Account for the state of public health in Britain during the Industrial Revolution The state of public health in Britain during the Industrial Revolution was very poor. There were many reasons why the standard of health was so bad. Leading up to the Industrial Revolution was the Agricultural Revolution, which brought about population growth and rural-urban migration. Houses were built very quickly, cheaply and poorly which meant there was no sanitation, very little running water, no sewerage drains and no waste collection. The poor housing resulted in a lot of death and disease, as did the working conditions.
Poverty also contributed to the poor state of public health, as did the lack of medical knowledge. The state of public health did improve towards the end of the 19th century due to increased medical knowledge, lessened poverty, the sewerage system and government intervention. Before the Agricultural Revolution, farming methods used were similar to those used in medieval times. Agriculture was based on an open field system, where fields were divided into strips, with farmers owning several strips which were spread out throughout the fields.
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This method of farming was very unproductive and in 1730 when Britain’s population began to grow, new farming techniques were needed to keep up with the increased demand for food. New techniques were brought in and therefore more food was available. The Agricultural Revolution is said to have been the beginning of the Industrial Revolution because of the new ideas which were used and were proven to work. The Industrial Revolution meant that Britain’s population increased, which led to rural-urban migration because many were leaving the country to go work in the new factories.
Due to so many people migrating to the industrial towns, those towns became very overcrowded. One such town was London. In 1801, the population was 957,000 and in 1851, the population stood at 2,362,000. Due to a lot of overcrowding in the cities, there were a lot of diseases present which resulted in poor health. As the working class population of towns increased so dramatically in a short span of years, places to house all the factory workers were needed. Houses were then built very quickly and cheaply, in London in 1821, there were 1 illion houses, by 1851, there were 2 ? million houses built. Houses were often not built properly and had, ‘ill-fitting planks and broken windows. ‘ Houses were so damp that there was mould growing on the walls. The government at the time believed in a policy called, ‘laissez-faire. ‘ This policy simply meant not interfering, therefore there was no town planning or building regulations. Because the working class had no transport to get to the factories for work, other than walking, houses were built close to the factories.
A French nobleman, Alexis de Toqueville visited Manchester in 1835 and said that, ‘the houses of the poor are scattered around them (the factories). ‘ He also described the houses as being, ‘the last refuge between poverty and death. ‘ Living in conditions such as these, added to a very bad state of public health. Because of laissez-faire, no town planning was conducted by the government, there was a general lack of sanitation, very little running water available, no systems for household sewerage, no waste collections and lots of pollution and waste from factories, households and animals.
Houses were built quickly and cheaply so no running water or plumbing was installed in them. Household waste was emptied on to the streets or into cesspits which had been emptied each night by the night-soil men. In 1841 in London, there were 200,000 cesspits which were full and overflowing. One shilling was charged by the night-soil men to empty each cesspit and many could not afford to pay, so cesspits were not emptied and filth accumulated in them. Running water was available from taps in the streets and these taps were usually turned on for a few hours each day.
The water from these taps was almost always polluted and many diseases such as cholera and typhoid were spread via the infected waters. In London, a sewerage system had been built, but it was only for surface run-off. These sewers could not cope with eh amounts of sewerage being emptied into them, so they broke and overflowed. Horses were used for transport during the Industrial Revolution and other animals were herded through the streets. Because of the large amounts of animals traveling the streets, there was a lot of their waste. Animal waste was mostly left on the street although occasionally street sweepers would sweep it away.
People working in factories were subject to appalling working conditions. Many diseases were spread through the factories and the work was often dangerous. People working in the mines often got lung cancer because of all the dust and fumes. Mining was also a very dangerous job because mines could easily collapse or blow up because there were lots of gases trapped underground and if tapped in to, they would almost always blow up. Working in the cotton mills, people breathed in fluff and would have cotton in their lungs which would get infected and they would die.
Factory work often resulted in injuries, people would have fingers or hands cut off by the machines which they worked with. Young children were often employed by factory owners to fix machines because they were small and could get underneath the machines to fix the. A German socialist, Fredrick Engles visited England in 1842 and said that, ‘the health of whole generations of workers is undermined, and they are racked with disease and infirmities. ‘ Factory workers worked in filthy factories with very long hours and very harsh conditions. Poverty was also a main contributor to the poor state of public health in Britain.
Poverty was a class related cause, so only affected the working class. People working in factories were paid very low wages. Because the workers were not earning a decent living, they were trapped in a cycle of poverty. Parents couldn’t afford to send their children to school, sot eh children were sent to work in the factories, so couldn’t receive an education and therefore ended up as unskilled workers and they too became trapped in the cycle of poverty. Workers were in this poverty and were unable to pay for medical attention or treatment if they got sick.
This led to general bad health. People were also unable to afford proper housing or sanitation which also led to bad health. There was almost a complete lack of medical knowledge in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, causes of diseases were unknown, although there were theories as to the cause of various diseases. One such theory was the ‘miasma theory’ that diseases were spread through the atmosphere. The ‘disease mist’ was said to hover over London like an ‘angel of death. ‘ It was believed that the smells of the industrial towns caused diseases. The iasma theory was the accepted theory for the presence of diseases. Dr John Snow believed that infected water was the answer to the cause of cholera. Snow’s theory was not accepted until much later on. There were many changes which improved public health. Following Edwin Chadwick’s report in 1842, in which he reported that, ‘all smell is disease,’ the Metropolitan Sewers Commission was created. Joseph Bazalgette joined the commission in August 1849. Bazalgette was responsible for the planning and construction of the London sewerage system which is still in use today.
The sewerage system in London meant that cholera disappeared because sewerage was no longer being emptied into the areas of the Thames where drinking water was pumped form. Public health also improved when the government intervened. The government decreased working hours, improved housing standards, wages were increased and health standards were brought in. Public health in Britain during the Industrial Revolution was very bad for several reasons although there were improvements made towards the end of the 19th century.