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

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Harrow 1962

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Harrow]

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The complaints received about nuisances ranged from those affecting
property to foodstuffs, pigeons, noise and the dangers of a polluted
Those in relation to property were mainly concerned with dampness
and structural defects and according to the conditions found and the
circumstances involved action, if necessary, was taken under the
appropriate provisions of either the Public Health or Housing Acts.
The general pattern of the complaints received remained much the
same as for 1961 but over a period of years changes can be seen. For
example, the provision of dustbins is today accepted by most tenants as
being their responsibility whereas in pre-war years and during the early
post-war period owners supplied these fittings.
The complaints about noise are more numerous today and though
there is no questioning the seriousness of the effect of noise on some
people it is very difficult to control. The following introduction to a paper
given at a recent Conference of the Public Health Inspectors' Association
illustrates the background to some of these difficulties.
"The world of hearing consists of two types of sound, that which
causes communication, and that which interferes with it. We define
this latter unwanted sound as "noise." Thus the same sound can be a
communication to one person while being a "noise" to another; a
jazz session can be the most wonderfully stimulating occasion for
some, while appearing as the most horrible cacophony to those living
next door. A barking dog can indicate near-human intelligence to its
owner while driving his neighbour into a frenzy; and even the
frightful noise of an aeroplane can be a pleasant sound to an awaiting
"In assessing the nuisance caused by noise, it is therefore vital to
realise that no single law can ever be made to govern such a subjective
matter, and that any working rule must be based on the
statistical reactions of the public at large and not on any one
individual. Even so, the reactions of the public do fit into a pattern
and acceptable, though highly generalised, rules of behaviour can be
Litter and the dumping of rubbish also give rise to many complaints
but unless the accumulations cause a public health nuisance there is little
the Department is able to do. Similarly with pigeons. These birds are
increasing in numbers and causing extensive fouling of buildings and
footways and many ratepayers complain strongly about the damage done
to their property. The powers of the Local Authority to deal with pigeons,
however, is so limited as to be almost useless. Appeals to individuals to
refrain from feeding these birds whenever they congregate in shopping
centres meet with no response and as things stand the pigeon problem is
undoubtedly one that will remain with the Borough for many years to come.

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