Cholera in

Welcome to the Cholera and the Thames website put together by Westminster Archives with the help of interns and volunteers and thanks to a £47,100 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from our partners Thames Water, The John Snow Society and WaterAid.

About This Project

We hope that you enjoy discovering the fascinating story of London’s battle against cholera in the nineteenth century and the continuing battle being fought against it today. The website focuses on Westminster and how the work of three local men, Dr John Snow, Reverend Whitehead and Joseph Bazalgette, helped to ensure that twentieth century London was free of this killer disease.

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Featured Article

When cholera first arrived in London in 1832, it was thought to be spread by a "miasma” or bad smell in the atmosphere. The theory was supported by leading figures in public health at that time, like Edwin Chadwick and Florence Nightingale, who held sway over public opinion. By the time the cholera outbreak in Broad Street, Soho had finished 22 years later, Dr John Snow believed he had enough evidence to put forward an alternative theory; that cholera was a waterborne disease. The evidence he had compiled and presented to the St James Parish Vestry, (the body responsible for the health of the citizens of Soho) with the help of The Rev. Henry Whitehead seemed irrefutable. However the miasma theory held such a powerful grip over the establishment that higher levels of government refused to accept his conclusions. Snow was not to live to see the triumph of his ideas. He died in June 1858 at the height of what later became known as ‘The Great Stink.’ The hideous state of the River Thames finally forced the politicians to act on dealing with London’s polluted source of water. The man they chose to tackle what seemed an impossible problem was Joseph Bazalgette, whose sewage system helped lead to the final triumph over ‘King Cholera.’

These key stories in the history of Cholera happened in Westminster and we hope to bring these stories alive through the fantastic collections of Westminster Archives.

Bazalgette's foresight provided a sewage system that has served London well up to now. Today, however, the system is struggling to cope with the demands of 21st century London. This website will also look at this challenge through Thames Water’s plans for a revolutionary ‘super sewer’-The Thames Tunnel.

Sadly Cholera is still a major problem in many countries around the world, so we have joined forces with WaterAid and have included many fundraising ideas on how people can raise money for those still suffering the consequences of cholera.

Featured Animation


Featured Animation

  • 1817

    The first modern cholera pandemic. India, China, Japan, parts of Southeast Asia, much of the Middle East, Madagascar and the East African Coast were affected.

  • 1823

    The first cholera pandemic dies down in the Caucuses before reaching Europe.

  • 1826-37

    The second cholera pandemic breaks out starting in Russia, then moving to Poland and subsequently the rest of Europe, North Africa and the eastern seaboard of North America.

  • 1831

       First Cholera outbreak in England occurs in Sunderland.

  • 1831-32

         The first outbreaks of cholera in London: 6,536 die.

  • 1832

                           Board of Health set up

  • 1838

                      John Snow qualifies as a doctor.

  • 1842

    Edwin Chadwick publishes a report The Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population that makes a clear link between disease and living conditions.

  • 1848

    The Metropolitan Sewers Commission is created; for the first time it is required that house drains and cesspools be connected to the sewers.

  • 1848-49

                      The second outbreak of cholera in London: 14,137 die.

  • 1848

    Edwin Chadwick sped up a movement to do away with cesspools and flush sewers into the Thames.

  • 1849

    Albion Terrace Outbreak. The cholera outbreak that leads John Snow to publish his theory that cholera is water-borne in On the Mode of the Communication of Cholera.

  • Sept-1849

    William Budd claims that cholera is caused by a living organism or parasite that reproduces itself in large numbers when it reaches the gut. He further claims that water is the primary channel that the parasite enters the body.

  • 1849

    Bazalgette is appointed as the Assistant Surveyor to the Metropolitan Sewers.

  • Mar-1850

    London Epidemiological Society created to advise the government on ways to combat cholera and to examine the origin, propagation, mitigation and prevention of infectious diseases.

  • 1853-1854

    The third outbreak of cholera in London: 10,738 die. Committee for Scientific Enquiry denies Snow’s theory that cholera is water-borne.

  • 1853

    John Snow given a measure of official recognition for the first time by William Balay and William Gull.

  • 1854

    John Snow, with the help of Reverend Whitehead, begins his “Grand Experiment” to figure out the origins of cholera. It is now known as a classic study in epidemiology.

  • Aug-Sept-1854

    Soho Epidemic (Broad Street Outbreak). At least 600 died.

  • Aug-1854

    Politician Sir Benjamin Hall appointed medical inspectors to draft hygiene regulations to pressure the local parish authorities to clean up the streets.

  • Sept-1854

    St. James’s Vestry meeting where John Snow and Reverend Whitehead convince the vestry to take the handle off of the Broad Street Pump.

  • Jan-1855

    John Snow publishes a second edition of his 1849 pamphlet, establishing his definitive view on cholera—On the Mode of Communication of Cholera.

  • 1855

    Benjamin Hall introduced an Act of Parliament, which led to the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works.

  • 1855

    Faraday writes about the unsanitary condition of the River Thames to The Times; the Metropolitan Board of Works is created.

  • 1856

    Metropolitan Board of Works takes office; Bazalgette appointed as Chief Engineer (January); Bazalgette presents his sewage plan (June).

  • July-1858

    The Great Stink: Metropolis Management Amendment Act permits the commencement of Bazalgette’s work, Bazalgette proposes programme for street improvements.

  • June-1858

    Dr John Snow dies without recognition for his great work in discovering the source of cholera.

  • 1859

    The beginning of work on Bazalgette’s sewage system.

  • 1866

    The third outbreak of cholera hits the east end of London, an area of town which was not connected to Bazalgette’s system; the rest of the city is unaffected by the outbreak; Snow’s water-borne theory begins to become more widely acknowledged.

  • 1866

    Rev.Whitehead responds to the call from among the clergy to help with the East London cholera outbreak.

  • 1868

    Louis Pasteur provides the first clear evidence of the germ theory of disease by proving that a tiny parasite was responsible for a disease that was devastating the French silk worm population.

  • 1875

    Joseph Bazalgette’s sewage system completed

  • 1876

    Robert Koch discovered the first bacterium demonstrated to cause disease—B. anthracis, the bacterium responsible for anthrax.

  • 1883

    Robert Koch discovered that a comma shaped bacterium called the Vibrio cholerae was responsible for cholera in human beings.

  • 1887

    Sewage dumping in the Thames ends; dumping at sea begins.

  • Mar-1891

    Sir Joseph Bazalgette dies aged 1871.

  • 1892

    Cholera epidemic in Hamburg; Bazalgette’s system saves London from this epidemic.

  • 1902

    London’s water supply is taken over by the London County Council. Previously the water was supplied by eight water companies, only five of which filtered the water.