This pump on the bad side of Victorian London betrayed a horrifying revelation about the water supply.
There is evidence of a well existing at Aldgate since the reign of King John in the 13th century, but the pump was installed sometime in the 19th century. Water fountains such as these were constructed around London as a health and hygiene effort so that all Londoners had access to clean water. The outcome of the Aldgate Pump was exactly the opposite.
East Londoners were proud of the Aldgate Pump, the water from which was said to be calcium and mineral rich. The wolf-shaped spigot was said to commemorate the last wild wolf killed in the city. In 1876 people began to complain the pump water “tasted funny,” and that there were more chunky solids than usual in it.
A test of the water found that since the stream that fed it ran beneath several cemeteries in North London, sewage and human remains had found their way into the water supply. The high calcium levels were a result of the bone matter that appeared in the water.
The story circulated as further evidence of the destitute state of the East End. The pump was shut down, reopened as a drinking fountain for a few years after the main had been redirected, and then cut off from water entirely in the 20th century. The lore surrounding the Aldgate Pump made it a popular landmark both then and now, with folk songs, stories, and slang referencing it—”Aldgate Pump” was a popular pub ditty about a promiscuous lover, and a check that bounced was said to be “drafted on Aldgate Pump.”
This epidemic wasn’t nearly as famous as the Broad Street Pump cholera epidemic, and as such, there is little indication the Aldgate Pump has such a grim past. The wolf-headed pump still stands as a reminder of East London’s not-so-distant macabre reputation.
Know Before You Go
Nearest stations are Fenchurch Street Station or Aldgate Station. It's at the junction of Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street.
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