Thursday, 12 November 2009

"The woman, apparently my mother, orders the girl to open the door. As she does, the most disgusting waft hits me, and I think I am going to throw up ... It is like 5000 of Ollie's pooey night-nappies, festering right at the front door"

Unfortunately for Picky, this problem was not dealt with properly for another hundred years. London residents quite often had to deal with anything and everything being thrown into the streets. That included human waste, rubbish and old food - and this was not helped by cattle, pigs, and other animals just roaming around and leaving their business out in the streets for passers-by to just go ahead and step in. Everyone was responsible for clearing out whatever was in front of their property - regardless of who had (literally) dropped it there - and move it into the River Thames.

Picky may have done more than just throw up however. The stench from these odours was deadly. Debates took place in Parliament that said many children died because of the horrible conditions in which they lived, and a large portion of the blame went on the lack of sanitation. In fact, during the affectionately titled 'Great Stink' of 1858, the smell was so bad that even Parliament had to close. Two weeks later, laws were finally passed to improve sanitation and introduce better sewage systems in the country.

Edwin Chadwick was very important during this time. It was his report into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population (1854) that showed the link between poor sanitation and bad health. He believed that the bad air was the cause of disease. Although it wasn't until much later that we found out about germs and bacteria, the health of the people improved, as did their life expectancy, when the cause of all those bad smells were removed. He was not a popular man though. An article was written in The Times in 1854 accusing him of "bullying" people into health. They said that they would much rather face cholera than take his advice because "there is nothing a man so much hates as being cleaned against his will". It was honestly believed that people had died of a good washing because their skin was no longer protected by dirt. No. Seriously.


  1. Wow, that's so interesting! God, they did have it hard back then! The bad smell and the disease. There's a tiny little park near me that has had a load of compost or something dumped on it recently, and I heave everytime I walk by it smells so bad. I'm sure things were much worse back then, I don't know how they could bear it!

  2. The rich people could bear it. If you remember, Picky was given a mouchoir - a scented handkerchief to hold over her face and so she could smell something more pleasant.