Our intrepid shoe-leather epidemiologist is back with a new installment of Bloomsbury’s public health history.
Boot is delighted with the better walking weather – and congratulates the brave participants of the Squares and Pairs walk on 12 February, when umbrella-breaking rain and chilling winds made even the sturdy streets of Bloomsbury an assault course! It was also fun in a British kind of way. We’ll repeat this walk in a calmer season.
Meanwhile, the Snow and Soho tour on 13 March started in spring sunshine and finished in the welcoming night of Soho. This walk was a chance to complete the bicentenary year for Dr. John Snow (1813-1858) – just before the anniversary of his birthday (15 March). You can discover more about the 2013 bicentenary events at www.johnsnowsociety.org, and about the School’s dedicated John Snow 2013 exhibition at www.johnsnow.org.uk/mobile-map/.
The Snow tour focused on the famous 1854 cholera outbreak, but included tales of other Bloomsbury and Soho residents, such as The Lancet editor, Dr Thomas Wakley – who didn’t at first believe the theory of cholera spreading via sewage in drinking water – and the indomitable Mary Seacole, who gave treatment and solace to soldiers in the Crimean War, despite the disapproval of Florence Nightingale. There is no evidence that Nightingale met Dr Snow, but she nursed some of the cholera victims of 1854 before scooting off to Scutari. We also saw sites associated with the pioneer surgeon John Hunter, Karl Marx, Casanova, the botanist and explorer Joseph Banks and the cripplingly shy Henry Cavendish (who gave us the formula H2O).
The group heard the tale of how the location of Dr Snow’s home in Frith Street was confirmed, despite the erratic street numbering in London in his time. Boot agrees that blue plaques should be fully researched and it’s difficult and expensive to move them if more information emerges. You can read the story about how the mystery was solved in the free online Proceedings of the History of Anaesthesia Society (p.23), which includes other papers about Dr Snow.
Dr Snow now has only one blue plaque, although he lived at three addresses in London, but there is also a Royal Society of Chemistry plaque to him on the wall of the John Snow pub in Soho. This commemorates his contribution to dose-response research in chemistry. A London School recording of a ‘Snow tour’ made to celebrate the bicentenary is available here.
We hope to run another walk in April (watch this space or check the Centre for History in Public Health website) and two more for the summer term. Do join our entertaining guide, Ros Stanwell-Smith, for these, and don’t forget that walks are free as they are funded by the Wellcome Trust. Meanwhile, please send feedback, photos and ideas for walks to the Centre administrator, Ingrid James (Ingrid.firstname.lastname@example.org).
Post submitted by the Boot, the guide of the School’s history walks programme.
First image: Model of the pump in Broadwick St, with the John Snow Pub in the background. Credit: Ros Stanwell-Smith
The ‘Mediterranean island’ of Soho, on the wall mosaic in Broadwick St. Dr John Snow is just visible in the centre of the group of Soho notables – the man in a black suit behind the blue bonnet of the central figure.
All hands to the Snow pump: the end of the evening walk, Broadwick St. Credit: Nagi Sachiyo