London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

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Bermondsey 1858

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Scarlatina), 5 in St. Mary Magdalen, and 8 in the Leather Market
Thus the general health of the Parish is absolutely satisfactory, and
when compared with others, shows a rapid advance in the sanitary condition
of the population.
I have had reason to thankfully acknowledge the courtesy of the
Vestry upon all occasions, and in almost every instance its readiness to
consider and adopt the suggestions and recommendations which I have
from time to time felt it my duty to advise, and bring to your consideration.
There is, however, an exception. It is the case in which I recommended
some precautions, and the adoption of some plan for the more effectual
ventilation of our sewers.
I advise and still consider that a great amelioration and most considerable
improvement would be effected by the construction of simple
and inexpensive shafts, from the sewers to some of the public buildings
and lofty warehouses, so that a considerable portion of the sewer gases
might become mixed with the atmosphere, and to a great extent dissipated,
instead of being breathed by foot passengers, and frequently by
children, no doubt to the great detriment of their health, and very frequently
producing serious disease.
It has long been known that emanations from sowers are prejudicial;
a remarkable illustration of this fact occurred lately in which some
Dogs were exposed for the sake of experiment for a certain period to
the influence of sewer gases—
It was found in every instance that the animal exposed soon loathed
its food, became sick, had Diarrhœa, wasted and died.
Now from enquiry I have made, it appears we have nearly 50 man
holes, or main ventilating shafts to the sewers within our parish. That
upon an average one or two of these are daily opened for some hours,
a necessary precaution no doubt to enable the workmen to enter
the sewers in safety. It is equally without doubt at an extreme risk of
passengers and inhabitants. Many instances have occurred to me of
cases of extreme and dangerous illness from this cause. The present
plan is so clumsy, and there is such an entire absence of all precaution
that I cannot help looking upon it as a stigma upon the mechanical and
sanitary science of the day.
I am convinced by a very simple contrivance, such as the fitting of
a framework, with a species of telescope tube attached, over these man
holes, when they are opened for the purposes of ventilation, much good
may be effected in our own district, and an excellent example be set to
others. Therefore I respectfully recommend to the Vestry the attempt
at all events to alleviate what is undoubtedly at all times a public
nuisance, and is occasionally a very serious evil.
There is at present, in various portions of the Metropolis, a movement
to carry out the philanthropic object of some gentlemen for the
establishment of drinking fountains for the poor. lam anxious that we
should participate in the manifold advantages of this plan; being under

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