Hints from the Health Department. Leaflet from the archive of the Society of Medical Officers of Health. Credit: Wellcome Collection, London
[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London County Council]
Report of the County Medical Officer—General.
Cleansing of Persons Act, 1897, etc.
The Cleansing of Persons Act, 1897, provides "that any local authority shall have the power when
in their discretion they shall see fit, to permit any person who shall apply to the said authority on the
ground that he is infested with vermin to have the use, free of charge, of the apparatus (if any) which
the authority possesses for cleansing the person and his clothing from vermin."
It is also provided that the use of such apparatus shall not be considered to be parochial relief
or charitable allowance, and local authorities may expend any reasonable sum on buildings, appliances,
etc., required for carrying out the Act. The Act, however, is a permissive one only.
For several years the metropolitan borough councils, with some lew exceptions, took very little
action under the provisions of this Act, and so recently as 1906 there was little progress to record.
It was recognised, however, in dealing with verminous persons and more particularly in the case of
children, that the cleansing of the individual could be of little service unless accompanied by the cleansing
of the home and the purification of articles of furniture and clothing. The London County Council,
therefore, in its General Powers Bill of 1904 inserted clauses empowering local authorities to cleanse,
purify, or destroy articles which the medical officer of health certifies are filthy, dangerous, or unwholesome.
In addition, power was obtained to compel owners to strip and cleanse any house or part of a
house certified by the medical officer of health to be infested with vermin. These clauses became law
and have been increasingly used, so that during the year 1912 more than 100,000 articles of clothing
and bedding are recorded as having been freed from vermin, and if the exact figures were obtainable
it would probably be found that twice this number of articles was dealt with. During the last three
years, moreover, an average number exceeding 10,000 rooms a year received the attention of the borough
councils on account of their verminous condition.
19,20, 21, 24
A further impetus was given to this work by the passing of the London County Council (General
Powers) Act of 1907. This Act contained clauses empowering the Council as Education Authority to
make arrangements for the cleansing of school children, and as supervising authority for the cleansing
of the inmates of common lodging houses. In both cases power was obtained to detain and convey
to suitable premises for the purpose of cleansing any person failing to comply with a twenty-four hours'
notice. Section 38 of the Act expressly provided that the Council might enter into agreements with
local authorities possessing suitable stations for the cleansing of school children and inmates of common
lodging houses, and incidentally this section has been the means of securing a considerable extension
throughout London of the facilities for cleansing which were first made possible by the Cleansing of
Persons Act. 1897.
Almost immediately following the General Powers Act of 1907, the Children Act, 1908, was
passed. This Act also gave power to cleanse when necessary elementary school children, and, as a
Government Act, gave somewhat greater facility of action than the Council's Act. I11 London, therefore,
Section 122 of the Children Act has been mainly used, but it has been supplemented by the powers
obtained in 1907.
The number of cleansings at the several stations as shown in the following table has been obtained from this source:—
|Metropolitan borough.||Adults.||Children.||Metropolitan borough.||Adults.||Children.|
|City of London||—||—||Islington||25||—|
|Bethnal Green||25||2||St. Marylebone||8,202||1,878|
|Hampstead||20||157||Westminster, City of||48||464|
Some of the reports contain comments on the arrangements made. Thus in Battersea Dr.
Lennane points out that the use of the station has long outgrown its capacity, and gives a statement
showing that while during 1907, the first complete year after its opening, only 621 persons were treated,
in 1912 the numbers had swelled to 2,192. He suggests the early provision of a new station as a matter
(а) Dealt with by the Board of Guardians at the expense of the Borough Council. The casual ward in Holborn
Was discontinued on 31st March, 1912, and that in Kensington in July of the same year.
(b) Adults and children.