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A Court for King Cholera
Jacob's Island, Bermondsey. The shacks are privvies emptying into the stream that also provided the water supply to the houses.
Dirt, not destitution, causes fever. From Chadwick's Sanitary Report (1842) pp. 133-134.
... Mr. Baker, in his report on the condition of the population, after giving an instance of the contrast presented by the working-people living in better dwellings, situated in better cleansed neighbourhoods (to which I shall advert when submitting the evidence in respect to preventive measures), describes the population living in houses —
"With broken panes in every window-frame, and filth and vermin in every nook. With the walls unwhitewashed for years, black with the smoke of foul chimneys, without water, with corded bed-stocks for beds, and sacking for bed-clothing, with floors unwashed from year to year, without out-offices, ... while without, there are streets, elevated a foot, sometimes two, above the level of the causeway, by the accumulation of years, and stagnant puddles here and there, with their foetid exhalations. causeways broken and dangerous, ash-places choked up with filth, and excrementitious deposits on all sides as a consequence, undrained, unpaved. unventilated, uncared-for by any authority but the landlord, who weekly collects his miserable rents from his miserable tenants.
"Can we wonder that such places are the hot-beds of disease, or that it obtains, upon constitutions thus liberally predisposed to receive it, and forms the mortality which Leeds exhibits. Adult life, exposed to such miasmata, gives way. How much more then infant life, when ushered into, and attempted to be reared in, such obnoxious atmospheres. On the moral habits similar effects are produced. An inattention on the part of the local authorities to the state of the streets diminishes year by year the respectability of their occupiers. None dwell in such localities but those to whom propinquity to employment is absolutely essential. Those who might advocate a better state of things, depart; and of those who remain, the one-half, by repeated exhibitions of indecency and vulgarity, and indeed by the mere fact of neighbourship, sink into the moral degradation which is natural to the other, and vicious habits and criminal propensities precede the death which these combinations prepare."
No education as yet commonly given appears to have availed against such demoralising circumstances as those described, but the cases of moral improvement of a population, by cleansing, draining, and the improvement of the internal and external conditions of the dwellings, of which instances will be presented, are more numerous and decided, though there still occur instances of persons in whom the love of ardent spirits has gained such entire possession as to have withstood all such means of retrieving them. The most experienced public officers acquainted with the condition of the inferior population of the towns would agree in giving the first place in efficiency and importance to the removal of what may he termed the physical barriers to improvement, and that as against such barriers moral agencies have but a remote chance of success.
A gentleman who has had considerable experience in the management of large numbers of the manufacturing population stated to me that in every case of personal and moral improvement the successful step was made by the removal of the party from the ill-conditioned neighbourhood in which he bad been brought up. When a young workman married, he interfered to get him a better residence apart from the rest, and when this was done important alterations followed; but if he took up his abode in the old neighbourhood, the condition of the wife was soon brought down to the common level, and the marriage became a source of wretchedness,
Benevolent persons, viewing the hare aspect of some of the most afflicted neighhourhoods, have raised subscriptions for the purchase of furniture, bedding, and blankets, for the relief of the inmates, but by this pecuniary aid they have only added fuel to the flame, that is, they have enabled the inmates to purchase more ardent spirits The force of the habit, which is aggravated by misdirected charity, is indicated in the following instances, of which one was mentioned to me by the Rev. Whitwell Elwin:-
" I was lately informed by a master tailor of Bath that one of his men, who had earned £3 a-week at piece-work for years, had never within his knowledge possessed table, chairs, or bedding. I found the statement on examination to be strictly true, Some straw on which he slept, a square block of wood, a low three-legged stool, and an old tea-caddy, are the complete inventory of the articles of a room, the occupier of which, with only himself and his wife to maintain, was wealthier than many in the station of gentlemen. He had frequently excited lively compassion in benevolent individuals, who, supposing that he was struggling for very existence, furnished him with a variety of household goods, which were regularly pawned before a week was out, and afforded to the superficial observer fresh evidence of the extremity of his distress, The cause of all this is quickly told: the wife was to be seen going to and fro several times a-day with a cream-jug of gin, and to gratify this appetite, they had voluntarily reduced themselves to the condition of savages. I could add numerous instances of a similar kind, Indeed, were a stranger to go through the town, and judge only from the appearance of things, I am convinced that he would select his examples of greatest privation not from the really poor, but from men who were in the receipt of more than 30s. a-week, Charity, which when prompted by pure motives, always blesses him that gives, does not always bless him that takes. I am afraid that the indiscriminate adoption of dirt and rags as a test of poverty, especially in a town like Bath, where private charity prevails on an extensive scale, operates as a premium upon ill habits, and as a discouragement to cleanliness, and leads many to affect a vice which was not habitual to them." ...
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