Life in London in the 19th century

Piccadilly Circus, London, England between 1890 and 1900
Piccadilly Circus, London, England between 1890 and 1900

The last time you brushed your teeth, watered your plants or poured yourself a nice glass of cold tap water, did you stop for a moment to think you had instant access to clean water? safe? To understand how this marvel was created, you have to go back to the beginning of the 19th century in London.

Progress makes perfect even in London

At that time, the streets of London were full of trash and excrement, and the city’s rivers were heavily polluted. All this filth and misery was not just a nuisance to the nostrils of Londoners. It was downright deadly.

Cholera outbreaks in London

The contaminated rivers were particularly dangerous. For example, between 1848 and 1854, several cases of cholera broke out in London, killing thousands. No one knew what caused it.

But there was a sudden medical breakthrough. A medical doctor, Dr. John Snow (no connection to the popular series) was mapping the spread of the disease through the city, he realized that one of the sources of the outbreak was a water utility company that was distributing the water collected downstream of the outlets. He understood that to stop the spread of cholera one had to improve the water supply.

A revolution in water management

Snow’s discovery led to a revolution in sanitation. Soon after, sophisticated clean water systems were introduced, followed by filtration and chlorination. With each of these improvements, water quality and safety have improved.

Extract and free translation: Progress by Johan Norberg

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