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A brief history of London’s sanitation

In this blog post about the history of London’s sanitation you’ll find out more about how dirty London really used to be!

Good sanitation and cleanliness help stop the spread of germs and diseases. Therefore, developed countries have strict sanitation and hygiene laws enforced as a matter of public health and safety. Countries with poor sanitation laws are unfortunately still fighting diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis and small pox.

History of London's sanitation

A Victorian cleaner!

However, sanitation practices were not widely known and performed throughout history. The medieval to early Victorian times were rife with diseases due to lack of sanitation and poor hygiene. It was only until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s that public health laws were introduced.

How did people get rid of their waste back in the day?

People were free to do whatever they wanted with their waste due to lack of public health sanitation laws. Urban areas were filled with rubbish and faeces (animals and human). Open sewers were common and lack of indoor plumbing meant that people would have to relieve themselves into chamber pots. As a result, these pots were frequently emptied out of a window or door onto the street. It was only until the introduction of the Public Health Act 1875 issues of waste, rubbish and sewers were dealt with.

Open sewer in London from the Victorian Times: history of London's sanitation

Open sewer in London from the Victorian Times

Read more on the Daily Mail.

How did people clean their houses?

Vacuum cleaners and other cleaning appliances we’ve now come to rely on did not exist. Everything had to be done by hand. As a result, carbolic soap containing phenol was often used during Victorian times as a mild disinfectant. It was used to clean floors, linen and even as body wash. Use of the soap often led to carbolic acid poisoning as a result of direct skin contact.

Rugs were hung outside on sunny days and beat with a carpet beater. This was to get rid of dust and dirt build up. Furthermore, during winters, rugs were cleaned by dragging along snow briefly to get a little wet.

Public Health Act 1875

The Public Health Act of 1875 introduced a manner of regulations concerning public health and safety. Issues of sewage, rubbish, housing and diseases were covered in the Act. Local authorities were ordered to cover open sewers, provide street lighting, collect rubbish and offer fresh water to their citizens. The introduction of the Act abolished slums and improved living conditions for those living in urban areas.