From Paper to Pipes

PUBLIC HEALTH, CLEAN WATER AND THE ELAN VALLEY SCHEME, 1892-1905

By

By the middle of the nineteenth century some rather chilling statistics were becoming apparent. If you lived in the country - Rutland was the example given, but it could have been any such region – your life expectancy was 38 years.

If you lived in a city – London or Birmingham or Manchester – it was 17 years. These, of course, were averages, but the conclusion was clear enough for those who could read them. Moving from a rural to an urban area, as many millions had done since the Industrial Revolution began, was tantamount to a sentence of death, for the migrants themselves and even more acutely for their children.

The man who more than any other drew the nation’s attention to such divisions was Edwin Chadwick, once a Poor Law Commissioner, and later a crusader for the improvement of the health of the labouring classes. Chadwick had little doubt about the single most important factor in improving or destroying the nation’s health: clean water.

Fresh water and cities did not mix; inadequate drainage, industrial pollution and shared sanitation poisoned the very springs from which the cities grew. And if Chadwick’s report of 1842 reached only a few, the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1848 reached rather more. As The Times commented: ‘Cholera is the best of all sanitary reformers.  It overlooks no mistake and pardons no oversight.’

Download the Full Article (PDF)

Related Content