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

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London County Council 1912

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London County Council]

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Prom stable
Report of the County Medical Officer—General.
There are few references in any of the reports to nuisance arising from accumulations of stable
manure. This fact was also observed in 1910. There is little doubt that the more rigid enforcement
of the bylaws and the obvious reduction in the number of horse-drawn vehicles have together combined
materially to reduce nuisance from this cause. It must not be overlooked, however, as was pointed
out last year that the removal of small accumulations of manure will probably become a matter of
increasing difficulty, inasmuch as contractors will not find its collection sufficiently remunerative.
The question is deserving of the consideration of local authorities who have power to act under
section 36 of the Public Health (London) Act. 1891.
Dr. Collingridge reports that in the City of London much progress has been made towards
replacing the old-fashioned street gullies by properly trapped gullies of modern type and thus remedying
a source of nuisance. Sewer emanations and smells from upcast shafts are mentioned in several of the
reports as cause of complaint. During the year upwards of 42,000 complaints relating to various
nuisances were investigated by the officers of the several borough councils, and the necessary action
was taken-in each case. Some special nuisances are particularly referred to and the details are here
In Bermondsey for some years past frequent complaint of effluvium nuisance has been received
from the Neckinger school and surrounding neighbourhood. Dr. Brown, the medical officer of health,
reports that the nuisance has its origin in three sources: (1) the dust destructor ; (2) the electric light
undertaking; and (3) a local tannery. He comments unfavourably upon the association of the dust
destructor with the electric light undertaking, which he states does not tend to quick and hygienic
disposal of the refuse or to economical production of electric current. The low chimneys using forced
draught produce large quantities of sulphur compounds, which find their way into the surrounding
buildings. Dr. Brown suggests the separation of the two undertakings and the removal of the dust
destructor to its old site in Rotherhithe, where the buildings still remain. He adds with regard to the
nuisance from the tannery, that there are several other tanneries in the neighbourhood and that all
tanneries produce offensive smells.
In Camberwell a complaint was received under the Public Health Act, signed by ten inhabitant
householders, as to nuisance caused by a factory. The business was that of cleansing oily and greasy
cloths, and nuisance arose from the escape of steam from the drying chamber. Proceedings were taken
in July, 1912, but the case was adjourned sine die, the borough council being allowed costs. In Greenwich
there was nuisance from sewage flooding in certain houses due to the abnormal rainfall. The
nuisance was remedied, but Dr. Annis points out that this was small satisfaction to the occupiers, who
were compelled to have the floors of their houses taken up to clear up the debris remaining. Considerable
difficulty has been experienced in Holborn in respect of fumes from oil engine exhaust pipes on the
premises of an electric supply company. Other attempts to remedy the cause of complaint having
failed, the company erected a chimney stack of ferro-concrete about 150 feet high for the discharge
of the exhaust pipes. Since the completion of the work no complaints have been received.
Dr. Allan mentions an instance of the difficulty of discovering the source of origin of effluvium
nuisance. A sulphurous smell which invaded houses in several streets in Mayfair was only discovered
after a fortnight's careful examination. It was found to be due to a steam exhaust pipe on club
premises being taken into a chimney shaft at the wrong point. Other effluvium nuisances in Westminster
were due to the burning of rubber dentures at a refining establishment, the damping of clinkers,
and the improper use of a forced draught in a patent smoke preventing apparatus. A complaint of
quantities of grit and fine ash was remedied by building a brick baffler in the flue, and frequent removal
of the ash from the base of the chimney shaft.
House refuse.
There is generally little reference to complaint of non-removal of house refuse. Dr. Harris
mentions that in Islington in 1891 some 10,000 requests were received for removal, whilst in 1912 there
were only 47 applications. Throughout London the practice of at least one collection a week has been
adopted, though there is an increasing tendency to the view that a more frequent collection is desirable.
Arrangements for a bi-weekly collection have been made in Holborn and Poplar, and to a certain extent
in Hackney, Lambeth and Paddington. In the City of Westminster a system of daily collection is in
force throughout a large part of the area, and in other boroughs house refuse is collected daily from
tenemented blocks of dwellings and certain prescribed portions of the district.
The annual reports of medical officers of health show that considerable effort is made in London
to deal with smoke nuisance, and in several the statement is made that smoke nuisance is of less frequent
occurrence than formerly. The premises dealt with under the smoke provisions of the Public Health
Act include various manufacturing premises, electricity supply works, laundries, bakehouses, fried fish
shops, hotels, restaurants, etc.
Dr. Collingridge refers to the fact that while considerable reduction in the amount of smoke
nuisance has been effected as the result of action under the existing statutory powers, difficulty is felt
because it is necessary to prove that the smoke emitted is "black," as well as that the premises of the
offenders are not used as a private dwelling house. With regard to Westminster, Dr. Allan records
more nuisance from this cause than in previous years, due mainly to careless stoking, and the burning
of wet sawdust, rags, and hospital dressings in the furnaces. The use of inferior coal owing to the strike
of miners during the year is also suggested as a probable cause. Mention is made of smoke entering
rooms from chimneys at too low a level. On several occasions during the year, moreover, the attention
of the Port of London Authority was directed to smoke emitted from vessels on the Thames.