by Ben Johnson
At the junction of Aldgate High Street, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street stands a historic water pump. The pump itself dates from 1876, standing slightly west to the site of an ancient well that stood before it. Although it is unclear how long the site has been used as a well, it was first mentioned in John Stow’s 1598 survey of London.
The pump is perhaps most famous for the Aldgate Pump Epidemic, where several hundred people died as a result of drinking polluted water. At first people started complaining of a foul taste in the water that came out of the fountain.
Following an investigation by the Medical Offer of Health for the City it was found that the water that fed the fountain had been drained all the way from Hampstead in North West London, and during its passage underwater had drained through numerous new graveyards. As the water had passed through the graveyards, the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies began to leach into the water supply. The pump was subsequently closed and reconnected to the New River Company’s supply in 1876.
As a couple of side notes, the pump is also famous for marking the point from which distances were once measured into the counties of Essex and Middlesex. It also marked the symbolic start of the East End, as well as reputedly marking the spot where the last wolf was shot in the City of London (there is a plaque of a wolf head on the pump to signify the fact).
Aldgate Pump – circa 1905