The Aldgate Pump

It is easy to miss the Aldgate Pump. Indeed, many people who pass it take any notice of it. And yet, the venerable London antiquity is an important part of the history and the folklore of the East End of London.


Traditionally, the pump was the location at which the City of London became the East End of London, and the saying, “past Aldgate Pump” was once a well known expression that meant that somebody was about to leave the, relatively, safe, City and venture into a lawless and uncivilised quarter from which they might not return.

There was even an expression, “a draft on the Aldgate Pump” which referred to a worthless bank note or cheque.


There is no definitive answer as to how old the pump actually is.

There is certainly a mention of a well being around here in the reign of King John, so we can at least ascertain that some sort of water source existed here by the 13th century.

John Stow, in his 1598 Survey Of London, makes mention of a pump having been placed over the well.


In the 18th century, the pump was rebuilt in Portland Stone, and much of that rebuild can still be admired today.

It is quite difficlut to glean any hard information about the pump. It was, after all, an everyday item to most people, I mean, let’s be honest, how often do you feel moved to tell people about your taps at home?

People simply drew water from it, and, since that was about the most exciting thing they did with it, they felt no real need to comment on it further.

However, it was a well knwon landmark. So much so that, in small ads in newspapers, businesses actually advertised their locations by their proximity to it, and “near to” or “opposite” the Aldgate Pump frequently appeared in the place of addresses in newspaper adverts.

The Aldgate Pump shown at night.
The Aldgate Pump At Night.


There is an oft repeated story that, at some stage in the 1860s or 1870s, the pump became the source of an outbreak of cholera that killed hundreds if not thousands of people who drank water from it.

According to many websites, as a result of the outbreak of cholera, the pump became known as “the pump of death.”

It’s a great story, and, indeed, this article started as an article about its “pump of death” status.

The only problem was, as I delved into the records – as opposed to just doing a quick search on google – I could find no mention of an Aldgate Pump epidemic, nor of any reference to its being known as “the pump of death”, other than on websites that, evidently, all shared a common source.

Eventually, I discovered the first mention of the Aldgate Pump Epidemic was in a website article written in 2003, and the first mention of its “pump of death” status was in a website article written in 2010.


However, the was most certainly a cholera epidemic in 1866, and the highest death toll was most certainly in the East End of London.

But then, William Farr, traced the source of the epidemic to the River Lea, into which the sewage from Hertford and Ware was being pumped, and from which the East London Water Company was drawing its water.

So, although a cholera epidemic did hit the East End of London, it was never traced to the Aldgate Pump, meaning that the s0-called Aldgate Pump Epidemic never occurred.


The cholera epidemic did lead officialdom to take a closer look at London’s water supply, and water from the pump was analysed.

The findings weren’t encouraging.

They found traces of sewage and “organic matter” that had come from the bodies of former citizens who had been buried in the City’s churchyards in the water supply.

As a result of the stomach-churning discoveries, the supply for the pump was changed to the cleaner supply from the New River Company, and soon, people were, once again, slaking their thirsts at the far-famed pump.


During the 20th century, more and more houses and offices were connected to the water mains, and, in consequence, the need for water pumps declined.

Soon, the pump ran dry, and no longer could people come to enjoy its waters.

It was given grade two listed status in 1952, and it was spruced up in 2019.

Today it is a fascinating relic of bygone London, albeit, it must be said that not that many people notice it, and most passers-by opt to ignore it.


But, at least, you now know its there. So, the next time you make your way from the City of London to Aldgate, be sure to check out the venerable London antiquity that is the Aldgate Pump.