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London 1854: Cesspits, Cholera, and Conflict over the Broad Street Pump

by Marshall Hayes and Eric Nelson

You and your fellow committee members are the ones capable of saving London from the scourge of cholera. Are you up to the challenge?

London 1854: Cholera takes place on the evening of September 7, 1854 at Vestry Hall in Soho, Greater London. You are a member of a special emergency response committee of the local Board of Governors and Directors of the Poor of St. James Parish, who have convened to respond to the deadly outbreak of Cholera that has claimed the lives of more than 500 parish residents over the preceding eight days. Historically, the outcome of this meeting was the decision to remove the pump handle from a contaminated neighborhood pump on Broad Street. This decision and the events leading up to it are considered a defining moment in the development of modern approaches to public health, epidemiology and municipal waste management. This role play is designed to highlight various aspects of the historical debate.

This is a Level 2 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.



History of Medicine and Health; History of Science and Technology; STEM


19th Century; Late Modern Period

In a Few Words

Well-resourced, Immersive, Challenging


Notable Roles

John Snow, John George French, Frederick Crane

Themes and Issues  

Germ Theory, Disease, Water Quality, Epidemiology, Contagionism, Anti-contagionism

Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative

Sample Class Titles
Citizen Science; Critical Reading and Community: Pandemics; Ecology of Infectious Disease

Level 2 game (what's that mean?

Rolling Dice; Formal Podium Rule; Physical Props: water pitcher, microscopes, display maps

Chaos and Demand on Instructor

This game is moderately chaotic and fairly demanding on the instructor. Gameplay is rarely the same twice; there are lots of pleasant and entertaining surprises depending on how much liberty the players take with their roles.

Primary Source Highlights 

Snow, J. (1855). On the mode of communication of cholera; Johnson, SJ (2006). The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed, Science, Cities, and the Modern World.

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with 16-24 students.

Class Time  
For this game, 1 setup session and 2 game sessions are recommended.

You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game can include persuasive oral presentation (including written transcript) and data analysis. All roles are required to give formal speeches.


Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  Basic game materials (Gamebook, Role Sheets, Instructor's Guide, and Handouts) are available to any instructor through the publisher. 

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using London, 1854 in Your Class!


Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content.

VERSION 3.0 Updated January 2014.

Instructor's Manual, Role Sheets, and Data Spreadsheet

The Instructor's Manual includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

Additional Resources 

Updated Community-Made Materials
Created by Terri Nelson, .zip file of .docx files


Marshall Hayes

Marshall Hayes is a Lecturer and Coordinator of the Research First Initiative at the New Jersey Center for Science, Technology and Mathematics (NJCSTM) at Kean University in Union, New Jersey USA. Specializing in environmental science and molecular microbiology, Dr. Hayes promotes innovation in STEAM education by designing creative and interactive classroom experiences for students and by facilitating workshops on scientific teaching for future STEAM educators.

Eric Nelson

Eric Nelson is Professor Emeritus, Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University.


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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