Outbreak of 1853-1854

Cholera broke out many times in London throughout the 1800s, claiming the lives of tens of thousands of people. 19th-century London was very unsanitary, having cow-sheds, animal feces, slaughterhouses and inefficient sewers. Having such a great amount of festering unsanitary locations was the perfect environment for cholera to grow. Outbreaks occurring in 1853 affected the areas of Newcastle and Gateshead and into London as well, “where a total of 10,675 people died from the disease” and infecting many more. This was one of the worst outbreaks London encountered. In 1854 another outbreak of the deadly disease found its way to Southwark, Lambeth, and Soho. Late August of that year had seen only a few isolated cases of cholera, until the night of the 31st. It was called “the most terrible outbreak of cholera which ever occurred in the kingdom” by a doctor named John Snow who was present during the outbreak. Violent and sudden, the disease claimed the lives of 127 people in 3 days. By September 10th, over 500 people had died from the quick outbreak of cholera.

Adding to the devastation of the disease, was the lack of preparation from the authorities. They were caught off guard by the speed of the diseases and many of the doctors working to cure it disagreed on how to deal with the cholera outbreak. Urban Londoners also did not trust the medical profession, which therefore caused many more people to die due to lack of medical treatment. The lack of cooperation between authorities and the inefficiency in curing the disease, caused panic and then several cholera riots in the country. However it was John Snow who discovered that the disease was spread in the contaminated water and not air. He traced the start of the 1854 outbreak to a single water pump near Broad Street in the Soho district of London. Cholera claimed the lives of tens of thousands of England residents throughout the 1800s. The outbreaks of 1853 and 1854 were some of the worst that London ever had seen.

Written by Tyler Duke


Broad Street Pump Outbreak

L0072150 Report on the cholera outbreak in the Parish of St. James...
Report on the cholera outbreak in the Parish of St. James, Westminster, during the autumn of 1854 / presented to the vestry by the Cholera Inquiry Committee, July 1855. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.