Public Health in the Industrial Revolution

Public Health in the Industrial Revolution

Public Health had been a long standing issue in towns and cities. Plagues and other diseases regularly killed huge numbers. The industrial Revolution saw the issue of Public Health become a matter at the heart of government policy. A rising population coupled with poor housing and long working hours, led to conditions in urban areas becoming atrocious. Slums quickly grew as cities bore the weight of the rapid increase in people. Diseases wreaked havoc.

Cholera outbreaks were common in the Industrial Revolution as a result of inadequate Public Health and a lack of knowledge about Germs

The period quickly became one in which there was a struggle between reformers and traditionalists. Those who wanted to invest in cleaning up cities with those who baulked at the incredible cost of doing so. Slowly, under great political pressure, changes were made. Government legislated and thanks to scientific breakthroughs diseases were tackled more efficiently. The story of public health in the Industrial Revolution truly is one of the fight against the most unimaginable squalor and desperate conditions.

The links in this unit provide lots of source material on the period and issues.


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Public Health in the Industrial Revolution. A Chronology. 

Date Event Brief Description
1786 Introduction of new machines The Introduction of machinery into the textiles industry had an immediate impact on the livelihood of workers. No longer were they skilled and highly sought after experts in a field, now a machine could perform the task in their stead.
1812 Workhouses The poor of the Parish of Bradford were catered for by a Workhouse
prior to the Poor Law Amendment act.
1830-1836 Typhoid outbreaks Between 1830 and 1836 there were 4 major outbreaks of this disease.
1831 Cholera strikes! Cholera resulted in over 50,000 deaths in
little over a year. How was ‘King Cholera’ stopped?
1834 Poor Law Commission The Poor law is examined and changed
as a result of Industrialisation and pressures on the existing system.
The source material looks at the way in which Huddersfield councillors
reacted to the revised Poor Law.
1835 Municipal Corporations Act Town Councils were to be elected. The council was able to collect rates
(taxes) to pay for street lighting, sewage disposal and fresh water. However
an Act of Parliament would be necessary for each council to perform these
1837 Bradford Woolcombers Report A report written about the conditions faced by the Woolcombers
of Bradford
1842 Report on the conditions of workers in
Dr. Robert Baker’s report into conditions in the slums
of Leeds
1842 Report on the sanitary Condition
of the Labouring Classes.
Edwin Chadwick’s landmark
study into the health of ordinary people.
1844 Health of Towns Association This was a body that aimed at improving Public Health. It issued leaflets
and lobbied parliament to improve sanitation.
1844 Health in Bradford Statistical evidence and contemporary accounts of health
in Bradford in the mid 1840’s
1844 Health in Manchester A description of conditions in Manchester.
1848 Cholera returns 70,000 perish as Cholera strikes again.
1848 Public Health Act This act was largely the result of Chadwick’s
work and the pressure applied by the health of towns association. It allowed
smaller towns to implement changes to sanitation but was limited in its
overall scope.
1849 The Moral Condition of Bradford Sir Titus Salt, mayor of Bradford, commissions
a report into the moral condition of Bradford and its inhabitants.
1850 Working Conditions in Bradford An observation of the conditions endured in Bradford at the height of
the Industrial Revolution.
1851 Census figures Population and housing figures for the 3 census
up to and including 1851 show that population boomed whilst
housing provision lagged behind.
1853 Return of Cholera – again! Cholera accounts for another 30,000 lives
1854 John Snow’s work on Cholera
John Snow studied the incidences of Cholera
in Soho, London. he illustrated the fact that there was a very high correlation
between a water pump and the victims of the disease. Removing the pump
dramatically reduced the incidences of Cholera in the area. This added weight to the argument that Government had to
be involved in maintaining health.
1860 Nightingale School of Nursing Reports of Florence Nightingale‘s work
in Scolari, the Crimea, had been published in England by the Times. In
1860 a hospital was opened using her methods, which included cleanliness
and compassion.
1862 Bradford Sewage Works Bradford opens its first sewage works. As you
will see in the source material, it was much needed! problems continued
however, as the sources illustrate.
1865 Germ Theory Louis Pasteur proves that Germs exist.
Though opposed by many at the time, this results in the identification
of the cause of many diseases and increases the body of evidence that
shows that water has to be kept clean.
1866 Cholera strikes again A further 18,000 die of Cholera.
1867 Second Reform Act Working Class men were given the vote. This increased pressure on parliament
to improve conditions for ordinary people.
1869 Royal Sanitary Commission Resulted in the Local Government Board Act which placed responsibility
for Public Health on a local authority. This was followed by the 1872
Public Health Act which required the appointment of a medical officer
in each area, to be responsible for sanitation.
1872 2nd Public Health Act See above
1875 3rd Public Health Act Made local authorities responsible for lighting, water supply, sewage
disposal, parks, toilets and housing.
1875 Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Act Gave local authorities the power to demolish areas of housing with inadequate
drainage or sewage disposal facilities. There was no compulsion to do
this though. (Birmingham did, large sections of the city were rebuilt
as a result).
1882 Tuberculosis Germ identified Robert Koch, a German
scientist identifies the cause of TB, a major killer of the time.
1883 Cholera germ identified. Robert Koch identifies
the cholera germ.
1890 Health in Bradford Margaret McMillan’s assessment of
Bradford when she visited the town for the first time. Contrasted with
an account of Bradford in the mid-nineteenth century.
1907 Report into the health of Children
in Bradford
A major survey of the impact of school
meals in Bradford

Medicine Through time – Resources for Medicine Through Time – Prehistoric Medicine – Ancient Egyptian Medicine – Ancient Greek Medicine – Medicine in the Roman Empire – Medieval Medicine – Renaissance Medicine – Public Health in the Industrial Revolution – Fight against infectious disease – Modern Medicine

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