Cholera has been all-but-absent in London for beyond living memory. That achievement has its almost literal wellspring in one man: Dr John Snow. The 200th anniversary of his birth takes place on 15 March this year, and several events have been arranged to remember the good doctor.
The story has been told many times, most thoroughly in Steven Johnson’s book The Ghost Map and Sandra Hempel’s The Medical Detective. In brief (and somewhat simplified), Snow plotted the locations of Soho’s 1854 cholera epidemic on a map, and noticed a significant cluster around the local water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). He disabled the pump, and fewer people died. This and other observations helped him arrive at the conclusion that cholera is a water-borne disease (in this case caused be pooish contamination), and not spread through the air as previously thought. His idea took some time to catch on, but this early experiment in epidemiology eventually led to the conquest of the disease in developed countries.
You can follow in the footsteps of Snow on a series of guided walks led by Richard Barnett, author of Medical London. The walks will take in the familiar landmarks, such as the Soho pub named after John Snow, and the nearby replica water pump. They take place on 10, 13 and 20 March, and are totally free. Just prebook via Wellcome Collection.
The Snow anniversary will also be marked by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The free Cartographies of Life & Death exhibition opens at the Bloomsbury school on 13 March and runs through till 17 April, Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm. And it sounds pretty intriguing…
Historical treasures and newly commissioned artworks inspired by science will be found both in and around the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Presented in the style of a disease mapping ‘detective’ trail, exhibition highlights will include a pop-up water bar, weekly street performances, and disease maps from the School’s archives showing how scientists have tracked disease outbreaks around the world from the early 1900s to the present day.