Monday 24 June 2013

Hints on your Health


As soon as you are up, shake blankets and sheet,
Better be without shoes, than sit with wet feet;
Children, if healthy, are active not still,
Damp beds, and damp clothes will both make you ill;
Eat slowly, and always chew your food well.
Fresh the air in the house where you dwell;
Garments must never be made to be tight;
Homes will be healthy if airy and light;
If you wish to be well, as you do I've doubt,
Just open the windows before you go out;
Keep your rooms always tidy and clean,
Let dust on the furniture never be seen;
Much illness is caused by the want of pure air,
Now to open your windows be ever your care.
Old rags and old rubbish should never be kept,
People should see that their floor are well swept;
Quick movements in children are healthy and right,
Remember the young cannot thrive without light.
See that the cistern is clean to the brim,
Take care that your dress is all tidy and trim;
Use your nose to find out if there be a bad drain,
Very sad are the fevers that came in its train.
Walk as much as you can without feeling fatigue,
Xerxes could walk for full many a league.
Your health is your wealth, which your wisdom must keep,
Zeal will help a good cause, and the good you will reap.

London: Jarrold and Sons, 3 Paternoster Buildings,
The Ladies' Sanitary Association, 22, Berners Street, Oxford Street, W.


[an undated publication from the Ladies Sanitary Association (1857-1900), courtesy of Liverpool Records Office]

Friday 21 June 2013

Filthy Impurities

Sir - "They order this matter better in France," observed Sterne, and never was there a more forcible illustration of the remark of the sarcastic sentimentalist than can be witnessed in Trafalgar-square, which you but a day or two ago, with justice, pronounced one of the handsomest squares in Europe. On the contemplated throwing open of St. Paul's, it was objected to by the witty Sidney Smith, on the ground that the public would make this superb and sacred edifice a grand "cabinet d'aisance;" and already has Trafalgar-square been polluted by some brutes in human shape, and urinals are being there formed in every direction, and this without any plea of necessity, as in proper places behind the National Gallery the wants of nature are duly provided against, without any offence to common decency. Nevertheless, dirty boys, besides, are suffered to disfigure the reservoirs, and fill them with orange peel, wood, dirty rags, and paper. Meanwhile, the police, whom we pay so well, are idly looking on, or engaged in the elegant employment of ogling the women. Could not a couple of sentries be spared from a place where they are of no use to this sitaution, "where they might d some service?" You, Sir, have shown that you possessed the power to pull down one Ministry and set up another, and through the medium of the all-powerful press the life of an unfortunate woman has lately been saved from the gallows; do, therefore, raise your voice as public monitor against the noble arena formed in honour of England's immortal hero becoming a complete eyesore, and the common receptacle for all the most filthy impurities, instead of being an ornament to the metropolis.

    I remain,

The Times, 6 May 1844

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Davis's Portable Urinal

The year of the Great Exhibition saw a sudden surge in interest regarding public toilets - or, rather, London's complete lack of them. Some entrepreneurs rose to meet the challenge:-

A deputation from the inhabitatns of the ward of Farringdon-within waited upon the Court for the purpose of comlpaining of the appearance of a large portable urinal at the west end of Cheapside, and requesting that the magistrates would cause its immediate removal from its present locality, as a much greater nuisance than any of those which it was intended to supercede. The curiosity excited among the female population by so unusual an object, which looked like a monster of the omnibus kind, and was gaudily painted, semed to be the principal objection to the introduction of the stranger, some of the gentlemen of the deputation having been actually put to the blush several times in the course of the morning upon being asked by ladies who popped their heads into their shops, 'Pray, what is that?'

A discussion of some length took place upon the question of the immediate removal of the bulky machine, the introduction of which had been sanctioned by the Court itself as an experiment, and it was argued by those whose delicacy seemd to be most excitable that the model which had been exhibited at a former Court, when the permission of the members was solicited at a former Court, when the permission of the members was solicited and obtained, was by no means copied in the article itself, the one being excessively modest and unobtrusive, and the other being, as a commissioner observed, carried out upon a principle of the "most glaring, attractive and offensive description."

Upon the other side it was contended that the curiosity would very soon be at an end; that so slight an objection would naturally vanish altogether before the great argument of public utility, competent judges of which were crowding the metropolis every day from all parts of the world; that public decency would be greatly promoted by an invention which had been successfully tested in other great cities; and that before the Court pronounced their condemnation, they would quietly watch the process of a little experience. Allusion was made to a vehicle of a similar kind which was placed in King William-street, where it was considered by some members as a very welcome visitor.

Ultimately, the matter was referred to a committee, with directs to report.

Times, June 4, 1851

Mr. Davis, the patentee of the portable urinal, which has attracted the observation of multitudes in the crowded thoroughfares of the city, appeared to answer the complaint of Mr. Macgregor and other respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood of Cheapside, for having unlawfully placed in the public street a machine which was a common nuisance to the residents. . . . . Mr. Daw, chief clerk of the commissionery attended, and stated that the commissioners [of Sewers] had originally, on being shown the model, deemed it useful, and not likely to be inconvenient to the public, but the inventor found he had erred in having the machine painted too conspicuously, and the commissioners, who had that morning viewed it, thought so too, and were of opinion that the site was not a proper one for the purpose.

. . . . For some days past a vehicle, constructed on the principle of the prison van, but painted in conspicuous colours, has been stationed at the western end of Cheapside. It is intended for the convenience of gentlemen only, who are admitted by an attendant inside on payment of 1d. each person. In consequence of the great novelty of the speculation crowds have gathered round the vehicle every morning, as soon as it has taken its station. A similar vehicles has also been exhibited at the Monument, at the end of King William-street.
    Mr. Joseph Payne, a barrister, who attended for the defence, said he had just attended a summons at the Mansion-house with regard to the same affair, and it was there agreed to withdraw the summons on the promise that the nuisance complained of should be removed.

Alderman WILSON said, if the parties would only select some retired spot for these machines no complaint would be made about them. There was a vacant space of ground at the end of Cheapside which was a much more preferable site for such a purpose than the middle of a public thoroughfare like Cheapside or King William-street.

    Mr. Payne said that both vehicles should be instantly removed.

    Upon that understanding the case was discharged.

Times, June 6, 1851

Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Evils of Perambulators and the Role of Women

From the first annual meeting of the Ladies Sanitary Association, 21 July 1859:

The Earl of SHAFTESBURY upon the reading of this report, said that, although he had been honoured with a request to preside on this public occasion, the ladies who had established this association made it one of their rules that no gentleman should interfere in this business, and he thought they were right; for this was peculiarly the women's work, and they should keep the management of their affairs in their own hands. ... Although general measures of sanitary reform might be promoted by boards of health and other institutions administered by men, the details of the subject could only be dealt with by women. It was only they who could visit the families of the poor to give them advice and instruction upon various matters, which, homely and simple as they were, vitally concerned the health and safety of the whole population. The weaning of infants, the "evils of wet-nursing", the "evils of tight-lacing", and the "evils of perambulators", such matters as these were discussined in the publications of this association, and were fitly explained to the wmoen of the working classes by the ladies who had combined together to promote this most useful and benevolent design. It was evident that they might thus do a great deal not only to obviate the spread of epidemic disease, and to diminish the sickness and mortality which afflicted the families of the poor, but also to prevent those painful cases of deformity, crookedness and crippling of their offpsring which so frequently occurred, as the result of mismanagement in nursing. ... He would take this opportunity to make his solemn protest against perambulators, as they were commonly used at present. He did not object to them as a means of conveying children from one place to another, but he protested as their being used as cages for the poor children, who ought to be sprawling about and playing on the grass; he had seen them in the park shut up in a perambulator like rabbits in a hutch, while their nursemaids were walking, reading, gossipping or flirting. He was also much impressed with the mischief caused by the use of Godfrey's cordial and similar narcotics; he had known cases in which a child was left with a piece of flannel steeped in laudanum, put into its mouth, for many hours, while its mother went away to her work. Surely, if mothers and nurses were made aware that, by such conduct, they were laying the foundation for dreadful disorders or premature death of the children committed to their care, they would adopt a more salutary treatment. He remembered that, some years ago, in connexion with the dispensary established in the adjoining parishes of St. James and St. George, a small sum was laid out upon whitewashing and ventilation amongst the poor houses in some of the most crowded and unhealthy streets in that neighbourhood, and the ersult was that the number of cases from that district applying to the dispensary for relief was reduced in one year by no fewer than 800. This showed what might be done by means of sanitary reform. ... Great results had been obtained, or might be obtained, from legislative intervention, and compulsory measures of drainage, the widening of streets for ventilation, the improvement of towns and dwelling-houses and the establishment of public parks and playgronuds for recreation and exercise. But a great deal must always depend upon women, since they had almost absolute control over every human being for the first few years of his life. Wives and mothers were, after all, the most valuable and eficient agentsi n this great work. The diffusion of good sanitary knowledge he regarded as auxiliary to the extension of the Gospel itself; for he was convinced there would be no surer way of reaching the hearts of the people than by conveying to their homes, along with the lessons of Christianity, the teaching which would promote their physical comfort, health and deceny, and all the temporal blessings of civilisation.

Daily News, 22 July 1859

Thursday 13 June 2013

A Second Body into her Coffin

It seems to have been very common for gravediggers and undertakers to smuggle stillborn children into coffins, without the knowledge of the deceased's family and friends - this saved paying burial fees. Here is an undertaker's account of the work:

I said I thought I was going to Ilford on the following Tuesday, and the child could be buried then. I went to the hotel by his directions on the Saturday evening, taking a shell with me, in which I placed the body of the child. It was a shell made of ordinary deal and painted, such as children of that age are usually buried in. I drove some nails into the coffin lid, and then removed it. I got a certificate of the death. I have no got it here. Perhaps it is at home, but I fancy it was torn up by my children, for it lay on the mantel-piece for some time. It is necessary to give the certificate of death to the clergyman who performs the burial service. The next day (Sunday) I put the deceased child in a coffin along with a woman named Aycock, who was buiried from Lant-street, Southwar, and the two were interred together at the Tower Hamlets Cemetery. The body of Aycock did not go from my house, but from that at which she died in Lant-street. I took the child's body to Aycock's house in the shell which shell I carried in a bag. The child was then taken out of the shell and laid in the coffin with the body of the woman. The friends of Mrs. Aycock did not know that I had put a second body into her coffin. I paid only oneset of fees at the Tower Hamlets Cemetery and only one burial service was performed.

The Times, 8 October 1859

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Stillborn children: the Bermondsey Scandal of 1883


At an early hour yesterday morning Inspector Kemp and Sergeants Pickels and Wilson, of the Southwark division of police, acting upon information given at the Stone's-end police-station, Blackman-street, Borough, proceeded to the business premises of Mr. William Camden, undertaker, at 72, Long-lane, Bermondsey, and having aroused the person in charge, named Chapman, informed him that they; had a warrant to search the place for a number of dead bodies which they understood were secreted there. They were shown a recess under the staircase, and there saw a large shell, from which a most offensive smell proceeded.

On opening the shell they found in it three coffins, which contained the bodies of 11 infants in a very advanced state of decomposition. Dr. Alexander, the divisional surgeon,; was sent for, and on his arrival the bodies were removed to the St. George's parish mortuary and laid-out for examination. The sex of three or four only of the bodies could be ascertained, and Dr. Alexander is of opinion that they must have been secreted in the coffins several months. The Southwark coroner, Mr. W. J. Payne, was communicated with, and arrangements were made for holding an inquest. The police were busily engaged in seeking information as to the parents of the dead children, and in the course of the morning Mr. Camden, who resides at Peckham, presented himself at Stone's-end police-station, but was not arrested; The business premises in question remained closed during the whole of the day. As the news of the discovery spread in the locality crowds of persons assembled at the spot, and but for the presence or the special policemen who were stationed there,they would have done damage to the shop last night. Indications were not wanting that they would have given expression to their feelings by an appeal to lynch law had Mr. Camden put in an appearance. Similar excitement has been unknown in South London since a like discovery was made some years since at an undertaker's named Mummery, whose business premises in Old Kent-road wore attacked for several days by an angry mob. From certain statements which have been made by. Mr. Camden it is said, however, that no more serious charge than that of creating a public nuisance is likely to arise out of the discovery. According to the caretaker, who resides on the premises with his wife, it is not unasual for bodies of stillborn infants to be brought to the shop and to be kept there until a number have accumulated, when they are buried en bloc. It appears that a very small charge is made for the interment of such corpses, and it is alleged that the undertaker could not recoup himself unless this course was adopted. All the bodies found on the premises are those of infants bearing indications of having been stillborn.

The Times, 23 August 1883

At the Southwark Police-court yesterday ... These persons appeared to be very poor, and had stated that they had paid the undertaker sums of money to the extent of 5s. each on the promise that the bodies should be buried. ...

Ellen Jackson of 11, Victoria-place, Collyer's-rents, Borough, deposed to giving birth to a stillborn child on August 3, and said her husband arranged to pay Mr. Camden 5s. to bury it. He sent and fetched it away on Bank Holiday, and said it would be buried at Plaistow on the following Wednesday. She was horrified to learn that it had been found with eight others in the big coffin at Mr. Camden's. It was dressed with new clothes when it was taken away. She had been to the mortuary to try to identify it, but she was too frightened at the sight to stay ...

Decective Sergant Pickels, M Division, deposed to the finding of the bodies in three coffins in a large shell on the premises at 72, Long-lane. They were all pinned up in white cloths. The smell emitted was most loathsome.

The Times, 24 August 1883

A remarkable feature in the case is the method said to exist among undertakers in poor localities. It appears they arrange to bury children for a trifling sum, without troubling the parents to follow the ordinary routine of a funeral. In this way, the bodies are removed, and no more, as as rule is heard of the matter.

The Essex Standard, 25 August 1883

Tuesday 11 June 2013


The prohibition on urban burial from 1852 onwards (crowded graveyards were gradually closed by order of the government) may have had unintended consequences for the poor. One was that the practice of quietly burying stillborn children in other people's graves - achieved by tipping the grave-digger - was now an impossibility.

... the body was found in the canal ... The Coroner said that some charge was made by the sextons of the different parishes for the burial of still-born infants. Since the passing of the New Burial Act, closing the metropolitan graveyards, the bodies of numbers of children were exposed in every way in the public streets, as the poor had to walk a long distance and to pay for the interment of the body of a still-born infant. He (the Coroner) felt that such a system should not exist, as poor persons, being unable to pay the fee, got rid of the bodies of their offspring, in the best way they could, by placing them in the streets, so that when they were found an inquest was obliged to be held, and the county was thus put to fruitless expense. He would suggest, not only for the sake of the expense, but for the sake of decency, that the parochial authorities should inform the poor by placards and otherwise that the bodies of stillborn infants would be received at the various workhouses, and interred without charge. It could be easily done ...
    A juror said that a charge of one shilling was always made, and he had seen persons bringing the bodies of stillborn infants for burial refused, in consequence of their not having the shilling to pay.
    The Coroner said that since the passing of the act, a very large number of bodies of infants had been found in the differnet districts.

Daily News, October 20, 1855

He had a female call upon him the other day with a new-born child, and produced a medical certificate to that effect, but after the last inquest he refused to bury it, and told her that she must take the body to the burial-ground at Tooting. The woman, upon making inquiries, ascertained that to get the child buried there would cost 9s. 6d. which she was unable to pay, and she told Mr. Powell that she was, therefore, compelled to bury it in her own garden, and two other applicants had also said the same. 
    The Coroner said if the body of a child was subsequently found in such a place, it might lead to the supposition that the child had been murdered .. [but] he could not see how poor people could afford to bury newly-born children when the expenses were so great.
    The prevailing opinion of the whole of the jurors was that the old system of interring still-born children in the burial grounds of parish of Lambeth ought to be contrinued, and would have the effect of saving the parish and the county a very considerable expense, and prevent the exposure of newly born children.

The Morning Chronicle, April 19, 1856

At Wandsworth, George Grove, 70, gravedigger at Merton Church, was charged with disposing of the body of a stillborn child, by throwing it into a ditch. Wiiliam Henry Corke, a carpenter livign at High park Merton said that on Saturday evening he gave the prisoner a box, containing the dead body of the child, to bury in the churchyard, with a medical certificate and 1s 6d. for the interment. On Sunday afternoon, he heard that the box had been found in a ditch ... The prisoner said that he buried the box in the churchyard and indicated the spot, but on going to it witness found that the ground had not been opeend for several days. The fee for burial in such cases was 1s., but the prisoner asked for 1s. 6d. which he gave him ... he believed the case arose through drink. ... Joseph Smith, parish clerk, and sexton of Merton Church, said the proper course was to have brought the body to him, and on the production of a medical certificate, he would have buried it ... There was no stipuated fee but he usually charged 1s. Mr. Bridge remarked that formerly there was no power to bury stillborn children in a churchyard. They might be buried in a garden. The witness said that was so until the act was passed.

The Times, 25 September 1877