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

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City of London 1935

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for London, City of ]

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Occupiers of City buildings, the persons legally responsible under existing legislation,
would do well to seek the advice of this Department, particularly if the infestation is severe
and has extended over a period.
Of 284 serial instances, 261 were proved Black Rat infestation and 23 Brown Rat.
The Black Rat nests in City buildings. Floors, ceilings, roofs, match-lined walls,
provide the safe homes ; but they will, if necessary, nest in closer relation to man—-e.g., in coal
bins constantly in use, disused fittings, between series of exposed ventilating shafts, in
accumulations (not necessarily waste accumulations).
It is not possible to give any indication of the total number of rats caught in the City
during any given period. Messrs. William Dalton & Sons, professional rat catchers, say
that their catch, during 1935, in the City of London, was 16,553, the large majority being
Black Rats.
A firm of caterers, with many branches in the City, give their catch during 1935 as 3,901,
again the majority being Black Rats.
The application of the methods used by this Authority differ according to the degree
of infestation and the locus, i.e. :—
Severe infestation Professional rat catching and rat proofing at and about the
point of attraction.
Moderate infestation Trapping and rat proofing.
The prevention of feeding, watering, and nesting attractions is the aim.
Whilst it is felt that rat catching is indispensable in dealing with severe infestation,
rat proofing is undoubtedly the greatest factor in prevention. The term " rat proofing "
is a wide one, and often calls for extensive repair work and even structural alteration, and
there may be some doubt whether such work can be held to be " steps necessary and reasonably
practicable," so that the occupier may be saddled with it. To rat proof a building is
not impossible, but requires meticulous care, perseverance and work. The work is important,
and, to achieve a successful result, should be in the hands of workmen knowing the habits
and agility of the rat, particularly the Black Rat. Certainly every window capable of
being opened, in a restaurant kitchen or even in the entire restaurant, requires to be adequately
protected. Little notice can be taken of an assurance that windows are closed
at night.
Successful instance can be given of complete elimination of rat infestation in buildings.
It must, however, be insisted upon that the majority of these successful results are attained,
not by application of the law, so much as by advising a harrassed occupier or helpful owner,
or both, to take certain action in catching and proofing after much money has been spent
by them in tackling their problem in other ways which, though feeble in result, might have
been held to comply with the law.
The successful termination of cases of severe infestation have been brought about by
the responsible persons employing a rat catcher recommended by, and working in co-operation
with, the Rat Officer, rat proofing being simultaneously undertaken and carried out under
the supervision of this Department. These rat catchers work at night and use no poison.
Large numbers of their catch are taken alive. Little can be said of their method, except
that it appears highly satisfactory and the result of knowledge acquired by many years
at the work.
Poisoning is rarely advised by this Department. Instances where poison has been
used have not been successful. In the case of occasional infestation by one or two marauding
rats, poisoning might be of use, but in infested premises it is not desirable. The Black Rat
lives on the premises and, if poisoned, becomes an expensive nuisance.
Complaints are usually received by this Department that " the premises are overrun."
The following is a brief summary of the action taken following such a complaint.
It will be seen that one marauding rat was responsible.
Complaint—rat infestation—office—some weeks—inspected. Three rooms—few droppings,
foot and tail marks—Black Rat. Space between door and floor only means of access. At end of
corridor, enamel bowl, used tea cups, wiping-up cloths—evidence here emphatic—dirty tea cups left
in bowl overnight—window adjoining broken—hole 2 ins. diameter—replacement of pane—done—
morning inspection rat had chewed away new putty outside—still unable to obtain access. Breakback
trap set on sill. Following morning rat dead in trap. No further trouble, of course. " It took
a man to do that."

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