Construction & Drainage # 1972 Southampton
There is nothing new about sanitation — it was discovered at ‘Skara Brae’ in the Orkneys that Neolithic stone huts were provided with crude drains leading from the recesses in the walls that are supposed to be latrines.
One of the earliest known baths came from Crete and is dated about 1700 BC, some 3600 years old, and is surprisingly similar to today’s modern baths.
But the use of baths and overall washing of the body has never been particularly acceptable — especially in small boys! In the 18th century, bathing was still a rare event, but public sewers and water closets were being installed, hospitals improved, medicine ceased to be a mixture of witchcraft and alchemy and became a science. When in 1720 a woman in Godalming gave birth, she said, to rabbits, several ‘doctors’ including the King’s anatomist, believed her. Twenty years later no ‘doctors’ could have been thus deceived.
By 1830, in the larger towns, networks of drains were beginning to take shape. Greater London hada population of 1% million and by 1850 this had grown to 2 million.
About this period, the death rate in the towns (Nottingham) from ‘fever’ of under 5-year-olds was 480 per 1000, but in the country districts (Hertfordshire) it was 140 per 1000. Imagine the outcry today if 1% of these figures was reached!
‘Fever’ was thought quite acceptable, but cholera was very different, being considered an Asiatic disease which Englishmen could not catch. Between 1830 and 1866 cholera struck London a number of times. In 1849 over 14,000 died, and in 1858 10,000, when it was suggested that Parliament should be transferred away from the Thames — an open sewer — to get away from the appalling smell.