The pump is notable for its long, and sometimes dark history, as well as 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.
Aldgate Pump is a Grade II listed structure. The metal wolf head on the pump's spout is supposed to signify the last wolf shot in the City of London.
Historic photographs show that the pump was formerly surmounted by an ornate lantern. The pump can no longer be used to draw water, but a drainage grating is still in place.
As a well, it was mentioned during the reign of King John in the early 1200s.
A structure is shown on Braun and Hogenburg's map of 1574, and shown as St Michael’s Well on the Agas map of 1633. John Stow recalled the execution of the Bailiff of Romford on a gibbet ‘near the well within Aldgate’. This execution seems to have been carried out on the dubious basis that he was involved in Kett's Rebellion of 1549.
Served by one of London's many underground streams, the water was praised for being "bright, sparkling, and cool, and of an agreeable taste". These qualities were later found to be derived from decaying organic matter from adjoining graveyards, and the leaching of calcium from the bones of the dead in many new cemeteries in north London through which the stream ran from Hampstead. Several hundred people died during what became known as the Aldgate Pump Epidemic, and on its relocation in 1876, the New River Company changed the supplies to mains water.
Fenchurch Street railway station was built in 1841 upon the site of Aldgate Pump Court.
As the City of London developed, it is thought to have been taken down and moved a short distance to the west, to its current location in 1876, as a result of road widening.
The line of the former eastern walls and gates of the City are taken as the usual start point of the East End, but the pump lies just inside site of the former Aldgate. The pump is a suitable symbolic start point for several reasons:
- The removal of the gate and associated walls in the late 18th century gave the pump added significance.
- The social importance of pumps as meeting places
- The pump marks the start of the A11 road towards Norwich and distances to locations in the Tower Division of Middlesex, Essex and East Anglia were measured from here.
East of Aldgate Pump is a term used to apply to the East End or East London as a whole. It is also used in two phrases which seem to hark back to the epidemic:
- As Cockney Rhyming Slang; Aldgate Pump, or just Aldgate for short, rhymes with “get (or take) the hump”, i.e. to be annoyed.
- A draft on Aldgate Pump refers to a harmful, worthless or fraudulent financial transaction, such as a bouncing cheque. The pun is on a draught (or draft) of water and a draft of money.
Music, TV and Literature
Charles Dickens refers to the pump in the Uncommercial Traveller, published in 1860. “My day’s no-business beckoning me to the East End of London. I had turned my face to that point of the metropolitan compass…and had got past Aldgate Pump”
- Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1064733)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 September 2009.
- "The English-speaking World: Incorporating the Landmark". English-Speaking Union. 29 April 1932 – via Google Books.
- Aldermary Churchyard – Aldgate Ward, A Dictionary of London (1918). accessed 14 September 2009
- The London Encyclopaedia, Weinreb and Hibbert
- Romford Recorder article looking at the execution https://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/heritage/romford-history-shock-as-bailiff-was-hanged-under-martial-law-1-5116417
- Britain), Institution of Civil Engineers (Great (29 April 1868). "Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers". The Institution – via Google Books.
- "Aldgate Pump. Part of the Secret London series by Historic UK". Historic UK.
- Aldgate Ward School – All Hallows Garschirch, Gracechurch, Grascherch, in Gracioustreete, A Dictionary of London (1918). accessed 14 September 2009
- Brewers dictionary of phrase and fable ) https://www.bartleby.com/81/5319.html
- The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter 3, Wapping Workhouse
- Arthur Lloyd's "Aldgate pump" (Arthur Lloyd music hall history) accessed 14 September 2009
- Hoping to find the original source http://spitalfieldslife.com/2019/07/11/at-aldgate-pump/