Tuesday 18 December 2012

Sewer Gas

The Victorians remained convinced that gas from sewers caused disease, for most of the nineteenth century. I include this letter, however, not because it tells us much about Victorian sanitation, but because I like the tone:

Sir – I am afraid that complaints like that of your correspondent “L” would fill your generous columns if you allowed them to.
    I am the father of three small brats and live in a lovely locality on the South-Western Railway, but I live ni a semi-detached stuccoed villa, and suffer nuisances inconceivable. When I first took the house the cesspool and the well were in peaceful communion. The analysis of both was the same. Then I had the well closed and water laid on from waterworks. Still I was not happy. Illness appeared and a little cousin died next door of typhoid. Then we have the houses examined and lo! The only vent for the sewage gas was up the closet into the middle of the house. The place had to be pulled about and in my horror of the expenditure I weakly applied to my landlord to help me. He laughed, said I had a repairing lease, that he had no children and never drank water. These last two, I can quite believe.
Now, Sir, until the law steps in and compels landlords to make their houses fit to live in (we cannot expect them to care for our comfort), compels them to put proper drainage and supply water, speculating builders will still pile up fortunes and multiply their iniquities for the benefit of the plumber first and the undertaker afterwards.
    I am,Sir, yours faithfully,

The Times, 5 October 1876

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