“Holy Well” Discovered Beneath Central London Is Still Drinkable After 900 Years

January 25, 2016 | by Tom Hale

Photo credit: Australia House in London's Strand. Tom Flemming/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

Victorian London was a smoggy pool of disease and grime, with a bit of Dickens on the side. Even in the 21st century, the city and her river aren’t exactly known for their cleanliness. Despite its history of filth, a scientific investigation has shown that a 900-year-old spring beneath a central London street has drinkable water.

The spring is located in the basement of Australia House. The 100-year-old building – a stone’s throw from the River Thames, along the Strand in central London – is the United Kingdom’s diplomatic and political center for Australia. Its interior has even been used as the set for Gringotts Bank in the "Harry Potter" films.

Alexander Downer, Australian high commissioner to Britain and former foreign minister, told ABC News that the well was used throughout the late Middle Ages. Citing sources from a monk who described the water from it as “sweet, wholesome and clear,” Downer said it’s likely the water source was seen as a “holy well” in times gone by.

Around 900 years later, Latis Scientific’s laboratory tested the water for potentially hazardous microbes – including E. coli, Enterococci, Clostridium perfringens – and the total number of living organisms in a sample, or total viable count. After testing for numerous lurgies, they declared that the water was indeed fit for human consumption.

“These wells were of great significance, particularly back in the middle ages," Downer told ABC News. “They were used for ceremonial purposes and plays were performed around the well. And as a result of that, this part of London evolved as an area where theatres were built.”

Main image credit: Tom Flemming/Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0.