Public Health: Britain 1830-1875

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  • Created by: Nicole
  • Created on: 14-05-13 19:08

Disease and Public Health

Urban population vulnerable to epidemic diseases in early 19th Century for several reasons, which include:

  • Growing population due to industrialisation > Diseases easily passed between people.
  • Lack of knowledge in keeping sanitary.
  • Lack of sewage systems and waste disposals.
  • Poor living conditions and badly built houses, built at fast speeds and were unplanned and unsanitary.
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Overcrowding in towns was one of the main causes of cholera, because of being constantly surrounded by human waste due to lack of sewage systems. Unsanitary, water became contaminated and people had to drink water, so soon adopted the disease.


Cholera Epidemic Years:

  • 1831-1832~32,000 deaths
  • 1848-1849~62,000 deaths
  • 1853-1854~20,000 deaths
  • 1866-1867~14,000 deaths

Why was cholera feared?!



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Spreading of Disease

How and why did disease spread?                                                                                                        

  • mass population not dealt with, no water or drains in badly built houses and no drains or system to clear away waste material.
  • human, animal and vegetable waste thrown away together into the street.
  • waste emptied into sources of water supplies, so many died of water bourne diseases such as typhoid and cholera as well as diarrhoea.
  • families often shared same room/bed, this led to easier spreading of disease.
  • epidemics around times of economic crisis, people couldn't afford food, making them weak and vulnerable to disease.
  • cholera killed fast and many, and was easily spread amongst the middle and upper classes.
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Theories on Disease

  • MIASMIC THEORY: infected air~led to removal of heaps of human waste which was a step forward, but did not lead to implementation of connecting sewers to rivers etc.
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Obstacles for Reform

  • COST: Government did not want to spend money on the poor. Water companies were only interested in themselves and wanted to make a profit, as opposed to risking losing money.
  • LAISSEZ FAIRE: Leave alone. Being poor was the poor's own fault. The poor were lazy and did not deserve to have money spent on them to improve living standards, if they were not able to help themselves.
  • LACK OF TECHNOLOGICAL ABILITY: Pasteur's Germ Theory was not known until the 1860s and so people did not know any different until this time, and still believed in the Miasmic Theory as a cause of disease.
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Public Health Reform Influences

Who influenced public health reformed?!                      

  • Edwin Chadwick influenced people's opinions on the need for Public Health Reform Acts with the publication of his Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes 1842.
  • John Snow and his work on the Broad Street Pump, proving that cholera was a water bourne disease, and that clean water was the safest way to avoid cholera epidemics.
  • Louis Pasteur and the proving that dirt caused disease, and not the other way around. This led people taking more precautions to keep themselves and their towns clean.
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Public Health Act 1848

General Knowledge of the 1848 Public Health Act  

  • General Board of Health set up, and was regularly reported to Parliament.
  • Local authorities set up Local Boards of Health, who would manage sewers and drains.

HOWEVER THIS ACT WAS PERMISSIVE AND DID NOT APPLY TO EVERY AREA IN THE COUNTRY!!                                                                                                                                             


  • Due to its permissiveness, there was hardly any opposition to its implementation.
  • It was compulsory where conditions were extremely poor, people were desperate for improvements so didn't resist, and conditions were vastly improved as to what they were.


  • Did not apply to London who had its own Act in 1848 that attempted to improve living conditions.
  • Did not apply to Scotland.
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Thanks :)

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