spread by air, as the majority of doctors claimed, but by the water coming from the Broadwick Street pump.

Besides, subsequently it was discovered that this well was dug near an old cesspit, which had infected the water further.

This analysis obliged the authorities to dismantle the pump, and to provide safe solutions for getting rid of waste.

The accuracy of the analysis earned John Snow the mention as father of the science of epidemiology.

Nowadays the original pump does not exist anymore, and in 1992 the authorities set up a copy to celebrate the fundamental discovery of this doctor coming from York.

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