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The Sanitary Report, 1842

This was the work of Edwin Chadwick alone: he conducted his investigation between 1839 and 1841. His work formed the basis of the 1848 Public Health Act. Chadwick put in a massive personal effort. Engels used Chadwick's work for his Condition of the Working Class in England (1844).

The Report was an objective work, which followed the 1840 Report of the Health of Towns Committee. The 1842 Report was sponsored by the Poor Law Commission. It sold over 30,000 copies, but did not have the authority of an official document, as it was published in Chadwick's name. It presented four main themes, with a mass of examples offered as proofs. The cholera scares of 1831 and 1839 helped him, and the 1848 Act coincided with another outbreak of cholera.

The Report pointed out the correlation between the lack of sanitation and

This was done without medical knowledge. This theme comprised half the Report. It highlighted overcrowding, where disease and dirt were greatest. It is clear from the Report that population growth was outstripping housing development, leading to overcrowding.

1837-41 population growth housing growth rate
Glasgow 37% 18.5%
Manchester 47% 15%
Bradford 78% 12%

In 1840 15,000 persons in Manchester lived in cellars
  39,000 persons in Liverpool lived in 7,800 cellars
  86,000 persons in Liverpool lived in 2,400 courts

The Report on the Health of Towns (1840) noted

The backs of the houses in one court are built against the backs of the houses in the next court; at the further end there is generally an ash-pit between two privies; they are in the most abominable state of filth ... The stench arising from these causes ... render it almost impossible to remain for any time

The economic costs of ill-health were given less emphasis. This reveals Chadwick's shift in attitude: he was becoming more humanitarian, but the social costs of squalor were heavily stressed. As Flinn says, 'Chadwick's unequivocal statement of the interaction of bad and inadequate housing with intemperance, immorality, bad spending, as well as disease, represents a major breakthrough in social thinking'. The inefficiencies of the existing system of administration were clearly demonstrated. Flinn says, 'Epidemics were brief, memories short and municipal purses tight. Chadwick's Report was much in advance of its time.

Defects of the Report

Peel's Government first received Chadwick's Report and wanted to verify it, so it set up the Buccleuch Commission in 1843, to investigate the health of towns and to subject Chadwick's Report to a general inquiry with a view towards special legislation. It endorsed Chadwick's work in the 1844 Report of the Commissioners Inquiring into the State of the Large Towns and Populous Districts. In 1843 a Burials Report was ordered from Chadwick by Sir James Graham. It led to a valuable sequel to the Sanitary Report.

N.B. Health problems and the question of public health suffered much the same fate as the factory issue. It was subordinated to the more pressing issue of economics.

Russell's (Whig) Government of 1846-52 followed earlier institutional reform programmes but attempted tentative social reform by passing the first public health legislation.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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