‘The water began to taste strange, and it was found to contain liquid human remains which had seeped into the underground stream from cemeteries.’

The Aldgate pump at the junction of Aldgate High Street, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, is notable for its long and sometimes dark history. And its cultural significance as a symbolic start point of the East End of London. The term ‘East of Aldgate Pump’ is used as a synonym for the East End or for East London as a whole.

In ‘The Uncommercial Traveller,’ Charles Dickens wrote, ‘My day’s business beckoned me to the East End of London; I had turned my face to that part of the compass… and had got past Aldgate Pump.’

The Pump is a Grade II listed structure. The metal wolf’s head on the pump’s spout is to signify the last wolf shot in the City of London.

The pump can no longer be used to draw water, but a drainage grating is still in place. It used to have a gas lamp on the top, but that has long since vanished, possibly in 1927 when a bus hit the pump and nearly destroyed it.

The pump has a gruesome past that gained it the nickname ‘Pump of Death.’ There was a period in the mid-1870s when the water became fouled and organic matter from the dead was being added to the water, which flowed in streams from as far away as Hampstead. The polluted organic matter killed several hundred people until an investigation by the Medical Offer of Health for the City closed the pump. 

Following the investigation, they found the water that fed the fountain had flowed all the way from Hampstead in North West London, and during its passage underwater had drained through many graveyards. As the water passed through the graveyards, the bacteria, germs and calcium from the decaying bodies leached into the water supply. The pump was subsequently closed and reconnected to the New River Company’s supply in 1876.

Maybe I will stick to bottled water!

I share a special love for London, both new and old. Basing most of my literature upon London and its unique gritty character.

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