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A Water Borne Disease

It wasn't until 1849 that a Doctor, John Snow, published a paper suggesting that the water was the carrier of the disease. He persuaded the local council to remove the handle from the public water pump in Broad Street, where 500 people had previously died in ten days. He had noticed that only a tiny percentage of workers at the Lion Brewery had contracted the disease, and came to the conclusion that it was because they had a free beer allowance, so rarely if ever drank the water from the pump. London was overcrowded, and the East end suffered the worse conditions possible. Places like Bethnal Green, and Whitechapel had people crowded into slum housing with next to no facilities for hygienic living. In conditions like this, disease was always a major threat. Malnutrition of many of the inhabitants also added to their vulnerability. These were the poorest areas in London before, and during the first years of Victoria’s reign. Apart from a few benevolent philanthropists like George Peabody, the well off seemed to ignore or were totally unaware of the existence of such places. It wasn't until the "Great Stink" of 1858 that parliament, under Disraeli, passed a bill to clean up the Thames and start creating a sewer system. Cholera was still a major problem until 1866. Gradually over the following years the city was cleaned up but it was to be a very long task. Today, in 2022 raw sewage is being pumped into rivers and the sea by the water companies in vast amounts! We are just getting back to normal after the Covid 19 pandemic, and now we are facing possible contamination of the water supply. The penal system >>

Turn A Blind Eye

The articles on this page include the whole of London although most of the issues affected in the main, the East end. Rife with poverty and disease. Most of the content describes the Victorian era, or the period a few years prior to Victoria’s reign, and highlights the huge difference in class that wealth made. Although some of the wealthy had some devious practices going on in the background, they were not as likely to suffer the fate of those who were caught stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families. Apart from a few philanthropists who at least tried to help financially, most of the Victorian gentry were quite happy to ignore the poverty, the crime and disease that went hand in hand with it.

Cholera Epidemic

Six years before Victoria came to the throne, in the autumn of 1831, there had been an outbreak of Cholera in the north of England which had made its way over from Germany. Because of the experience in Germany, the British government were able to act faster than usual to get some sort of counter measure into action. The sick were to be kept under strict isolation and whole towns were cut off by the military and police as soon as the disease was detected. Vessels entering the river Thames from the North were immediately quarantined for a period of time. Despite all these precautions, on February 10th. 1832 in the docks of East London Cholera reared its ugly head. How had it escaped these preventative measures?

East End Victims

In a matter of months the disease had travelled from Sunderland, where the first case was diagnosed, to London. Once the disease had hit the capital it spread like wildfire. The metropolis was a filthy overcrowded place with raw sewage everywhere and a water supply that left a lot to be desired. The city was polluted to an unthinkable degree. The poorer areas suffered the worse. Bethnal Green lost many of it's inhabitants to the attack. The contaminated water, combined with the flies crawling over human bodily wastes ensured the disease escalated in a short space of time. It struck quickly, and killed within days, or even hours of contracting it. Large areas were infected at once, and half the victims would die as no medical cure was available. Being a water- borne disease, a fact which the people were unaware of, Cholera could travel with great speed and crop up anywhere, but as people were ignorant of this at the time they still allowed their cesspit to overflow. If you can imagine a place like Whitechapel at the time, with no sewers whatsoever, it is not hard to understand how Cholera (and also Typhus, which was also rampant) was allowed to kill so many of this overpopulated area. This also explains why the wealthy were not exempt from contracting the disease. Although their lifestyle was healthier and living conditions cleaner, the water supply came from the same filthy source where people had been emptying their sewage for years.

THE SQUALOR - Poverty and Disease

The first victim, in Sunderland