The Victorian era is most remembered as the period when the British Empire expanded rapidly, national wealth increased, and innovation was order of the day. There was another dark side to the era and the author has made a very capable job of addressing the Victorian Plague and the efforts to contain and eliminate it. The subject may not be the most attractive but this book presents the situation in a very readable form, with good bibliography and photo-plate section. Recommended.
NAME: Cholera, The Victorian Plague
AUTHOR: Amanda J Thomas
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Victorian Britain, Industrial Revolution, slums, sanitation, sewage treatment, potable water, over crowding, plague, infection, life expectancy, urbanisation
DESCRIPTION: The Victorian era is most remembered as the period when the British Empire expanded rapidly, national wealth increased, and innovation was order of the day. There was another dark side to the era and the author has made a very capable job of addressing the Victorian Plague and the efforts to contain and eliminate it. The subject may not be the most attractive but this book presents the situation in a very readable form, with good bibliography and photo-plate section. Recommended.
The Victorian era saw the Industrial Revolution reach its heights and British technology was sold around the world. It was so durable that many examples not only exist, but continue to do the job they were designed to do. To provide the manpower to make this industrial society succeed, the countryside was denuded and people who had only experienced an agricultural existence were drawn into the cities and their factories. This was a significant movement of people and the cities were not able to cope well. High density housing was achieved by overcrowding existing buildings and constructing new tenements that blocked out anything natural. That would have presented problems, but what made matters many times worse was the lack of a planned sewage system and a very poor provision for drinking water. It was a recipe for infections in plague proportions.
As one epidemic tapered down, another began. Cholera was a major problem but not the only disease to sweep through the Victorian cities.
More than 150 years on and the causes of the epidemics are still contested. The popular belief is still that cholera was a major threat because of over-crowding, a lack of sanitation and contamination of drinking water sources. Most of those coming into the towns from the countryside had little or no immunity to the diseases common in the towns. They were also undernourished and this further reduced their natural immune systems effectiveness. In addition, there were carriers of disease migrating to the towns. The author has not looked at the situation just from today’s popular beliefs, but also reviewed the theories common in Victorian times. As further consideration is given, the Victorian theories may be much closer to the reality than has previously been thought, and contaminated drinking water may be only a part of the story.
This would have been a very interesting book at any time and thought provoking. However, it takes on new significance as diseases common in the past, believed to have been eradicated, are now returning as Great Britain suffers waves of uncontrolled immigration, where the new migrants are coming from areas where old diseases are still common and where over-crowding is again increasing the risk of human transmission.
The book follows the succession of epidemics and provides a detailed review of each. In the process, the author covers some of the attempts at remedy. The impact of the epidemics triggered a frantic construction program to introduce covered sewers and clean water sources with the homes starting to be designed with these important facilities incorporated in the structures. London saw epic construction and the use of massive new machines to pump sewage away and bring in adequate supplies of clean water for drinking and cooking. Greater care was taken in the design and construction of buildings and much of London today has been shaped by this work, with broad streets, green parks and well-designed buildings.