Environmental Hygiene

Environmental public hygiene policies were pursued in Britain in the second half of the century with grim determination, long after the baths fuss had died down. European and American cities were also starting to feel the impact of urban growth; but in Britain certain clear priorities had already emerged. The early 1850s were particularly busy years, and the national press became a major force in environmental crusading. As is well known, The Times made Florence Nightingale into a heroine when she used scrubbing brushes and cleanliness to reduce death rates at Scutari Hospital in the Crimean War of 1854. The Lancet underwrote the work of Dr Arthur Hill Hassall, who had provided the famous microscopic slides of Thames water for Chadwick in 1849-50, and who between 1851 and 1855 became The Lancet's one-man Analytic Sanitary Commission, analysing over fifty different types of common food, naming and shaming nearly 3,000 commercial traders, and discovering 'an amount of adulteration which certainly no person was prepared for'. Hassall virtually invented the office of the public analyst, and paved the way for the three food and drug Adulteration Acts of 1860, 1875, and 1899. In 1852 Joseph Bazalgette was appointed Surveyor to the Metropolitan Sewers, and was soon to present his master plan for sewering the whole of London, a plan which came into its own after the Great Stink of the Thames in 1858; it was completed in 1859-75, andall of its affairs were very closely monitored by the press.36

Chadwick's successor Sir John Simon rallied the profession to hygiene, employed chemical laboratories, demanded and got trained medical officers of health, successfully created the discipline of state medicine, and put in such sterling work attempting to remove various national 'Nuisances' that his large raft of legislation had to be consolidated into the 1875 Public Health Act, which finally made local boards of health mandatory. Most importantly, reformers took advantage of the widening tax base of a prosperous economy, to tempt local councils into taking on low-cost loans for public works;the Public Works (Manufacturing Districts) Act of 1863 has been pinpointed as the turning point in British civic reform. The whole task of cleansing towns was thus turned over to local government civic reformers and municipal socialists, who pushed through wide-ranging slum clearance, housing schemes, water and gas schemes, drainage and cesspit renewal schemes, with the accompanying hygienic cultural programme of public libraries, museums, parks, and baths. Private philanthropy supported these schemes and (on a lesser scale) the provision of park bandstands, public latrines, drinking fountains, and horse troughs. This was the Romanesque or monumental phase of sanitary history, when grandiose architects, designers, and their clients spent large sums of money developing the

Victorian city as we know it.37 The bigger the projects, the more Roman-like were the stone tablets put up to record the munificence of the local worthies—local politicians who had rediscovered an old truth, that public health schemes brought prestige, local employment, and increased powers of patronage. Even sewage outfalls or water towers could be objects of local pride (municipal rubbish dumps, however, were not).

In 1847 Dr Ignaz Semmelweis had discovered a simple antiseptic routine using cleanliness and carbolic acid;but it was only when the surgeon Joseph Lister perfected antisepsis procedures in the 1860s, wearing white gowns and drenching everything in carbolic spray (thereby making routine operations far safer and more difficult medical conditions 'operable'), that the public really sat up and took notice of the new 'cellular' microbiological sciences opening up under the guidance of Rudolf Virchow, Louis Pasteur, and Claude Bernard. Most of these advanced medical discoveries did not as yet help a great many people until the end of the century. Preventive medicine in the laboratory was barely conceivable compared to preventive hygiene in the city, and at home. Keeping well and avoiding infection seemed the only alternative to paying large medical bills or dying young. Health faddery, for those who could afford it, retained its appeal. Domestic sanitation became big business. By the 1850s many bourgeois health consumption patterns had already been framed, and were simply set to rise.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment