Why were Victorian Cities so unhealthy?
In 1801, 33% of the English
population lived in a city. That increased to 78% by 1901. The Victorian Era
lasted from 1837 to 1901 and it was the period when Queen Victoria was on the
throne of the United Kingdom. During that time, the Industrial Revolution
occurred. Many people came to England to find a job. I think that the
population explosion led to Victorian Cities being unhealthy. Diseases, poor
housing, lack of hygiene and overpopulation created a harmful environment
in these Victorian cities and many people died.
Firstly, the hygiene in Victorian
homes was bad because there was no proper sewage disposal and the water was
contaminated. For the first 40 years of the Victorian Era, people thought that
cesspools were the answer to sewage disposal. Cesspools were holes dug into the
ground where people would dump their waste. These would be cleared out by dung
farmers, who would use it as fertilizer or sell it. This was an unhealthy job.
Later on, the distance to the farms grew because of the growing cities and the
dung farmers started to charge more. As a result, fewer people payed them and
the cesspools started to overflow. This made the citizens dump the waste into
the river Thames. However, this led to even more problems. People got their
water from Water Sellers, who said their water was clean, or from a river. Also
in England’s rivers was industrial waste from all the factories. Everyone was
drinking this industrial and human waste and that led to diseases.
Next, the diseases, such as cholera
or tuberculosis, made Victorian Cities unhealthy. Cholera was a water-borne
disease, so both the rich and the poor got it. It would cause humans to die
within 24 hours. They tried to cure it using methods, such as mustard,
champagne or even tobacco. In 1848, there was an outbreak of cholera and around
15,000 people died. Every year, 6,500 died because of tuberculosis. In the
1840s, the average age of death was 19, compared to 71 in 2017, and only 40% of
people born in the 1850s lived to the age of 60. In 1858, an event called the
Great Stink happened. The warm temperature heated up the human waste in and
around the Thames and created a horrible smell. In response, Joseph Bazalgette,
a civil engineer, created a sewer system for London. Part of the reason cholera
killed so many people, was the fact that if one person got sick, the illness would
spread quickly because everybody lived and worked so close to each other.
Overcrowding was a serious problem
in those times because everybody wanted an opportunity to work and earn some
money. George Macdonald, a Victorian author, wrote about the city, saying it
was ‘A crowded street, where men and women went to and fro in multitudes’. The
picture below showed housing during the Victorian Era. There was a main floor,
where everybody ate and socialized, a sleeping floor and a cellar. Many people
trying to work earned low wages, therefore, as many as 20 people would live in
the same house, with some of the poorest people forced to live in the cellar
with animals and waste, while the others slept in the cramped bedroom with as
many as 10 people. If more houses had been built, people could have had more
living space and diseases would have not spread as quickly.
Lastly, not only were houses
overcrowded, they were in poor conditions. Owners built many houses but did not
put any money into making them good and safe. Some houses were back to back,
which blocked airways. This was bad because the pollution would go into these
houses but not come out. The houses were also dark because there were not many
windows or openings. Also, the houses were damp because the floor and walls
were only one brick layer, so the moisture from the soil came into the air of
the house. There were other types of houses, like the yard houses. Owners would
build many living spaces around one square yardm that contained a playground
and a privy with a cesspool. Since the waste was in the middle of the houses,
all the residents would smell the scent of dung. There was no building
regulation and the owners wanted to build as fast as possible.
However, there were some people,
such as Edwin Chadwick and John Snow, who were trying to find solutions to
these problems. John Snow made a map of the homes and marked which houses
people died in. He concluded that cholera came from unhealthy waters and inspired
changes to the sewage disposal in England. Edwin Chadwick was a big activist
towards improving public health and sanitation. Charles Dickens wrote books,
such as ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’, in which he spread the news
about the horrible living conditions in Victorian Cities. Joseph Bazalgette
created a sewer system for Central London, that cost eight million pounds, 14
billion pounds today. He also started the cleanup of the Thames.
I believe that Victorian Cities were
unhealthy because of the population explosion. People in search of work, moved
to cities and lived in overcrowded houses. At the same time, poor hygiene and
bad housing made these cities so disastrous. We were lucky that the Victorian experienced
such sad times. Because they did, we were able to develop their inventions and
fix all the problems that society had.