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

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Bermondsey 1858

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out, but the medical attendant adopted the wise precaution of at once
vaccinating them, and in consequence the disease was modified, and
they recovered. The sanitary arrangements in this house were fairly
carried out.
The births in St. James's district this week were 29, and the deaths
but 5; a most unusual and remarkable proportion worthy of record. In
the Leather Market they were 13; the deaths 7; whilst in St.
Mary Magdalen only 6 were born, and 7 died.
My attention has been drawn by your inspector to the presence of a
serious nuisance of recent growth in Brown's Fields. Although at
first sight it would appear to be one rather of a moral than of a physical
nature, it is of a character calculated, I am convinced, to bring about
much misery, vice, and disease, to the juvenile portion of our population.
On visiting the spot last evening, accompanied by Mr. O'Brien and
a police constable, about 7 o'clock, I found that there was a gipsy
encampment of 12 tents, most of them occupied by 2, 3, and 4 adult?,
besides several children and young persons of both sexes. I think
that there must be nearly a hundred of these Arabs of a civilised country
living in a state bordering upon complete barbarism, now settled down
in our parish. The spot, as is well known to most gentlemen of the
Vestry, is bounded by a ditch near the factory of Messrs. Bryan and
Parker, which is, I am sorry to say, even now giving off most offensive
and sickening odours, increased by the stagnant condition in several
places, caused by obstruction in consequence of the breaking down
of the banks by the large numbers of boys and girls who congregate
hero, especially on the Sunday, for the purposes of donkey
racing, dog fighting, fortune telling, and other more immoral purposes.
On inquiry I found that some of these people have been
here for nearly six months, others only a few weeks, and their
ostensible occupation is clothes-peg and skewer making. There was
one tent into which we were especially invited to enter by two young
women not of a doubtful character. These people have no water for use
except from the adjoining filthy ditch, unless they beg from houses at a
considerable distance, and I am convinced, from the appearance of men,
women, and children, that they are scarcely or ever washed. I have
done all I can to mitigate this evil, by certifying the tents as habitations
unsuited and unfitted for human beings. I trust that this step
will prove effectual, and promptly, for no right-thinking person can
contemplate without alarm and sorrow the continuance of a condition
of things which I have but faintly described, one doubtless constituting
a very hot-bed of crime and disease.
I am, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,
JOHN CHALLICE.
28


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