Why did sewage-recycling schemes claim a great deal of attention in mid-Victorian Britain’s towns and cities?
There were several factors contributing to the amount of attention sewage-recycling schemes received. Britain was faced with a substantial increase in population and pollution resulting in higher levels of disease and mortality. There were numerous proposals regarding which recycling-scheme to use creating fierce debate on a local and national level of government, consequently impeding progression towards sanitation. Although action was delayed, by the end of the nineteenth-century, Britain witnessed vast improvements to people’s living conditions. This essay sets out to establish the significance of: living conditions before reform; medical debate; Edwin Chadwick’s role concerning reform; and political debate in assessing why the sanitary improvements received so much attention.
Living conditions and sanitation in pre-reformed early-Victorian Britain were very poor which eventually led to pressure from the society to improve the situation. The conditions were predominantly due to the impact of urbanisation. The 1851 census showed that for the first time, more people were living in urban than rural areas. This, in turn, was due to industrialisation and the need for labour. The rapidity of the population increase was unplanned which meant that by 1850, the sanitation systems struggled to cope. Cesspools were the main way to dispose of household sewage and in 1810, London was relying on about 200,000 of these. Cesspools cost approximately one shilling to empty, (a large expense for the average workman), which meant that overflowing became a common problem (Halliday, 2001, p.40).
recycling, the process of recovering and reusing waste productsfrom household use, manufacturing, agriculture, and businessand thereby reducing their burden on the environment. During World War I and World War II, shortages of essential materials led to collection drives for silk, rubber, and other commodities. In recent years the environmental benefits of recycling have become a major component ...
The ineffectiveness of primeval sanitation systems led to an increase in the pollution of rivers and water pumps, a shortage in safe drinking water and problems concerning how to effectively remove the industrial and human waste. The quality of drinking water was later discovered to be a leading cause of the typhus and cholera epidemics. There was a significant rise in mortality rates and lower life expectancy. In 1841, Manchester, Glasgow and London had life expectancies of 26, 27 and 37 years old respectively. The early drainage systems of London were intended for draining surface water, not sewage and until 1815 the discharging of sewage was illegal. As the population continued to grow, and discharging sewage into the Thames became legalised, Thomas Cubitt stated: ‘the Thames [was] made a great cesspool instead of each person having one of his own’ (cited in Luckin, 1986, p.13).
‘The Thames had become absolutely pestilential’ and action was required (Halliday, 2001, p.5).
The belief in a miasmic theory of disease became prominent and caused much debate in mid-Victorian Britain. This theory was supported by figures such as Florence Nightingale, Samuel Leigh and John Britton. As a response to the theory that disease was spread through air-borne pollution, the water closet was introduced. This allowed sewage to be flushed into the Thames polluting London’s main source of drinking water. However, the caveat to an increased popularity of the water closet was a rise in epidemic danger and there was now more liquid waste. The water used by the water closets strained the drainage system so when emptied into the cess pools, overflowing became more frequent. In 1847, the Metropolitan Commission for Sewers published a survey of London’s sanitary arrangement. Legislation banning cess pools and flushing facilities followed as well as the prevention of using the Thames as a water supply as many people considered it to be an open sewer. Brewers were inevitably forced to obtain water from the wells creating support to clean up the Thames. Dr John Snow, talking about the 1849 cholera epidemic, believed that the flushing of effluent ‘exacerbated rather than delimited the epidemic’ (Luckin, 1986, p.15).
There are many reasons why we need to treat our water, and there are also many different ways we can treat our water. Water is very important to our survival. Regulations are set so that our water is healthy for us to drink. Without those regulations there could be things in our water to cause us to be sick. Some problems in parts of the country are heavy metals. One of the best ways to see if you ...
This view was supported by The Times which helped gather anxiety and desire for reform among the urban people. By the 1860s, only a small number of medical professionals and epidemiologists, specifically Dr John Snow (in his writing On the Mode of Communication of Cholera) agreed with a new germ theory of disease which undermined the miasmic theory. Dr Snow argued that the spread of cholera and typhoid had a direct correlation with the polluted water being consumed and not the air breathed in (Whol, 1983, p.239).
However, the Committee for Scientific Enquiry rejected this theory in 1854 whilst the 1852 Grand Experiment had previously reinforced Snow’s findings. By the late nineteenth century, the miasmic theory (that contributed to the chaos caused by the Great Stink of 1858) had died out. ‘Cholera frightened people’ and forced the ‘moribund, degraded, unreformed municipal corporations into fits of unwonted sanitary activity’ (Chadwick & Flinn, 1965, p.8).
Brand believed that cholera was ‘one of the most effective stimuli of the early public health movement’ as death rates dramatically increased (Brand, 1965, p.40).
Flinn, in his introduction to Chadwick’s Sanitary Report argues that the ‘promptitude with which medical assistance’ was provided to the working classes greatly improved their living conditions (Chadwick & Flinn, 1965, p.19).
The combination of medical breakthrough and the known correlation between living conditions and disease being displayed through the literature of such figures as Charles Dickens caused a ‘stirring [of] the social conscience’ (Ibid, 1965, p.21).
Edwin Chadwick, a utilitarian possessed a dogmatic personality and was not afraid to side with controversies. This contributed to the opposition that he received. Hamlin argues that Chadwick’s personality was the main impetus for the sanitary revolution moreso than his ideas (Hamlin, 1998, p.88).
Chadwick initiated the sanitary movement of the 1840s and played a crucial role towards the improvements of sanitation. He faced much opposition from the wealth, and in particular, the ‘dirty’ party who denied the existence of health problems. Chadwick produced The Sanitary Report in 1842 which became a best-seller with good reviews in The Times newspaper, The Morning Chronicle and the Quarterly Review. This helped gain public support and attention on the need for sanitary reform. The investigation findings by Smith, Arnott and Kay contested the unknown. They were well distributed with Chadwick giving copies to every poor law union which gave strength to the belief that public health needed addressing (Ibid, p.121).
The advent of technology brought about progress and have greatly improved our way of life. However, there are trade offs too. Technology not only bring about positive impact but negative impact as well. The following are the negative effects of technology that can harm our human society and our environment. PERSONAL POLLUTION A.Food Additives: These are substances added to food to improve its ...
Despite the contribution of these poor law commissioners, they refused to accept responsibility for the report as they considered it too radical. The report was specifically about ‘improving the lives and health of the poor, because they needed improving’ (Ibid, p.87).
It focuses on tackling typhus as this couldn’t be ignored, unlike the short-spanning cholera epidemics. The report explicitly told Britain about the conditions of London’s sewers and warned of the social and economic consequences that these deficiencies caused. Chadwick’s report set out to illustrate the relationship between sanitation and disease. He also argued that disease would have an economic effect with people unable to work. He was highly concerned about the social impact sanitation would have on immorality, intemperance and disease and demanded new administration systems to create reform. He didn’t trust the municipal local bodies as he believed there was a lack of coordination, organisation and unity between neighbouring commissions and local governments. Chadwick wanted a central, unified authority appointed, rather than elected, that would be provided with money to undertake sanitary reform. This was later created in 1848 through the set up of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers.
Following his report, the subject of sanitation began to enter literature in the form of novels which helped public awareness surrounding the issues that the Public Health Act was tackling. Cartoons and poems such as ‘Dirty Father Thames’ (Punch, July-Dec 1848) and ‘The Water That John Drinks’ (1849) were published gathering public support and demonstrating society’s attitudes towards pollution (Sewer History, 2005).
Chadwick designed a sewer system in 1842 that attempted to utilise waste productively. He believed that using human waste as agricultural fertiliser would create several benefits such as: a method of disposing sewage; the creation of jobs and capital; and an expanding source of food. He understood that the investment would be large but insisted that it would pay for itself. Due to London’s size increase, farms were becoming more remote and inaccessible, increasing the cost of transporting the waste. Also, the import of guano (bird droppings) to be used as fertiliser made the human manure market non-existent. So although the Chadwickian ideology of ‘turn[ing] sewage into profit’ through farming was appealing, it was too expensive to carry out in the larger cities in Britain and was ultimately a failure (Simmons, 2001, p174).
Public health in a Multicultural Environment MCHB or Maternal and child health bureau takes care of physical and mental health of citizens across the United States. Its main strategy is to eliminate disparities out of multi cultural society. It has created a five year strategic plan to take care of maternal and child health. It is well funded by DRTE so that it can implement its vision. For this ...
It is essential to address political reform and debate as much of the attention surrounding sewage-recycling schemes stemmed from government. Britain relied on a system of local governments, with limited funding, to enforce law. As discussed previously, there was a desire for a more central and unified authority and without this, legislation was hindered. Medical professionals were zealous to improve public health but due to the sole responsibility being with local authorities, their influence was minimal. The legislation in place was permissive rather than obligatory due to the lack of funding so action was neglected. The topographical conditions invited people to openly offer their solutions to tackle the problem. The National Health Society, established in 1873 allowed science to flourish. This caused conflict and local attitudes provided a fertile field for innovations in knowledge and technology (Simmons, 2001, p.183).
Local governments engaged in fierce debate in agreeing on which solution would be the most effective. Measures that were carried out to solve the sanitation problem gave rise to ‘displacement problems in a society whose systems of local self-government were incapable of reacting rapidly’ to the problems of pollution (Daunton, 2000, p.226).
The Public Health Act of 1875 displaced the problem elsewhere making it ‘analogous to building higher factory chimneys’ (Simmons, 2001, p.174).
Utopian Texts Chronological List of Utopian Texts Note: not all of these texts are necessarily 'utopias' in the strict sense (whether there can be said to be a strict sense of this term is another matter), but they all have elements of the genre - or are used in our course. Several early modern utopian texts can be found in digital reproductions of the original editions on Early English Books ...
There was increased conflict between private companies and metropolitan governmental control as shareholders of the oligopolistic water companies had vested economic interests that they were reluctant to sacrifice to municipal takeover. In Luckin’s essay, Pollution in the City, he argues that the powers surrounding the sanitary movement were ‘guilty of large-scale pollution [and] under the influence of powerful cliques of manufacturers’ (Daunton, 2000, p. 210).
The Great Stink of 1858 led Parliament to directly address the problem; turning the balance away from recycling schemes to getting rid of the waste. It ‘induce[d] the riparian legislators of Westminster to endorse the building of a main drainage system’ (Waller, 2000, p.134).
In 1858, Parliament instructed the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) to solve the problem of sewage systems. The MBW intercepted sewers which ‘deposited semi-deodorised effluent’ at Crossness and Barking (Daunton, 2000, p.212).
The residents of Barking then believed that the sewage vapour was poisoning them. Any solution that was put in place seemed to displease society in some way.
To conclude, the attention that sewage-recycling schemes received was primarily due to society becoming more conscious of the problem through aspects such as those aforementioned. Chadwick’s role was vital in stirring political awareness and debate that gave way for solutions to be proposed. The production and distribution of literature was also highly significant in claiming support for reform. Reform was hesitant due to, as Hamlin argues, ‘politics and power [being] obstacles to the truth (Hamlin, 1998, p.10).
Each individual aspect contributed to the attention surrounding recycling schemes but the collective drive and anxiety regarding Britain’s state of pollution caused a strong enough impetus for legislation and reform to, gradually but eventually, be put in place.
Word Count: 1874
Brand, J. L. (1965) Doctors and the State: The British Medical Profession and Government Action in Public Health, 1870-1912. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.
Chadwick, E .& Flinn, M. W. (1965) Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
William Carlos Williams 1883-1963 Nationality: American New Entry: 03/01/1999 Place of Birth: Rutherford, New Jersey, United States Genre (s): Poetry; Novels; Short Stories; Plays; Autobiography/Memoir; Philosophy; Letters; Essays; Songs/Lyrics and libretto Award (s): Dial Award, 1926, for distinguished service to American literature; Guarantors Prize from Poetry, 1931; LL. D. from University of ...
Daunton, M. (2000) The Cambridge Urban History of Britain. Vol 3, 1840-1950. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Halliday, S. (2001) The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. Sutton: Stroud.
Hamlin, C. (1998) Public Health and Justice in the Age of Chadwick: Britain, 1800-1854. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Luckin, B. (1986) Pollution and Control: A Social History of the Thames in the Nineteenth Century. Bristol: Adam Hilger.
Sewer History (2004) [Internet] <http://www.sewerhistory.org/misc.htm> [Accessed 2nd December 2010].
Simmons, I. G. (2001) An Environmental History of Great Britain: From 10,000 Years Ago to the Present. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Waller, P. (2000) The English Urban Landscape. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wohl, A. S. (1983) Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.