public health

conditions in towns, improvements to public health

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Towns in the early 1800s

  • up to 250 people shared one toilet
  • up to 10 people might share one room

why were conditions so poor?

  • houses could not be built fast enough to cope with people arriving from countryside
  • no building regulations
  • no proper drainage
  • no clean water
  • 'jerry' built
  • back to back houses
  • cheap poor quality material
  • drains usually open ditches
  • cesspits would overflow
  • water pumps were often contaminated
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why were death rates in the towns so high?

  • population quadrupled 1801 - 1901
  • urban population rose from 25% in 1801 to 75% in 1901
  • laissez faire attitudes of governement
  • rich thought it was the fault of the poor
  • poor expected filthy conditions
  • towns had complicated rules and regulations
  • rate payers did not want to pay for improvements
  • people did not understand what caused disease
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  • symptoms - vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, skin turns blue
  • 1831 - 13,000 people died in 3 months
  • no agreement on how it spread

How was the problem solved?

  • John Snow found link between polluted water and disease
  • investigated 500 deaths near to a water pump in Broad St.
  • Snow ordered removal of pump handle
  • no new cases
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Why did some people think public health needed imp

  • series of reports in 1830s and 40s brought problems to attention of well-off
  • people began to realise 'they were living on a dungheap'
  • Edwin Chadwick wrote Report on the sanitary Conditions of hte Labouring Population of Britian which horrified people
  • collection of proper statistics for births and deaths began - showed high death rates


change still very slow to come even though there was another serious cholera outbreak in 1844

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Public Health Act 1848

  • set up a General Board of Health
  • the Board could create local Boards of Health if 10% of population asked for it or the death rate was above 23 per 1,000
  • Boards could control water supplies, cemeteries, sewage and drainage


  • Act made little difference
  • could not force towns to improve
  • General Board of Health closed down
  • one sixth of the population was covered by local boards of health
  • many slum dwellers had no water supply
  • if there was a water supply people couldn't always afford it
  • open sewers still ran down street
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Any improvements?

  • Sir John Simon - chief medical officer for London
  • proved death rates could be lowered if the water supply was clean
  • rubbish collected from streets
  • cesspools drained

Other Acts

  • sanitary act 1868 - forced local authorites to appoint sanitary inspectors
  • local government board 1871 - set up to oversee all local public health services
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Public Health Act 1875

  • every area had to have a medical officer and sanitary inspector
  • councils given powers to build sewers, drains and public toilets
  • refuse had to be collected
  • water supply controlled
  • local authorities could disinfect houses if someone had caught an infectious disease
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Were housing conditions improving in the 19th cent

The Housing Act 1868

  • landlords had to keep houses in good repair
  • council could force landlords to repair houses

The Artisans' Dwelling Act 1875

  • local authorities had power to clear areas of bad housing
  • building regs for new houses

Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890

  • authorities could demolish slums and build council houses
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But progress was still slow because...

  • local authorities did not like asking ratepayers to pay towards better housing for the poor
  • government did not provide money to build council houses
  • housing in slums not replaced - more overcrowding
  • back to back houses continued to be built
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Individuals who helped

Octavia Hill

  • bought and repaired slums in London
  • tenants taught importance of cleaning

George Cadbury

  • built model village of Bournville - gardens, leisure facilities - taller children

William Hesketh Lever

  • model village - Port Sunlight

Joseph Chamberlain Mayor of Birmingham

  • bought 40 acres of factories and slums - moved factories to suburbs and built decent housing
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Ellen Stevens Thompson

thank youuu! really helpful


good notes thanks!

Miss E

It's important to revise public health which is more than just medical developments. This is a good resources, helpfully summarised for you and colour used to make it easier to use.

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