Poverty, Public Health and the Growth of Government in Britain 1830-75

Key notes for exam :)

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Izzy
  • Created on: 19-05-13 13:38

Henry Mayhew

Henry Mayhew

  • 1849: London Labour and the London Poor- visited the homes and workplaces of the poor and wrote about his experiences.
  • Divided the 'labouring poor' whose lives he was investigating into three categories:

1. 'Those who will work'- the able bodied poor; skilled artisans, manual workers, the labourers.

2. 'Those who cannot work'- unemployed mill-workers, the ill, the elderly.

3. 'Those who will not work'- 40,000-100,000 male beggars and vagrants. 

1 of 43

Early 19th Century Poor Laws

  • Had nothing to do with bringing about the end of poverty.
  • Had everything to do with preventing 'indigent' (those with an inability to support themselves) from starving while forcing the poor to work rather than become indigent and dependent on the authorities for support.
  • Many links between the poor and morality: the 'deserving poor' were those who became poor through no fault of their own and deemed worthy of help and support, whereas the 'undeserving poor' were those whose poverty was the result of moral failure, such as drunkenness or prostitution.
  • Early 19th Century: diphtheria, typhus and tuberculosis common diseases.
  • Doctrine of laissez-faire present, inevitably preventing any help being offered to the poor.
2 of 43

The Old Poor Law pre-1934

1601- Elizabethan Poor Law:

  • 1500 parishes became the administrative unit for raising money for poor relief and for giving such relief; repression and punishment abandoned in favour of assistance.
  • Able-bodied poor worked in a 'workhouse' but continued to live at home.
  • 'House of correction used to punish those refusing to work/living at general vagrancy (roaming from place to place with no settled home, work or means of support.)

1662- Settlement Law:

  • For any individual claiming relief, the responsible parish could be one in which that person was born, married, served an apprenticeship or inherited property.
  • If not working strangers could be removed within 40 days; most left alone until they started claiming poor relief.

1697- Settlement Law:

  • Strangers could be barred from entering parish unless they could produce a settlement certificate issued by their home parish stating they would be taken back if needing relief.

SETTLEMENT LAWS DID NOT STOP A MOBILE POPULATION: Never applied consistently, some parishes more overwhelmed than others.

3 of 43

The Old Poor Law pre-1834

1722- Knatchbull's Act:

  • Allowed parishes to buy buildings to be used as workhouses by able-bodied paupers.
  • Parishes could (but did not have to) apply the workhouse test- making admission to their workhouse a condition of gaining relief.
  • Workhouse became place of work for paupers and place of deterrence: by 1776 2,000 workhouses provided 90,000 places, however outdoor relief was still more popular.

1782- Gilbert's Act:

  • Tried to combat outdoor relief by allowing small groups of parishes to join together, if wished, to support a poorhouse by sharing responsibilities.
  • By 1834 over 900 parishes had joined together in some 67 unions, but only children, the aged or infirm could be sent to the poorhouse.
  • This meant outdoor relief was still given due to cyclical unemployment.
4 of 43

The Old Poor Law pre-1834

Napoleonic Wars instigated new methods of distributing relief late 18th century:

1795- The Speenhamland System:

  • Relief given to able-bodied poor by linking it to the price of bread.
  • Widely adopted in South/East Britain beginning of 19th century- rarely used in the north.
  • System never given legal backing, abandoned during changing economic conditions.

The Labour Rate:

  • Levied a parish rate to cover relief of the able-bodied poor and then set a wage for each unemployed labourer; ratepayers employing these did not have to pay poor rates into the general fund- by 1832 1 in 5 parishes operated some sort of Labour Rate.

Roundsman System:

  • Able-bodied pauper labourers sent round the parish until they found a parish ratepayer to employ them- 'billet'/'ticket' system: ratepayer would pay agreed wage, sign ticket and the parish overseer would make up the rest from the poor rate.
5 of 43

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)

  • 1798: An Essay on the Principle of Population
  • Argued that population had an inbuilt tendency to rise and outstrip all available food supplies- the Poor Law made the situation worse because the poor would have more and more children so they could claim more and more relief.
  • Favoured the abolition of the Poor Law altogether, as poor would keep their families small because there would be no financial advantage in them having lots of children- wages would rise as poor rate would no longer be levied and employers could afford to pay more, meaning everyone would prosper.
6 of 43

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

  • Developed the theory of utilitarianism: society should be organised as to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, if wages and prices found their true level in a free market and all state institutions like the Poor Law centrally controlled to agreed standards.
  • All outdoor relief should be abolished (introduce compulsory 'industry house'), responsiblity for poor given to profit-making private company.
7 of 43

Edwin Chadwick (1800-90)

  • Developed Bentham's ideas; believed able-bodied poor should be kept in workhouses in conditions worse than those of the poorest free labourer outside, so only the genuinely desperate would ask for relief.
  • This, with a centralised, controlled authority would reduce the poor rate, giving relief only to the genuinely needy and ensure that the economy flourished by allowing wages and prices to find their true levels.
8 of 43

Pressures for change

The impact of the wars with France:

  • 1815- Ending of blockade: Cheap foreign corn could again be imported, so many English farmers went bankrupt as they had to keep prices low at a time when the poor rate was increasing as well as pay wartime taxes and loan interests= caused unemployment, more reliance on Poor Law.
  • 1815- Corn Laws: would not import foreign corn until price of British corn reached 80 shillings and a quarter, keeping brice of bread and wages stable; resented by many as price of bread artificially high, leading to riots and outbreaks of violence up and down the country.
  • Post-war distress: 1817-1819 continuing dislocation of trade, appalling weather and poor harvests resulting in poor law expenditure reaching £8 million a year.
  • Radical protests: Government suspended Habeas Corpus in 1817 (so imprisoned people in secret/without trial) and in 1819 the Six Acts stopped individual liberties in the face of protest.
9 of 43

Pressures for change

 The impact of the increasing cost of providing poor relief:

Situation worsened by having a mobile population, with hundreds crowding into parishes in industrialising areas and claiming poor relief parishes could barely afford to pay.

Overall cost to the nation was rising: by 1832 £6.8 million.

10 of 43

Pressures for change

The impact of agricultural unrest:

  • Swing Riots 1830-1: Series of riots by agricultural labourers mainly in South and East England who wanted a halt to the reductions in their wages creating paupers- the government feared rebellion under ‘Captain Swing’ due to French Revolution.
  • Treated harshly- 19 rioters hanged, over 400 sentenced to transportation to Australia, 644 sent to prison.
11 of 43

Why did government take action in 1832?

Long term concerns:

  • Increasing cost of poor relief
  • Belief of those administering relief were corrupt- workhouse suppliers of the local select vestry
  • Fears that Speenhamland was encouraging large families, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

Immediate concerns:

  • Swing Riots late 1820s/early 1830s
  • Fear of British revolution after 1830 French Revolution

Government action:

  • General election brought change of government- reforming Whigs willing to stop the escalating costs of maintaining the poor
  • February 1832: Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Operation of the Poor Laws- attacked old poor law, recommended radical changes such as separate workhouses, unions, abolishing outdoor relief.
12 of 43

Main terms of 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act

  • A central authority set up to supervise the implementation of and regulate administration of Poor Law
  • 15,000 parishes to be grouped together into 600 Poor Law Unions to provide relief efficiently
  • Each union would establish a workhouse where conditions would be worse than independent labourer outside
  • Outdoor relief for able-bodied poor discouraged BUT NOT ABOLISHED
13 of 43

Was uniformity created?

Problem: many parishes were already under 1782 Gilbert’s Act so many refused change- 20 out of 50 giving poor relief under old acts (1850).

Problem: Board of Guardians could delay implementation of Poor Law Amendment Act- in Lancashire new workhouse not built until 1877.

Success: By 1870 14,000 English parishes (12 million people) incorporated into Poor Law Unions.

14 of 43

Was Outdoor relief abolished?

1830s: Commission began issuing orders to specific unions in rural south, prohibiting outdoor relief to able-bodied poor and this was extended to rural north in 1842.

1842: General Prohibitory Order forbade outdoor relief in all unions previously covered separately.

1844: General Outdoor Relief Prohibitory Order applied to all unions.

HOWEVER, outdoor relief continued to be most common form of relief especially in northern towns with cyclical unemployment (cheaper alternative): in 1855 700,000 paupers of a million received outdoor relief and by 1871 only 1 in 6 unions were operating under the 1844 order (workhouses not even complete by 1871).

15 of 43

Opposition to the Poor Law Amendment Act

Protest in the rural south:

  • Local magistrates and clergy were angered at 'unnecessary centralisation' and removal of the traditional master-servant relationship joined with the poor to protest; the poor were mainly concerned about the institutionalism of the workhouse.
  • Examples: Buckinghamshire when paupers were being transported to the new union workhouse and in East Anglia where newly built workhouses were attacked.
  • More influencial citizens refuse to apply less eligibilty rule and continued to provide outdoor relief.

Protest in the north: Higher population- harder to control

  • Many areas already adapted their relief provision to meet cyclical depressions- needed short term relief during temporary unemployment, not workhouses.
  • Angered by demands of the Ten Hours Movement (reduction of hours worked in textile mills.)
  • Huge public protest meetings held- ''Three Bashaws of Somerset House' and their 'Bastilles' were roundly denounced= South Lancashire Anti-Poor Law Association set up 38 local committees.
  • Armed riots in Oldham, Rochdale, Huddersfield, Bradford. 
16 of 43

Were the commission's priorities successfully met?

  • COST: Decreased from 6.79 million in 1833 to 3.74 in 1840 to 4.37 in 1847. However, each parish within the union had to pay for the maintenance of its own paupers, meaning struggling parishes with the most paupers levied the highest poor rates but were the least able to afford them.
  • UNIFORMITY: Implemented unevenly, interpreted in different ways by different Boards of Guardians due to degree of local resistance, long established local customs, vested interests and persuasive skills of assistant commissioners.
  • Parishes not insisting on removal of paupers under the Settlement Laws, preferred paying 'resident relief' after 1834 for people who lived elsewhere- over 80,000 still receiving relief this way.
  • HOWEVER: by late 1860s majority of parishes were in unions and even though most paupers received outdoor relief it was the fear of the workhouse that stood as an awful symbol of deterrence for the most vulnerable members of Victorian society.
  • OUTDOOR RELIEF: In 1846 there were approx 1,300,000 paupers in England and Wales and of these only 199,000 received relief inside union workhouses.
17 of 43

Union workhouses: pauper palaces or bastilles?

1835: Sampson Kempthorne appointed architect to the Poor Law Commission- produced basic workhouse plans to be adopted by guardians building new union workhouses.

1841: Rules, regulations and disciplines to be observed in workhouses set out by Poor Law Commission.

1841: Publication of the Book of the Bastilles, a compilation of workhouse horror stories by George R. Wythen Baxter.

Principle of less eligibility: aim to deter the able-bodied poor from seeking relief by restricting outdoor relief and making conditions of the workhouse, their only option of relief, worse than if they were supporting themselves (workhouses made very harsh.)

There is much debate over the real harshness of the workhouse system after 1834.

18 of 43

Harsh treatment in workhouse?

  • In the workhouse at Greenwich summer 1843 5 yr old boy was punished by being shut in the dead room where he had to sleep upon on the coffin lids; such as harsh and cruel punishment indicates that the New Poor Law was did maintain the harsh treatment intended in 1834.
  • Andover Workhouse Scandal 1845-6: inmates had resorted to eating the marrow and gristle of bones meant for crushing due to sheer hunger. With the Greenwich workhouse this shows the workhouse system was very harsh, especially for children and that the principle of ‘’less eligibility’’ affected everyone, not just the able-bodied.
  • However it should be remembered that these are just a few examples and not necessarily representative of the workhouse system across Britain. Writers may have been influenced by horror stories of the workhouse, writing without the full picture in mind and their judgement clouded by literature such as the ‘’Book of Murder’’ which told of the gassing of workhouse children, obviously exaggerated greatly.
  • In workhouse food was made bland, consisting mainly of bread and cheese and water while work consisted of tasks like Oakum Picking which involved unravelling long, tarred and knotted ropes.
19 of 43

Improvements made to workhouses 1847-75

  • In 1846 the government paid for professional teachers to teach workhouse children while other unions set up ‘Industrial Schools’ to teach children a trade.
  • In 1870 Education Act improved things further as workhouse children could now attend new Board Schools. Some unions such as the Manchester Unions and its ‘cottage homes’ set up special accommodation for children away from the workhouse.
  • Treatment of the sick improved greatly under New Poor Law: Hardy, president of the Poor Law Board said that ‘’the sick are not proper objects for such a system’’ of deterrence- in 1867 the Metropolitan Board was set up with the combination of Poor Law Unions in London and over the next 20 years built 20 infirmaries, 6 fever hospitals and 4 asylums. By early 1890 there were 83,000 Poor Law hospital bed
  • Argument that the workhouse ‘’system inflicted a form of psychological as opposed to physical cruelty’’ can be supported by the example of Cuckfield, where over 200 men applied for relied and only 11 accepted the offer of the workhouses, showing that the system aimed to deter not inflict cruelty.
20 of 43

Change in attitude towards the poor

  • After Parliamentary Reform Act 1867 the government became increasingly aware of and concerned with the welfare of the people- this new legislation was dependent on the local authorities for enforcement so in 1871 the Poor Law Board was replaced by the Local Government Board.
  • These adminstrative shifts reflected also a shift in attitude to poverty among legislators and the public: poverty, and therefore pauperism came to be seen less as a disgrace associated with deliberate idleness and more of a misfortune associated with events beyond the control of an individual or with personal inadequcy and accident.
  • This change in attitude was itself part of a growing belief that society had to protect its more vulnerable members.
21 of 43

Public Health before 1848

  • Industrialisation enabled the rapid growth of population and with the movement of people into the industrial towns it caused tremendous public health problems due to overcrowding, poor housing and lack of sanitation.
  • The lack of drainage, sewerage or regular water supply enabled diseases like TB, cholera, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, typhus and typhoid to become killers.
  • Not until 1861 that Louis Pasteur published the Germ Theory of disease; until then people believed disease was spread by 'miasma', impurities in the air.
  • Many town councils such as Lancashire and Exeter had acts passed that enabled such things as paving, lighting and street-cleaning to be carried out but these were not coordinated or universal, and hampered by corruption and vested interests.
22 of 43

Cholera epidemics

1831-2: 32,000 die

1848-9: 62,000 die

1853-4: 20,000 die

1866-7: 14,000 die

  • Before these epidemics the government took the role of laissez faire with minimum intervention due to fear from losing votes from ratepayers. 
  • The cholera epidemics (more than endemic diseases such as typhoid/ tuberculosis) had a profound effect upon the public and legislators due to the shocking impact it created- high percentage of fatalities (40-60%) among those contracting the disease, the speed it could strike, the undignified death it caused and the fact that it was not discriminatory between classes (affected rich also) all pushed for public health improvements.
23 of 43

Cholera impact

  • Liverpool riots 1832: Not protesting against the disease but local medical men (cholera victims being murdered by doctors to provide bodies for dissection)
  • Exeter Riots 1832: authorities had instituted regulations for the disposal of cholera-infected corpses, but people rioted and attacked gravediggers because they objected to the burial of cholera victims in local graveyards (infection could contaminate the ground).
  • The riots were not directed at authorities for failing to contain the epidemic but arose due to specific fears of the ill treatment of cholera victims- however these riots may still have encourage public health reform because it created the atmosphere of panic and scandal to show the government that change was needed in order to deflect criticism for its management.
  •   In 1831 realising that cholera was fast approaching Britain the government issued a report from two medical commissioners: this report, coupled with general alarm among government officials resulted in a temporary Board of Health.
  • Temporary board of health advised local government areas to set up their own Boards of Health, appoint district inspectors and issued advice= some areas set up quarantine regimes, cholera hospitals.
  • However vested interests halted progress: East London Waterboard, due to the non-interventionist approach the statistics show that 4,600 people died of cholera in the East London area whereas only 1,500 died in the rest of London.
24 of 43

Significance of the work of John Snow/ John Simon

  • In 1853 cholera outbreak he was working as a general practitioner in Frith Street in Soho, London- persuaded authorities to remove the pump handle from the Broad Street pump and the number of deaths fell dramatically.
  • Used careful observation, house-to-house interviews and meticulous research and used a vast amount of anecdotal evidence: for example 553 people living in a local workhouse got their water from another source and only 5 died from cholera.
  • However medical establishment unimpressed- just 'Dr Snow's theory'.
  • 1856: John Simon's study covered 500,000, showed Lamberth Water Company customers had death rate of 37 per 1000 compared to 130 per 1000 from Southwark Water Company which took is water close to an out-flowing sewer.
  • Despite this it was another 14 YEARS until cholera was accepted as a water borne disease- John Snow's breakthough did not receive universal acclaim until 1870 when the miasma theory was abandoned.
25 of 43


  • 1837: attempt made to set up a London-wide elected authority to provide and administer services but thise was defeated by the vested interests of wealthy districts (Westminster).
  • 1854: another attempt to rationalise administration- Royal Commission proposed dividing London into seven boroughs with each represented on a Metropolitan Board of Works= defeated.
  • ENGINEERING ERROR: Metropolitan Commission of sewers emptied sewerage into River Thames, adding to death rate in 1848/9 cholera epidemic.
  • 1855: Metropolitan Board of Works set up, consisting of 45 nominees from the principal local authorities in London= appointed Joseph Bazalgette as chief engineer.
26 of 43

Work of Joseph Bazalgette

  • Appointed chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856.
  • In 1856 he drew up a comprehensive plan however members of the Board of Works argued over money until the 'Great Stink' in summer 1858 when business in the House of Commons had be to be suspended, creating a debate over the state of the river well into July.
  • Within ten years he had designed and ordered the building of around 1,000km of sewers, discharging more than 400 million gallons of sewage a day into the Thames downriver, where the sewage could be swept out to sea.
  • In 1862, the board was ordered to build an embankment along the Thames from Blackfriars to Chelsea which Bazalgette designed, as well as modernising most of the bridges spanning the Thames, building new ones for Putney and Battersea and designing the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames.
  • The whole sewerage system was opened by Edward Prince of Wales in 1865, giving it the royal seal of approval.
27 of 43

Dr James Kay

  • 1832 Report: The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes of Manchester
  • One of the first detailed reports on the condition of a specific group of working people.
  • One of the first to demonstrate the connection between dirt and disease.
  • As well as demonstrating that dirt and disease affected the health of working people, James Kay threw the moral condition of the poor into the equation: (dirty living---> dirty habits)

''Lack of cleanliness...found in almost invariable alliance with dissipation, reckless habits and   disease.''

28 of 43

Chadwick's Report

  • Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, 1842
  • Three volumes: two based on questionnaries sent to local boards of guardians and a third containing Chadwick's conclusions and proposals for the way forward.
  • Poor Law commissioners refused to publish it in its original form because it criticised water companies, medical profession and local administration- named names.
  • In the report Chadwick attacked inadequacy of existing water supplies, drainage and sewerage problems, linked public health and Poor Law, criticised vested interests halting government progress and stressed connection between these, overcrowding, epidemics and death.
  • Reaction: Ranged from anger to acceptance; Home Secretary Sir James Graham reluctant to act on findings so set up a Royal Commission on the health of towns to, rather than question Chadwick, investigate more fully the legislative and financial side of his recommendations.
  • Octavia Hill proved the effectiveness of Chadwick's ideas: created set of rental properties with affordable rent, good sanitary conditions= healthier workers meant more were employed, meaning more profit for Hill.
29 of 43

Royal Commission Report

  • Report on the Royal Commission for Inquiry into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts, 1844.
  • Upheld Chadwick's findings: of the 50 towns investigated, 42 had bad drainage and 30 poor water supplies.
  • Second report in 1845 contained proposals for future legislaion:
  • Central government to be given extensive powers to inspect/supervise sanitary work.
  • Local sanitary districts to be set up with authority over drainage, sewerage, paving and water supplies.
  • Local sanitary districts to be given powers to raise money for sanitary schemes through local rates.
  • Health of Towns Association formed in 1844 by Chadwick to mount a propaganda campaign for public health legislation- was not always met with support; all those working for change in public health waited for government to act.
30 of 43

Leeds and Manchester

  • Took advantage of new status under the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act: created one standard system of borough government where councillors, aldermen and mayor were elected and answerable to their electors for such things as housing and sanitation.
  • Assumed control of paving, sewerage, street cleaning and draining.
  • Leeds- Housing 'regulation' and factory 'visits'.
31 of 43

Sanitary Legislation 1846-8

  • 1846- Liverpool Sanitary Act: made corporation a health authority, able to appoint medical officer of health, town council given powers to carry out sewerage, drainage and water supply improvements.
  • 1846- Acts for the Removal of Nuisances and Prevention of Epidemic Diseases: could prosecute those responsible for 'nuisances', such as 'unwholesome' houses, filth, foul drains and cesspools.
  • 1846- Baths and Washhouses Act: local authorities could provide baths and washhouses out of public money.
  • 1847- Towns Improvement Clauses Act: defined rights of towns to lay water supplies and drainage schemes and to control nuisances.
  • HOWEVER: These acts only applied if the authorities wanted them to- Liverpool Act specifically asked for.
  • MAIN PROBLEMS: Should national or local governments be responsible for reforms? Should people have to follow directives, moving away from the laissez-faire attitudes?
32 of 43

Public Health Act 1848

  • General Board of Health set up- three commissioners were Lord Morpeth, Lord Shaftesbury and Edwin Chadwick.
  • Local authorities were empowered to set up local boards of health, where 10% of ratepayers asked for one or where the death rate was greater than 23 per 1000.
  • Local boards of health permitted to appoint a medical officer of health and pay his wages out of the rates, as well as manage sewers and drains, wells and slaughterhouses, refuse and sewerage systems.
  • Local boards of health could finance projects by imposing local rates and buying land.
33 of 43

Strengths of Public Health Act 1848

  • Permissive= Did not apply to all local authorities throughout the country- only applied if conditions were met.


  • Applied where people wanted it so there was little/no opposition, meaning implementation, unlike 1834 Amendment Act, was relatively smooth.
  •  Had to apply where conditions were very poor, so people were desperate for any remedy and unlikely to put up any serious opposition.
  •  Piecemeal implementation meant those suspicious/wary could see clearly how act worked to improve public health and worked to improve public health and would push for its introduction in their own towns and cities. 
34 of 43

Weaknesses of Public Health Act 1848


  • Did not apply to London, which had its own act in 1848 to establish the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers and it also did not apply to Scotland.
  • Before local authority could adopt the act 10% of those rated for poor relief had to petition to have it applied; General Board of Health then sent inspector who decided whether it would be appropriate for the town council to carry out the duties laid down by the act.
  • Act had to apply only where the death rate in district more than 23 per 1000 living; General Board of Health could then force a local authority to set up a local board of health. Local boards of health had considerable powers over basic public health requirements but no local board was required to take on the wider public health considerations including parks and baths.
  • Power to appoint a medical officer of health did not become obligatory until 1875.
35 of 43

How effective was 1848 Public Health Act?


  •  Beginning of 1850 192 towns had asked for new public health regulations to be applied and the act had been applied to 32 of them.
  • By 1853 this had risen to 284 petitions and there were 182 towns where the act had been applied.

However these successes have to be put into context and set against the strength of vested interests and the reluctance of many local authorities to pay for something they considered unnecessary.


  • In Lancashire only 400,000 of its 2.5 million people were living under some sort of public health board.
  •  Of the 187 major towns  in England and Wales only 29 had the powers of draining and cleansing in the hands of one board while 30  had absolutely no powers over public health as they were in the hands of independent commissioners- 62 had no public health authority at all.
  •   Local boards of health simply existing town corporation under a different guise- governed by the same vested interests and moved in the same slow/cautious way- sometimes due to pre-1848 Private Improvements Acts (private acts of parliament applying to one town or city that intended to improve something that would make life better for the citizens) but more often due to reluctance to spend money and general ignorance of sanitary engineering and of the need for it.
36 of 43

Overall conclusion on 1848 Public Health Act

Overall did not have same impact as the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act because:

  • Public/government not convinced that order had to be brought from the confusing mix of private acts relating to public health.
  • No existing structure that could be reformed.
  • Medical knowledge not giving clear messages.
  • Vested interests (water companies) remained strong.
  • Local improvement commissioners, where they existed, feared loss of their powers.
  • Sanitary engineering was expensive.

However despite all failings this act does demonstrate that the government was prepared to do something- prepared to provide a solution for towns and cities trying to fight through morass of private/local legislation to achieve some sort of standard of public health. Also prepared to intervene on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society to nudge their local authorities in the general direction of providing for their care.

37 of 43

1858 Acts

1858 Local Government Act and 1858 Public Health Act:

  • General Board of Health abolished.
  • Powers given to new Local Government Act Office.
  • Medical department of the Privy Council set up.
  • Local boards of health given powers to take preventative action and appoint officials.

This was more effective as central government direct (Privy Council) for the first time became more involved in the administration of public health in the localities: up to 1868 585 towns set up boards of health and began implementing public health reforms.

These were passed due to considerable hostility to General Board Of Health and Edwin Chadwick.

38 of 43

Reasons for opposition 1850s/1860s

COST: Property owners already payed for their own clean water, sewers and cesspits and loathed to pay out again via local taxes to pay for similar benefits for their neighbours when there would be no benefit to them.

LAISSEZ-FAIRE: Many felt the government was encroaching on their individual liberties.

VESTED INTERESTS: Directors of local water companies were usually represented in local government and often on local boards of health- they were unlikely to vote for measures that would reduce their company profits.

TECHNOLOGY LIMITATIONS: Civil-engineering problems posed by sewerage and water-supply schemes barely understood by lay people of local boards of health, causing delay and even the implementation of inappropiate systems, such as the 'flushing water closet'.

CHADWICK: Irritated, annoyed and angered many because of his bullying tactics.

39 of 43

Work of John Simon

  • London's first medical officer of health in 1855.
  • 1858 became first medical ofice to medical department of the Privy Council.
  • Was a superb administrator, finding ways round seemingly insurmountable problems.
  • Invoked Nuisances and Disease Prevention Act of 1846- in London built up a system of house inspection by City Police and Poor Law medical officers, shocking authorities into action.
  • Promoted the 1860 Food and Drugs Act which enabled analysts to check food and make adulteration of food illegal.
  • Supported vaccination and trained vaccinators.
  • Developed system for making water supply cleaner and sewers more effective- abolished cesspools.
  • Regarded as greatest exponent of public health reform; much pressure for progress, however, came from the local authorities themselves, although too often lack of specific powers was used as an excuse for inaction.
40 of 43

1866 Sanitary Act

  • Sanitary powers granted to individual local boards of health under the 1848 Act were granted to all local boards.
  • Local authorities made responsible for removal of 'nuisances' (extended to domestic properties and overcrowding) to public health- if failed to act, central government would do improvement work and charge the local authorities.
  • Local authorities were given the power to improve or demolish slum dwellings.
  • For the first time COMPULSION was introduced- could now compel local authorites to act rather than advise.
41 of 43

Pressures for further change

  • 1861- Louis Pasteur published the results of his experiments on fermentation, showing there was a link between germs in the air and matter going bad= Germ Theory!
  • 1867- Reform Act gave vote to working men in the town- politicians had to pay attention to their problems, including public health issues.
  • 1871- Local government board set up, consolidating the functions of the Local Government Office, the Registrar- General's office, the medical department of the Privy Council and the Poor Law Board.
  • 1872- Public Health Act ensured the whole country was covered by sanitary authorities (town councils and local boards in urban areas and guardians in rural ones)- their sanitary duties were made compuslory and each had to appoint a medical officer of health.
  • 1875- Public Health Act was a culmination of all these pressures and remained foundation of all public health work until 1936. It was simply a consolidation of 30 previous laws, stating every part of country had to have a public health authority, each with one medical officer and one sanitary inspector (at least) to ensure all laws were enforced and gave wide powers to local authorities to lay sewers and drains, build reservoirs, public baths and public conveniences.

Government was now completely committed to the provision of public health for the people it governed!

42 of 43

Housing Improvements

  • 1851/1853: Common Lodging Houses Acts laid down all lodging houses were to be registered and inspected by police- however act was badly drafted and rarely enforced.
  • 1855: The Nuisances Removal Act empowered local authorities to combat overcrowding, as a nuisance, with fines and prosecution.
  • 1866: Sanitary Act placed limitations on the use of cellars for occupation.
  • 1868: The Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act (Torren's Act) gave local councils the power to force a landlord to repair an insanitary house or the council could buy and pull it down.
  • 1875: The Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act (Cross's Act) gave local councils the power to clear whole districts, not just individual houses.
  • The Artisans' acts were permissive: some councils made a difference, such as Birmingham who began a major slum-clearance programme under the direction of mayor Joseph Chamberlain and some individuals such as wealthy Bradford mill-owner Titus Salt made changes without the acts of government, building a new mill, houses, school etc for his workers.
43 of 43


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Modern Britain - 19th century onwards resources »