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Public Utilities.

Nor were actual housing conditions the whole, story. Decent towns need not only decent houses but decent streets, lights, water supply and drains; and neither the old nor the new towns of the early Industrial Revolution possessed these. The bigger the town, the more difficult the technical problem and the more devastating the effects of neglect; and in the new towns there was not even, until the Municipal Corporations Act of 1885, a competent authority to tackle these difficulties. Streets, were left unpaved and unlighted, sewage went into cesspits which contaminated the drinking water; even London, which was better than most cities, drew its water supply largely from the Thames and cheerfully discharged its sewage into the same river - sometimes at practically adjacent points. In 1786 Liverpool, with a population of nearly 50,000, had to get its water in from the country in carts. Birmingham had no system of street cleaning until 1769, and Portsmouth was unpaved until the same year. Engineers and water companies did good work during these years, but they could not keep pace with the growth of the towns, and in spite all medical improvements the manufacturing areas, where e population was densest, suffered chronically from epidemics of fever. The Cholera Epidemics: the Board of Health. In 1831, at the end of a decade of tremendous urban expansion, the cholera reached England from the Continent, and nearly 000 people died. As epidemics went this was not a big ne; but it was an earnest of more to come, and it stimulated, if not immediate reform, at least investigation. In 1842 Edwin Chadwick, on behalf of the Poor Law Commissioners, drew up his Report on the Sanitary Conditions- of the Labouring Classes of Great Britain, and administered a shock to the public nearly as great as the Report on Mines of the same year. A Royal Commission two years later endorsed everything that Chadwick had said; but Parliament shied away from its advice. It involved altogether too much interference, in their view, with the rights of individuals and of local authorities to be slack and insanitary if they chose.

It took four years of incessant and single-minded argument and dissemination of propaganda to induce the Government to set up a Board of Health, with power to establish local Boards wherever the mortality reached a certain figure or the residents called them in by petition.

This Board, set up under the Public Health Act of 1848, consisted of Chadwick, Lord Ashley, Lord Morpeth and Dr. Southwood Smith, author of the original London report of the Poor Law Commissioners; but it would probably have come to an end, from general public dislike on the one hand of State interference and on the other of Edwin Chadwick and all his works, had not the second cholera epidemic arrived in England almost simultaneously with its constitution.

The epidemic of 1848 was far worse than its predecessor.

In the one year 1849 more than 53,000 persons died, and though the epidemic abated the country was not really free of cholera until 1858.

Defective water supply and defective drainage spread the disease like wildfire through the overcrowded and filthy streets of the towns; Chadwick and hi associates hardly needed to say, "I told you so."

But no sooner was the last of that series of epidemic fairly over than hostility to the Board flared up again Laisser-faire opinion on the one hand, and parish plum politics and vested interests on the other, combined to induce Parliament to wind it up and to send Edwin Chadwick, their particular b�te noire, into retirement.

However, in the short time at its disposal the Board had done good work.

It had applied the Act only to a fraction of the areas concerned, affecting not much more than a couple of million people; but it had raised up supporters for the general idea of public health, and the organization was never completely broken up.

Its work in the field of propaganda was carried on by John Simon, Medical Officer to the Advisory Medical Council set up by Chadwick's successors, In his annual reports he fought an incessant campaign for better houses, better drains, better water, better precautions against industrial disease, better measures of isolation and disinfection against infectious disease.

Though the Public Health movement marked time, public opinion was receiving meanwhile a very needful education.


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Jerry-building

No one was responsible for seeing that the new houses which were rushed up during these years were decently built. Provided they would stand (for the moment) and that people who had practically no choice in the matter could be induced to live in them, nobody cared whether they were safe or sanitary, whether they had light or air, or whether they were disgustingly overcrowded. And as safety, sanitation, and an adequate amount of space for each inhabitant, all cost money which the builders were unwilling to spend, they were for the most part simply neglected. Moreover, it should be noted that the new... see: Jerry-building


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