Friday, April 13, 2018

The Modern Plague of London

In 1886 the National Temperance Publication Depot published a map of London pubs "as specified in the London Directory". The Modern Plague of London map shows the location of London pubs as listed in the directory. To create the map the National Temperance Publication Depot simply added a red dot for every London pub to a print of Bacon's Map of London & Suburbs.

The map owes an obvious debt to John Snow's map of cholera victims in Soho during the 1854 cholera outbreak. By plotting the homes of cholera victims on a map Snow was able to identify a water pump in Broad Street as the cause of all the cases of cholera. Snow's map essentially proved that cholera was spread by contaminated water and disproved the prevailing miasma theory, which believed that diseases like cholera were caused by bad air.

By plotting all of the pubs in London the National Temperance Publication Depot presumably intended to identify all the contaminated sources of alcoholism in London. Unfortunately for the temperance movement the map wasn't particularly successful in achieving its aim of eradicating the modern plague of London. Previous attempts to limit Londoner's access to their pubs had proven spectacularly unsuccessful. For example the Sale of Beer Act in 1854, which restricted Sunday opening hours, had to be repealed after widespread rioting. It was unlikely then that a simple map of London pubs was going to be enough to stop people drinking alcohol in London.

However the map is very successful in visualizing the huge number of pubs in Victorian London. The highest resolution image of the map that I can find online was published by the Telegraph (accompanying this article). If you examine the map you can find lots of streets where every other building appears to be a public house. If you already believed that alcohol was a scourge on the general population then the National Temperance Publication Depot's map of the Modern Plague of London would be very likely to confirm your beliefs about the immense dangers of alcohol to the population of London.

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