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.
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.
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.