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Public Health: Inadequate Cleansing

These extracts give some indication of the kind of conditions in which some people lived. All are taken from primary sources.

Bath Chronicle 17 June 1852

The room was in a horrible state, and there were excrements all over the place: in fact the place was reeking with the smell of filth. The two beds were black and shining with body grease, but there was no covering on them. Such bedding as there was, was stinking and rotten and covered with filth, while on the bed was lying a little boy, naked except for a piece of cloth round its neck, thin and emaciated, evidently ill and apparently struggling for breath. The child was sucking from a filthy feeding bottle which contained sour milk curds, while the teat was stinking. I swept maggots from under the bed with a broom, while with the handle of the broom I stirred up maggots from the bed itself.

Snow's Rents (from the 1840 Commission)

On the principal cleaning day, Sunday, the water is on for about five minutes, and it is also on for three days in the week for one half-hour, and so great is the rush to obtain a modicum before it is turned off, that perpetual quarrelling and disturbance is the result, and water-day is but another name for dissention.

Leeds from the Health of Towns Report.

All the streets and dwellings in this ward are stated to be more or less deficient in sewerage, unpaved, full of holes, with deep channels formed by the rain intersecting the roads, and annoying the passengers, sometimes rendered untenable by the overflowing of sewers and other more offensive drains, with ash-holes etc., exposed to public view, and never emptied; or being wholly wanting, as is frequently the case, the refuse is accumulated in cellars, piled against the walls or thrown into the streets.

Bethnal Green and Whitechapel from the Health of Towns Report (Southwood-Smith)

Uncovered sewers, stagnant ditches and ponds, gutters always full of putrefying matter, nightmen's yards, and privies, the soil of which lies openly exposed, and is seldom or never removed. It is not possible for any language to convey an adequate conception of the poisonous condition in which large portions of both these districts always remain, winter and summer, in dry and in rainy seasons, from the masses of putrefying matter which are allowed to accumulate. [Army Standing Orders provided for sanitary precautions, but] the towns whose populations never change their encampment, have no such care, and whilst the houses, streets, courts, lanes, and streams are polluted and rendered pestilential, the civic officers have generally contented themselves with the most barbarous expedients, or sit still amidst the pollution, with the resignation of Turkish fatalists, under the supposed destiny of the prevalent ignorance, sloth and filth.

Liverpool in 1842. This information was given to Chadwick by Dr. Duncan, the Medical Officer of Health for the town

... finding that not less than 63 cases of fever had occurred in one year in Union Court (containing twelve houses) I visited the court in order to ascertain, if possible, their origin, and I found the whole court inundated with fluid filth which had oozed through the walls from two adjoining ash-pits or cess-pools, and which had no means of escape in consequence of the court being below the level of the street, and having no drain. The court was owned by two different landlords, one of whom had offered to construct a drain provided the other would join him in the expense; but this offer having been refused, the court had remained for two or three years in the state in which I saw it.

Evidence of Dr Laurie on Greenock

The first question I generally put when a new case of fever is admitted, is as to the locality. I was struck with the number of admissions from Market-street; most of the cases coming from that locality became quickly typhoid, and made slow recoveries. This is a narrow back street; it is almost overhung by a steep hill, rising immediately behind it; it contains the lowest description of houses, built closely together, the access to the dwellings being through filthy closes. The front entrance is generally the only outlet. Numerous food for the production of miasma lies concealed in this street. I think I could point out one in each close.

In one part of the street there is a dunghill. - yet it is too large to be called a dunghill. I do not misstate its size when I say it contains a hundred cubic yards of impure filth, collected from all parts of the town. It is never removed; it is the stock-in-trade of a person who deals in dung; he retails it by cartfuls. To please his customers, he always keeps a nucleus, as the older the filth is the higher is the price. The proprietor has an extensive privy attached to the concern. This collection is fronting the public street; it is enclosed in front by a wall; the height of the wall is about 12 feet, and the dung overtops it; the malarious moisture oozes through the wall, and runs over the pavement. The effluvia all round about this place in summer is horrible. There is a land of houses adjoining, four stories in height, and in the summer each house swarms with myriads of flies; every article of food and drink must be covered, otherwise, if left exposed for a minute, the flies immediately attack it, and it is rendered unfit for use, from the strong taste of the dunghill left by the flies.

See also this contemporary etching from 1872

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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