Edwin Chadwick.

Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department online

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Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 6 of 27)
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be adduced as exemplifications of the dreadful state of circumstances in
which the survivors are placed for the want of adequate accommodation
for the remains immediately after death, and previous to the interment:—

There are some houses in my district that have from 45 to 60 persons
of all ages under one roof, and in the event of death, the body
often occupies the only bed till they raise money to pay for a
coffin, which is often several days. They are crowded together in
houses situate in Off-alley, the courts and alleys opening from
Bedfordbury, Rose-street, Angel-court, courts and alleys opening
from Drury-lane and the Strand, and even in places fitted up under
the Adelphi arches; even the unventilated and damp underground
kitchens are tenanted. Of course the tenants are never free from
fevers and diarrhœa, and the mortality is great. The last class
live, for the most part, in lodging-rooms, where shelter is
obtained, with a bed or straw, for from 2_d._ to 4_d._ per night,
and where this is not obtainable, the arches under the Adelphi
afford a shelter. In the lodging-rooms I have seen the beds placed
so close together as not to allow room to pass between them, and
occupied by both sexes indiscriminately. I have known six people
sleep in a room about nine feet square, with only one small window,
about fifteen inches by twelve inches; and there are some
sleeping-rooms in this district in which you cannot scarcely see
your hand at noon-day.

How long is the dead body retained in the room beside the living?—If
the person has subscribed to a club, or the friends are in
circumstances to afford the expense of the funeral, it takes place,
generally, on the following Sunday, if the death has occurred early
in the week; but if towards the end of the week, then it is
sometimes postponed till the Sunday week after, if the weather
permit; in one case it was twelve days. In the other cases I have
known much opposition to removal till after a subscription had been
collected from the affluent neighbours; and in some instances, after
keeping the body several days, I have been applied to to present the
case to the relieving officer, that it might be buried by the
parish. Amongst the Irish it is retained till after the wake, which
“_is open to all comers_” as long as there is anything _dacent to
drink or smoke_; but I must bear witness, also, to the frequent
exhibition, in a large majority of the poor, of those affectionate
attentions to the mortal remains of their relatives, which all are
anxious to bestow, and which, notwithstanding the danger and want of
accommodation, make them loth to part with them.

In what condition is the corpse usually, or frequently,
retained?—Amongst the Irish, it does not signify of what disease the
person may have died, it is retained often for many days, laid out
upon the only bed, perhaps, and adorned with the best they can
bestow upon it, until the _coronach_ has been performed. Thus fevers
and other contagious diseases are fearfully propagated. I remember a
case of a body being brought from the Fever Hospital to
Bullin-court, and the consequences were dreadful; and this spring I
removed a girl, named Wilson, to the infirmary of the workhouse,
from a room in the same court. I could not remain two minutes in it;
the horrible stench arose from a corpse which had died of phthisis
twelve days before, and the coffin stood across the foot of the bed,
within eighteen inches of it. This was in a small room not above ten
feet by twelve feet square, and a fire always in it, being (as in
most cases of a like kind) the only one for sleeping, living, and
cooking in. I mention these as being particular cases, from which
most marked consequences followed; but I have very many others, in
which the retention of the body has been fraught with serious
results to the survivors.

Will you describe the consequences of such retention?—Upon the 9th
of March, 1840, M—— was taken to the Fever Hospital. He died there,
and without my knowledge the body was brought back to his own room.
The usual practice, in such cases, is to receive them into a
lock-up-room, set apart for that purpose in the workhouse. I find
that upon the 12th his step-son was taken ill. He was removed
immediately to the Fever Hospital. Upon the 18th the barber who
shaved the corpse was taken ill, and died in the Fever Hospital, and
upon the 27th another step-son was taken ill, and removed also.

Upon the 18th of December, 1840, I—— and her infant were brought,
ill with fever, to her father’s room in Eagle-court, which was ten
feet square, with a small window of four panes; the infant soon
died. Upon the 15th of January, 1841, the grandmother was taken ill;
upon the 2nd of February the grandfather also. There was but one
bedstead in the room. They resisted every offer to remove them, and
I had no power to compel removal. The corpse of the grandmother lay
beside her husband upon the same bed, and it was only when he became
delirious and incapable of resistance that I ordered the removal of
the body to the dead-room, and him to the Fever Hospital. He died
there, but the evil did not stop here: two children, who followed
their father’s body to the grave, were, the one within a week and
the other within ten days, also victims to the same disease. In
short, five out of six died.

In October, 1841, a fine girl, C——, died of cynanche maligna: her
body was retained in a small back room. Upon the 1st of November
another child was taken ill, and upon the 4th two others were also
seized with the same disease.

Upon the 2nd of February, 1843, H——, in Heathcock-court, died of
fever. I recommended the immediate removal of the body from the
attic room of small dimensions, but it was retained about ten days,
the widow not consenting to have it buried by the parish, and not
being able to collect funds sooner: their only child was seized with
fever, and was several weeks ill.

Upon the 3rd of March, 1843, B—— died of a fever in Lemontree-yard;
the body was retained some days, in expectation of friends burying
it, but in the mean time a child of B——, and one of a lodger in the
same house, were infected.

Upon the 13th March, 1843, I saw a family in Hervey’s-buildings,
which is more open, and the rooms of a better class than those in
some other situations. I found there the corpse of a person who had
died of a fever; the father and mother were just taken ill, and a
child was taken ill soon after. The foot of the coffin was within
ten inches of the father’s head as he lay upon his pillow. I caused
it to be removed as soon as possible, and the three cases terminated
favourably. In the case in Bullin-court, mentioned before, the girl
Wilson was affected with nausea vertigo, general prostration of
strength, and trembling, the usual symptoms in these cases. Soon
after her removal, the mother of the deceased was seized with
typhus, and is now only so far recovered as scarcely to be able to
go about and attend to another son, who is at present ill of the
same disease. These are a few cases only in which serious evils
followed on retention of the body. I could multiply them, if
necessary; but they will suffice to show that there should be power
of removal to some recognized place of safety given to the district
medical officer for the benefit of the individuals concerned and the
public at large. The rooms are often most wretched in which these
cases occur; the neighbourhood is badly ventilated and drained, or
often not drained at all, and if the medical officer were
responsible for his acts, and bound to report regularly, there would
be a sufficient guarantee that no unnecessary harshness would be
exercised in the performance of a duty absolutely required for the
preservation of the public health, and the safety of those dearest
to the sufferers themselves.

Comparing the effects of the practice of retaining the bodies before
interment, with the effects of emanations from the dead after
interment, when buried in crowded districts, which appears to you to
be the most pernicious practice?—When a body is retained in a small
room, badly ventilated, and often with a fire in it, the noxious
gases evolved in the process of decomposition are presented to
persons exposed to them in a highly concentrated form, and if their
health is in a certain state favourable to receive the contagion,
the effect is immediate. In crowded burial-grounds in which I have
never seen a body at a less depth than three feet from the surface
(allowing for the artificial building up of the ground to give
apparent depth to the grave), the gases having this thickness of
earth to penetrate, arrive at the surface in a divided state, and by
small quantities at a time mix so gradually with the atmosphere,
that it becomes comparatively harmless by dilution, and is scarcely
perceptible. In confined situations, where the ground is limited in
extent, the long continuance of gradual evolutions of noxious matter
would, doubtless, be a cause of debility to surrounding inhabitants;
but such instances, I think, are rare. I have made inquiry in the
immediate neighbourhood of grave-yards, and I form my opinion from
the result. There can be no doubt whatever as to the propriety of
burial beyond the limits of towns, and if the corpse of the poor man
could be deposited at a distance, without entailing a greater
expense upon him, I think it would improve the health of our large
towns very much; but I believe the retention of the corpse in the
room with the living is fraught with greater danger than that
produced by the emanations from even crowded grave-yards.

§ 27. The condition in which the remains are often found on the
occurrence of a death at the eastern part of the metropolis are thus
described by Mr. John Liddle, the medical officer of the Whitechapel
district of the Whitechapel Union.

What is the class of poor persons whom you, as medical officer, are
called upon to attend to?—The dock labourers, navigators,
bricklayers’ labourers, and the general description of labourers
inhabiting Whitechapel and lower Aldgate.

On the occurrence of a death amongst this description of labourers,
what do you find to be the general condition of the family, in
relation to the remains. How is the corpse dealt with?—Nearly the
whole of the labouring population there have only one room. The
corpse is therefore kept in that room where the inmates sleep and
have their meals. Sometimes the corpse is stretched on the bed, and
the bed and bed-clothes are taken off, and the wife and family lie
on the floor. Sometimes a board is got on which the corpse is
stretched, and that is sustained on tressels or on chairs. Sometimes
it is stretched out on chairs. When children die, they are
frequently laid out on the table. The poor Irish, if they can afford
it, form a canopy of white calico over the corpse, and buy candles
to burn by it, and place a black cross at the head of the corpse.
They commonly raise the money to do this by subscriptions amongst
themselves and at the public-houses which they frequent.

What is the usual length of time that the corpse is so kept?—The
time varies according to the day of the death. Sunday is the day
usually chosen for the day of burial. But if a man die on the
Wednesday, the burial will not take place till the Sunday week
following. Bodies are almost always kept for a full week, frequently

What proportion of these cases may be positively contagious?—It
appears from the Registrar-General’s Report (which, however, cannot
be depended on for perfect accuracy, as the registrar’s returns are
very incorrect,—I do not think I have been required to give a
certificate of death upon more than three occasions), that in the
year 1839, there were 747 deaths from epidemic diseases which formed
about one-fifth of the whole of the deaths in the Whitechapel Union.

Have you had occasion to represent as injurious this practice of
retaining the corpse amidst the living?—I have represented in
several communications in answer to sanitary inquiries from the Poor
Law Commission Office, that it must be and is highly injurious. It
was only three or four days ago that an instance of this occurred in
my own practice, which I will mention. A widow’s son, who was about
15 years of age, was taken ill of fever. Finding the room small, in
which there was a family of five persons living, I advised his
immediate removal. This was not done, and the two other sons were
shortly afterwards attacked, and both died. When fever was epidemic,
deaths following the first death in the same family were of frequent
occurrence. In cases where the survivors escape, their general
health must be deteriorated by the practice of keeping the dead in
the same room.

Do you observe any peculiarity of habit amongst the lower classes
accompanying this familiarity with the remains of the dead?—What I
observe when I first visit the room is a degree of indifference to
the presence of the corpse: the family is found eating or drinking
or pursuing their usual callings, and the children playing. Amongst
the middle classes, where there is an opportunity of putting the
corpse by itself, there are greater marks of respect and decency.
Amongst that class no one would think of doing anything in the room
where the corpse was lying, still less of allowing children there.

Mr. Byles, surgeon, of Spitalfields, states, that the above description
is generally applicable to the condition of the dwellings of the
labouring classes, and to the circumstances under which the survivors
are placed on the occurrence of a death in that district. He observes,

In the more malignant form of fever, especially scarlatina, the
instances of death following the first case of death are frequent.
The same holds good in respect to measles, and in respect to
small-pox in families where vaccination has been neglected. I have
also known instances of children who had been vaccinated becoming
the subject of fever apparently from the effluvia of the body of a
child who had died of the small-pox. I have often had occasion
urgently to represent to the parish and union officers the necessity
of a forcible interference to remove bodies. Coffins have been sent
and the bodies removed and placed in a vault under the church until
interment, and the rooms limewashed at the expense of the parish.

Were such removals resisted?—Not generally; they were in some few

§ 28. Mr. Bestow, a relieving officer of the adjacent district of
Bethnal Green, who is called upon to visit the abodes of those persons
of the labouring classes, who on the occurrence of death fall into a
state of destitution, thus exemplifies the common consequences of the
retention of the corpse in the living and working rooms of the family:—

Is the corpse generally kept in the living or in the working
room?—In the majority of cases the weavers live and work in the same
room; the children generally sleep on a bed pushed under the loom.
Before a coffin is obtained, the corpse is generally stretched on
the bed where the adults have slept. It is a very serious evil in
our district, the length of time during which bodies have been kept
under such circumstances. I have frequently had to make complaint of
it. We are very often complained to by neighbours of the length of
time during which the bodies are kept. We have very often had
disease occasioned by it. I have known, in one case, as many as
eight deaths, from typhus fever, follow one death; there were five
children and two or three visitors whose illness and deaths were
ascribed to the circumstance.

In January, 1837, a man named Clark, in George Gardens, in this
parish, having been kept a considerable length of time unburied (I
was informed beyond a fortnight), I was directed to visit the case,
and I found the house consisted of two small rooms, wherein resided
his wife and seven children. I remonstrated with them upon the
impropriety of keeping the body so long, and offered either to bury,
or to remove it, as it was then becoming very offensive. I was
informed it would be buried on the following Sunday, as it would not
be convenient for the whole of the relatives to attend the funeral
earlier, and I understood a very great number did attend. I find
that on the 30th of the same month (January) I was called again to
visit Ann Clark, one of the family, in the same miserable abode, who
was lying upon some rags, very ill of fever. I had her removed, but
she ultimately died; and I again remonstrated with the family
remaining in the same house, and offered to take them into the
workhouse, which was declined, stating, it was their intention to
remove in a few days to another house. And on the 20th of February,
my attention was called to the same family, who had then removed to
No. 3, Granby Row, not far from their former abode, and here I found
the mother and the whole of the children (as I had predicted to
them, if they persisted in their habits), all ill of fever without
much hopes of their recovery. I had five removed to the London Fever
Hospital immediately; but out of seven who were affected, two died.
My attention was shortly afterwards directed to Henry Clark, of
Barnet Street, who was a relative, and had taken fever (it was
stated) by having attended the funeral of his friend; he, it seems,
communicated it to his wife and two children, one of whom died; next
followed Stephen Clark, of Edward Street, who, having visited the
above-named relative, and attended the funeral of their infant
shortly afterwards, had fever; also his wife and three children, one
of whom died also. In August, 1837, I was called to visit the case
of Sarah Masterton, No. 11, Suffolk Street, whose husband lay dead
of fever; she was with two children in the same room, and the corpse
not in a coffin. They were in the most deplorable condition, and so
bad with fever that none of the neighbours would venture to enter
the room with me. I had the dead body removed in a shell to our
dead-house, and the woman and children to the infirmary in the
workhouse. Two of them ultimately recovered; one died. In the same
house, and in the upper room, I next found Robert Crisp, with a wife
and child, upon whom I could not prevail to leave the place, and my
urgent entreaties were treated with contempt and bad language.
Ultimately, however, his child died, and not until then could I
persuade him to get another place, neither would he have the infant
removed, or come into the workhouse himself.

William Procktor, residing in a miserable hut in Camden’s Gardens,
of only one room, with a wife and two children, when visited, was
found badly affected with fever, of which the wife died, and the
body was kept in the same place wherein all the family resided and
slept, for more than a week. The man was next attacked, and then the
children; and for a considerable time they were attended by our
medical officer, but I believe they all ultimately recovered.

His report book contained frequent instances of cases of the like

§ 29. Mr. T. Abraham, surgeon, one of the Registrars for the City of
London, who has had much practice as a parochial medical officer, was
asked upon this subject—

In the course of your practice, have you had occasion to believe
that evil effects are produced by the retention of the corpse in the
house?—Yes; I can give an instance of a man, his wife, and six
children, living in one room in Draper’s Buildings. The mother and
all the children successively fell ill of typhus fever: the mother
died; the body remained in the room. I wished it to be removed the
next day, and I also wished the children to be removed, being afraid
that the fever would extend. The children were apparently well at
the time of the death of the mother. The recommendation was not
attended to: the body was kept five days in the only room which this
family of eight had to live and sleep in. The eldest daughter was
attacked about a week after the mother had been removed, and, after
three days’ illness, that daughter died. The corpse of this child
was only kept three days, as we determined that it should positively
be removed. In about nine days after the death of the girl, the
youngest child was attacked, and it died in about nine days. Then
the second one was taken ill; he lay twenty-three days, and died.
Then another boy died. The two other children recovered.

By the immediate removal of the corpse, and the use of proper
preventive means, how many deaths do you believe might have been
prevented?—I think it probable that the one took it from the other,
and that, if the corpse of the first had been removed, the rest
would have escaped, although I, of course, admit that the same cause
which produced the disease in the mother might also have produced it
in the children. I believe that, in cases of typhus, scarlatina, and
other infectious diseases, it frequently happens that the living are
attacked by the same disease from the retention of the body.

Mr. Blencarn, surgeon, one of the medical officers of the City of London
Union, was asked—

Have you observed any evil effects following the practice of the
long retention of the corpse in the house amidst the living?—Yes; I
have observed effects follow, but I cannot say produced by them,
though they were perhaps increased by them. In those cases which I
have had, where there has been a succession of cases of fever in the
same family, after a death it has generally occurred that the
parties affected have complained two or three days before that they
felt very unwell. Generally this has been the case. I have in such
instances ordered them medicine immediately. Since the Union has
been established, we have immediately removed all fever cases to the
fever hospital.

The retention of the corpse amidst the living, under such
circumstances, must aggravate the mortality, must it not?—There
cannot be a moment’s doubt about it.

§ 30. Mr. Barnett, surgeon, one of the medical officers of the Stepney
Union, thus exemplifies the effects of the practice in his own district.
After speaking of the prevalence of nervous depression, ascribable to
the contiguity to a crowded grave-yard, he says:—

Similar symptoms are observable when the dead are kept any length of
time in crowded apartments. I well recollect a child dying, during
the summer months, of scarlet fever, and the parents persisted in
keeping the corpse for a considerable period, notwithstanding the
entreaties of the rest of the inmates to the contrary, all of whom
complained of being ill therefrom. The result was the production of
several cases of typhoid fever and much distress. A short time ago,
I was requested to attend a family consisting of five persons; they
resided in a room containing about 500 cubic feet, with but little
light and much less ventilation. One child was suffering from
small-pox, and died in a day or two: the corpse was allowed to
remain in the room. The two other children were soon attacked by the
disease, as well as a child belonging to a person residing in the
same house, who was imprudent enough to bring it into this
apartment, though cautioned not to do so. The stench arising from
the living and dead was so intolerable that it produced in myself
severe head-ache, and my friend, who accompanied me, complained of
sudden nervousness. The parents of these children (one of whom is
since dead) are suffering great debility.

The similarity of symptoms produced in these cases might perhaps
lead us to the conclusion that the cause was probably the same in
all; consequently, whether this poison be diluted or concentrated,
it should, at all times, be carefully avoided. For this purpose, I
should recommend the early removal of the dead from such apartments,
and a check to be put to the baneful practice of burying the dead so

Online LibraryEdwin ChadwickReport on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. A supplementary report on the results of a special inquiry into the practice of interment in towns. Made at the request of Her Majesty's principal secretary of state for the Home department → online text (page 6 of 27)