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The Health of the People: Public Health and Social Policy 1832-1875 Essay

In the 18th Century there were many problems with public health. Most of the population in Britain had very poor health bar the upper classes. These problems were caused by lack of government support from both local and national sections. The national government had little involvement or no intervention at all at the present. Why should they? Most people who vote are upper class and so health is not really a problem for them, and the health of the masses doesn’t affect them personally. Local governments gave little support to public health because there was no real local government to speak of.

What made up the local government were the people who held status in the villages i. e. Vicars, Property owner(s) and the richer people of the town, which was usually one or two people. So all in all the local government is made up of no more than 4 or 5 people. Public health had always been a problem in Britain many people lived in total squalor and there was usually a famine each year of one varying degree or another. However this was made even worse by the industrial revolution. Rather than having people living in terrible conditions all spread out the industrialisation of Britain just brought them together.

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So you now have many people all living next to each other in terrible conditions. How did the government respond to this? Well at first nothing. The government let the property builders build poor quality houses. They did nothing about sanitation, water supplies, and graveyards and the government didn’t help set up proper local governments to try and tackle the problems. The government both local and national was unable to deal with ‘Galloping Industrialisation’. The rate at which the population migrated to the rapidly industrialising towns and cities was incredible.

For example in London the population more than triples in size. In Birmingham and Manchester the population’s double. A considerable reason for this was that birth rates were higher than death rates. However death rates were still high. They did however start to do things when it started to affect them personally and the people that could vote. The voters wanted something done about it so that it would no longer be a problem to them, not because they felt sorry for the general public of England. Now the government had to do something because the small amount of people that could vote wanted something done about it.

Housing: During the time of the industrial revolution there was a huge volume of people making there way to the towns looking for jobs. Property builders saw this and preceded to build houses at the lowest cost to them and not exactly a cheap price for the people who had to rent them out. The builders were out to make a huge profit for themselves. The houses that were built were extremely small, built en-mass and all on an extremely small plot of land. The demand for these houses was extremely high so builders rushed making the houses.

They used the cheapest materials, built them poorly because they were in such a rush. Neither did the builders bother with running water supplies for each house, or bother providing toilets and sanitation. The builders just built the bare rooms and there was one maybe two toilets at the end of the street and so was the water supplies. The houses that were built were terraced i. e. houses built right next to each other with no gaps except at the end of the street. Not only that the houses were back-to-back so on one had any garden space at all.

There was usually a large gutter going down the middle so that residents could throw rubbish away. Houses were also built on a cul-de-sac/courtyard basis. These houses especially were usually void of sunlight and because there was only one entrance to the houses smell would linger. To make things even worse houses were, where possible, built on existing rivers or sewers because the brick foundations were already there. This meant that the smells, especially in the summer were awful. The sanitation in the towns was not good at all.

There were no proper waste disposal services, so people just threw their rubbish and waste onto the street. During the night there would be someone from the local area or street who would turn up and remove all the human waste from the privies at the end of the street. Even so the people who lived in these streets usually kept a pig so that they could get some meat. The excretion from these animals was just thrown onto the street along with the rubbish. When the animals died they were thrown onto the street as well. This would attract flies and any heat made it even worse.

With these sorts of conditions around so many unclean people general health is not very good at all and disease was everywhere and people would get sick very easily. Even with the builders building these poor houses they could not keep up with the demand for housing in the cities. Despite this people still kept coming into the cities. As there was nowhere for them to go ‘cellar dwelling’ occurred. People who had cellars would rent them out to the ‘labour classes’. In ‘Chadwick’s Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring classes’ it was estimated that there were 8,000 inhabitant cellars.

In these cellars it was not just families that lived there, there may have also been sailors and peddlers was all too common. Every working class person lived in cramped conditions. If there was an out breakout of one disease or another it could be very easily spread between family members and neighbours. Sanitation and Drainage: Because of the types of houses that were being built were to get the builders profit they didn’t bother with sanitation or drainage to any decent level. Privies were at the end of the street and there would be a gutter going through the back-to-back houses at an attempt and general drainage.

The reason as to why the sanitation was so poor was because there was no one to stop the builders. There was little if any intervention from the government and local councils were ineffective. There were no laws in place to make sure that the builders did their job properly and that health and safety was of a decent standard for most of the people. The drainage for people was equally as poor. The drains were generally made up of porous brick and were unable to cope with the large amounts of sewage passing through them so smell would ‘hang’ and it would also attract flies and rats.

The wealthy however didn’t have a problem with sewage because it would go out of the pipes and into a river or stream so it would all get washed away. For the poor/working classes waste from privies would just go into and open pit or ditch. Other sewage pipes would join the cesspits from slaughterhouses and factories, which would pump waste products into the pits. These cesspits would cause huge problems for the people living near them. They incited disease and illness. People didn’t realise how unclean it really was i. e. he health risks it imposed.

The fact that the open cesspits attracted flies meant that the diseases and illnesses could be transmitted very easily. It was not as if this was new to most people. When more people lived in rural areas they would have still used waste for the farming and just throw it out of the window with little regard to health. The problem that urbanisation created was that people were still doing exactly what they would have done in the rural areas. Water Supplies: The working class people didn’t have running water to their houses.

Instead they had to use a communal pump that stood at the end of the street or at the end of the road. The water was usually only available for a few hours a day and the water would not be clean either. The water was only let on for a few hours a day because of the water companies competing for maximum profits and the most amount of pumps. Water pipes usually lead to disease-infested rivers and next to the cesspits and waste disposal pipes. The water that families were able to collect was used to wash in – clothes and themselves.

The water was nearly always re-cycled and so people were very prone to becoming ill. In London for example the water supplies for houses was coming form the Thames. The Thames was really badly polluted, as factories on the riversides would let waste products flow into the river. The waste from the houses also went back to the Thames. In some towns however it was slightly different. Norwich for example had water supplies coming form its river but the were naturally sandy. This sand acted as a natural filter, but the water was still not as clean as we would expect it to be today.

The people that lived in these houses knew that that the water was not really safe to drink from but they couldn’t do anything. The local government wouldn’t do anything and the national government certainly wouldn’t do anything. As with the housing there were no laws in place to protect the common people from being exploited. Street Cleaning: There was basically no street cleaning to speak of. If sewers and drains became blocked men would be sent down to clean it out but this was very infrequent. The privies that would usually lead to a cesspit were cleaned out in the dead of night by ‘scavengers’ who would go in and clean it out.

Sometimes however the dung and waste that littered the streets was some times taken away to be used on farms because it was such a good fertiliser. But this happened little and was infrequent. The farmers that did this or employed people to do so only went to the streets and cul-de-sac’s closest to the farm because they did not want to have to drag the waste through the streets. This didn’t mean remove all the sewage and refuse and dispose of it safely. It basically meant shovel it onto the street and leave it. It was common for people to have dung heaps right out side their houses.

Earlier I talked about people keeping pigs. Well these pigs would be allowed to wonder around the courtyards and streets and they were allowed to search the dung heaps for ‘pickings’. People would then bring the pigs inside in bad weather or at night. They would not be able to clean the pigs, as that would be a waste of water. The richer people however wouldn’t live near these terraced houses and they would either have pipes leading to a stream or into a cesspit – which they would have someone to clean but they would at least be able to wash afterwards. Graveyards:

In the cities there was a high birth rate. This is shown by the cramped living conditions of the general public and the increase generally in Britain’s population. However the death rate was still high, as most new borns didn’t live to see their 5th birthday. When many people lived in rural areas death rates were still quite high but they had the space to burry the people properly. Before the 19th Century and urbanisation in the towns there were Churches with graveyards but because there was not so many people living there and although the death rate was high most churches could cope with the death rate.

However in the cities there was very little space to do anything. There were graveyards but they were generally small. To try a cover this there was nearly always someone buried on top of someone else. If it were to rain heavily the bodies and coffins would rise to the surface and sometime even float around. Local Government: During the first part of the 19th Century the local or Parish government, governed nearly every area or county through out England. The local government was made up of people who held some important position in the town i. e.

Vicars, Landowners and Professionals – doctors etc. This group of people would meet three or four times a year and they would talk about things like Game Laws – poaching, Administer Births and Deaths but that did not have to be until after 1837, Maintenance of Bridges and Roads. They would not usually talk about things like street cleaning or sanitation because it did not affect them personally. The people on the council would be able to afford clean water and proper waste disposal so the conditions that the general public lived in was not high on their lists to sort out.

The only time when local governments would worry about public health was when there was an out break or disease that could affect them. Because of ‘Galloping Industrialisation’ local governments were unable to deal with the problems that came with it. Local governments got little or no financial support from the national government only enough to sort out the most dire problems. The national government did however give the local government the power to make changes but these changes were not obligatory so it depended on if the local government cared or could be bothered to do anything.

The Great Reformat of 1832 was designed to try and give more people the vote so that potential governments would have to do something about public health. However even after the Great Reformat was passed 5/6 people still couldn’t vote. To be able to vote you had to a landowner. So the government was basically under the control of the profit-seeking builders. The government didn’t help the situation in England by passing the Corn Laws to try and make sure that the landowners kept a profit.

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