Happy Birthday, Dr Snow – and thank you

Commemorative pump in Brewer Street, Soho - picture courtesy of Helen RogersIn 2011 Westminster Archives received grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Thames Water to look at Westminster’s key role in the story of Cholera in the capital.

The grant came in a year which marked 120 years since the death of Joseph Bazalgette, who made an enduring impact on the city in the shape of the Embankment. This, together with the pumping stations at Beckton and Crossness to the east of London, formed part of his revolutionary sewage system that helped to solve the problem of London’s putrid water supply.

This problem had been laid bare in 1854 when Dr John Snow’s research into the outbreak of Cholera in Broad Street, Soho, led to him to pinpoint London’s polluted water as the source of the killer disease. Today, 15 March, marks the 200th birthday of Dr Snow – you can read more about him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number)

Westminster Archives created a website which showcased the outcomes of the project. Known simply as Cholera and the Thames, it gives users access to some of our hidden archives which together relate a very dramatic story. The website content was entirely created by Westminster Archives volunteers, who were trained to conserve, handle, scan and write material for the site.

Cholera and the Thames website

We worked closely with undergraduates at Westminster University to develop a computer game based around the story of Dr John Snow and the Soho pump.  We also developed a film made at family animation workshops at the Mayor’s Thames Festival (September 2011) and with children at Soho Parish, whose school lay close to the site of the famous pump in Broad Street (now Broadwick Street). The animation reworked Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ to tell the story of the past, present and future of Old Father Thames. It also allowed us to utilise our extensive collections of prints and paintings.

If you visit the site you will also see how one of our young volunteers,  student animator Andrew Kinnear, brought to life one of the prints he found in the collections at Westminster Reference Library called ‘The Water that John Drinks’.  These films together with the computer game helped the Cholera and the Thames website achieve the highest number of internet hits of any of our stable of websites.  Why don’t you take a look yourself?

[Peter]

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