Aldgate Pump: Something in the water

As the name suggests, the Aldgate pump was a water pump located at Aldgate, in London's East End.


Aldgate itself is thought to be the meeting point of the East End and City.


The pump itself is built on the site of St Michael's Well, discovered here in the time of King John, the monarch later demonised by countless retellings of Robin Hood!


It was formalised as a water source in the 16th century when a pump was built on the site. Now there were hundreds of pumps around London, so what made Aldgate different? Well two things; firstly, the water here tasted a bit different and made many people ill. Upon examination, it was found the water had a dangerously high mineral content as the spring which fed the pump flowed through numerous graveyards. Consequently, the water picked up calcium from human bones.


Secondly, and slightly less gruesomely, Aldgate pump entered into the London dialect in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period ‘a draught on the Aldgate pump' was widely used to refer to a forged banknote.


Aldgate Pump also reputedly marks the spot where the last wolf in London was shot. This is commemorated today in the wolf's head which adorns the lower part of the pump.


For more on what lies beneath London, see our blog Where to find a plague pit