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Descendants of pioneering 19th Century York doctor who beat cholera to unveil memorial

Posted on 9 March 2017

A memorial is to be unveiled next week in honour of the pioneering York doctor who identified that cholera is a waterborne disease.


Pioneering York doctor, John Snow

Dr John Snow is considered one of the fathers of modern epidemiology, in part because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho, London, in 1854. 

The only recognition of his achievements in his home town of York is a small blue plaque in North Street – noting that Dr Snow was born there.

Fitting memorial 

An initiative, led by York Civic Trust, York Medical Society and the University of York, is ensuring that York has a more fitting memorial in North Street Gardens.

Descendants of Dr Snow, including his great-great-nephew, Geoff Snow, will attend the unveiling of a new memorial,  a Victorian water pump, on 15 March.

The water pump, with its handle removed, signifies the event in London in 1854 when Dr Snow persuaded the authorities to remove the handle from the street pump he was convinced was the source of the cholera epidemic.

Also attending the event is Dr Stephanie Snow, a historian who did her PhD thesis on the life and work of John Snow, and who is married to Geoff Snow’s son.  

Dr Snow was a sceptic of the then dominant theory that diseases such as cholera were caused by “miasma” or a noxious form of "bad air".

By mapping the addresses of those who died and talking to local residents, he identified the source of the outbreak as the public water pump in one of the local streets - and enabled him to persuade the local council to disable the well pump by removing its handle. This action has been commonly credited as ending the outbreak.


The Victorian water pump to commemorate Dr John Snow

Unsung hero

The memorial project has been a collaboration between York Civic Trust, York Medical Society and the University of York, with support from the City of York Council, York Hospital and Yorkshire Water. 

Professor Hilary Graham, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, who helped to spearhead the memorial project, said: “More than 200 years since his birth, York will finally have a memorial to commemorate the life and work of John Snow, the city's unsung hero.

“It has been a very exciting project, and I have nothing but admiration for everyone who has been involved in making sure York has a fitting memorial to honour such a brilliant scientist.”

David Fraser, Chief Executive of York Civic Trust, added: “John Snow is one of the most important people our city has ever produced— his work has had profound implications on a global scale. 

“I do hope that when young people see his memorial as they pass by the gardens in North Street close to his birthplace, they will see John Snow as an inspiration to be followed.  It really is possible for a person of ordinary background to change the world for the better.”

Further information:

  • You are invited to send a reporter/photographer to the event at 2.15pm, 15 March, North Street Gardens, York, YO1 6JD  To confirm attendance please contact Alistair.keely@york.ac.uk or call 01904 322153.
  • Pictures of the pump being installed and of Dr John Snow available on request.

Media enquiries

Alistair Keely
Head of Media Relations

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153