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

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Whitechapel 1869

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Whitechapel]

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Underneath the church there are several vaults, in which there had
been deposited 37 coffins, of which 35 were of lead and 2 of wood. The
walls of these vaults are four bricks, or 3 feet in thickness, and the roof is
arched in brick-work of 4 rings in thickness.
On inspection, I was unable to detect any offensive smell in these
vaults, and I found the lead coffins to be in a sound condition. The two
wooden coffins had perished, but the bodies were perfectly dry.
All the coffins are now covered with earth, of 2 feet in thickness, and
above this thick layer of earth there is deposited charcoal, to the extent of
1 ft. 4 inches in depth,'and the vaults are bricked up, so that it is impossible
that any danger to health can arise from emanations from the dead
bodies in the vaults.
In the returns of the Registrar General for the week ending Saturday,
January 9th, 1869, the public is informed that, in London alone, scarletfever
has destroyed 15 lives, of children chiefly, every day for the last 13
weeks, or 1,324 lives in the aggregate.
The Registrar General calls attention to a Paper by Dr. "WiLliam
Budd, M.D., Ed., Consulting Physician to the Bristol Royal Infirmary,
The following is a summary of the precautions recommended by
Dr. Budd :
" 1. The room, which is occupied by the patient, is to be dismantled of
all needless woollen or other draperies which might possibly serve to
harbour the poison.
"2. Thorough ventilation of the room to be maintained by an open
fire and other means added.
"3. A basin, charged with chloride or carbolate of lime, or some
other convenient disinfectant, is to be kept constantly on the bed for the
patient to spit into.
"4. A large vessel, containing water impregnated with chlorides or
with Condy's fluid, is always to stand in the room for the reception of all
bed and body linen, immediately on its removal from the person of the