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

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Rotherhithe 1858

[Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Rotherhithe]

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stinking avocation at the back of the house. As he declared he
was about to move his business to another locality in a few days,
the service of notice has been postponed.
The Railway arches have been frequently and carefully visited,
he stenches occasionally smelt on the Deptford-road do not proceed
from them.
The piggery remains in the same state as heretofore.
The houses mentioned in the Agenda Paper are in want of
proper drainage.
Rotherhithe, in common with all other Metropolitan riverside
parishes, has suffered considerable inconvenience during
the just elapsed month from the stenches arising from the filthy
state of the Thames water. Perhaps in the annals of mankind
such a thing was never before known, as that the whole stream of
a large river for a distance of seven or eight miles should be in a
state of putrid fermentation. The cause of the putrescency, and of
the blackish-green colour of the water, is admitted by all to be the
hot weather acting upon the ninety millions of gallons of sewage
which discharge themselves daily into the Thames. Now, by
sewage, must be understood, not merely house and land drainage,
but also drainage from bone-boilers, soap-boilers, chemical
works, breweries, and above all from gas factories, the last, the
most filthy of all, and the most likely to cause corruption of the
water. Should any person doubt this assertion, let him compare
the foul black and stinking liquid of a sewer which passes
by a gas work, with that of a sewer which receives only house
and land drainage. To take our examples from Rotherhithe,
the state of the Earl, with that of the Limekiln or Globe Stairs
It is quite impossible to calculate the consequences of such a
moving mass of decomposition as the river at present offers to
our senses. London may be healthy enough just now, but who
can foretell how long that healthfulness may continue, while all
the waterside population are hourly breathing poison by instalments?
Sewer gas, which is the gas exhaled from the Thames,
kills (when concentrated) man and animals with the rapidity of
lightning; but when diluted and breathed for a certain period of
time, is said to generate typhus and diarrhoea. Although fortunately,
but few cases of these maladies have yet appeared
there can be no doubt, that by the foul exhalations from the
river, the health of the inhabitants is being gradually impaired,
and they arc thereby rendered more ready recipients for disease,
and if any ailment seizes them, while under such influence, that
ailment is more likely to put on the typhoid character, than it
would have done had they been inhaling previously a pure
instead of a poisonous atmosphere.

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