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

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Lewisham 1856

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Lewisham District]

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Marshes, privies, ditches filled with sewage, which can get no further,
assist in contaminating the air for some distance round this locality.
An equally dangerous spot is a piece of land at the back of Dartmouth
Row and Dartmouth Place (which places are also in a wretched state of decomposition
and filth). This piece of land, perhaps half an acre in extent,
is a complete marsh, made more foul by the drainage and refuse thrown
from the houses abutting on it. Sickness exists there already, and must be
worse if unattended to.
A portion of the old canal, and some of the land adjoining, and situated
at the base of Forest Hill, from the variations in level of the water contained
in it, must throw out miasm when its banks are uncovered, as they
were last summer, which is rendered still worse by the fact, that until
lately the greater part of the drainage of Forest Hill opened into it.
The greater part of the drainage, with the overflow of cesspools, and
refuse from one or more slaughter-houses, runs at the back of some of the
houses in the High Street, along part of Willow Road, and this combined
with drainage from many houses, empties itself near Park End, and thence
under the Railway; after running by the side of a footpath for some distance,
it finds its way through numerous water courses and ditches by the
sides of the road in Perry Yale, towards Lewisham, and is extremely offensive
and liable to produce disease.
The privies, cesspools, and offensive ditches in this neighbourhood would
occupy too great a space to enumerate at length in this report.
They must, however, be extremely dangerous to health, as the population
increases rapidly. Many parts that I have enumerated are marked by depraved
health, and although at present no epidemic has committed its fearful
ravages amongst us, still we have been warned; and these districts cannot
exist in their present state with impunity.
I am favoured with a letter from the Incumbent of Christ Church, Forest
Hill, urging my attention to these points.
Penge, commonly called Penge Common, was until the last few years an
uncultivated and undrained mass of forest, which has since been nearly all
The inhabited portion of the District is situated upon a flat piece of
ground at the base of the Hill upon which the Crystal Palace stands, and
about a mile from that building, and is relatively low in elevation.
It is intersected by two small streams which find their way into the
Poole river, towards Kent House Farm.
These streams intersect the village in two or three directions, and are
characterized by their extreme filth, receiving the drainage of the Crystal
Palace, Almshouses, all the houses on the National Freehold Land Society's
plot of ground, and many others.
The soil differs little from that of Sydenham, consisting of a clay loam,
in some parts mixed with gravel, and based on London clay.
The number of houses in Penge is now 385.
The population has so increased since the building of the Crystal Palace,
that the census number of inhabitants gives no correct information on the
subject (270).