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

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Bermondsey 1858

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April 4th, 1859.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, —Complaint having been made to me
of a Nuisance existing in the Railway Arches by Blue Anchor lane, in
the occupation of Mr. Hickmott, who there carries on the trade of Artificial
Manure maker, I visited and closely inspected the premises on
the 25th ult., accompanied by your Inspector of Nuisances. By the first
arch, and on the outside, there was a considerable heap of seal hair,
which had been limed, and was not offensive. "Within there were large
quantities of bags filled with refuse fur, giving off a musty odour, but
not of a decided offensive character. There was however distinguishable
a peculiar faint sickly smell, which proceeded from sugar refuse, and
which I know to be injurious to health. In the adjoining arch, the
process of converting crushed bones and other refuse animal substances
into artificial manure, was being carried on, and I remained
some time to witness it. By the aid of concentrated sulphuric acid
the various substances employed, such as _ bones, fur, hair, sugar
refuse, dried night soil, and plaster of Paris, are, after being mechanically
mixed, converted by " chemical combustion" into a dark
brown pulverulant mass, very valuable no doubt to Agriculturists, albeit
produced at the inevitable sacrifice of the comfort and health of the
inhabitants residing close to these premises. I have on several occasions
certified this process as injurious to health, and I do so now with
perfect confidence, inasmuch as a stay of less than half an hour caused
me a head-ache, with a sense of constriction about the temples, unpleasant
taste in the mouth, and a tightness at the chest. I was quite free
from these symptoms before going in. Similar effects were produced
on the tenant of a house, the rear of which is but a few yards from the
arch where the process is carried on ; with the addition also of nausea,
sickness, and loss of appetite.
The mortality for the week ending 19th March was 18, the corrected
average would be 25.2 thus distributed—4 in St James, all infants, two
being twins who died at 2 and 3 days old, and the cause of death was
the same in all, viz: convulsions. The births in this district are 13.
In St. Mary Magdalen, the deaths were 7, and of these I regret to report
five were of a zymotic character, viz., 3 from Scarlatina, one from
confluent Small Pox unvaccinated, and one from Fever and Diarrhœa.
The case of Small Pox was in the Grange Road, there were 4 other
children in the house unvaccinated when the disease first showed itself.
These children were vaccinated and escaped the disease. This is another
remarkable indication if any were required of the inestimable value of
vaccination, and also of the absolute necessity which exists for ascertaining
without delay the number of unvaccinated children within our
parish. I cannot help thinking that the exersise of some of the compulsory
powers, with regard to the enforcement of vaccination, would be
attended with the best results, more especially as Small Pox is certainly
on the increase. The births in this district were also 13, so that each