Cholera as a 'sanitary test' of British cities, 1831-1866.
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Davenport, R., Satchell, M., & Shaw-Taylor, L. (2019). Cholera as a 'sanitary test' of British cities, 1831-1866.. Hist Fam, 24 (2), 404-438. https://doi.org/10.1080/1081602X.2018.1525755
The malign contribution of northern industrial cities to the stagnation of national life expectancy over the period 1820-1870 forms part of one of the most long-running debates in English economic history, regarding the impact of early industrialisation on living standards. The deteriorating quality of urban water supplies often features in these arguments as the key driver of worsening mortality in this period. Here we use mortality reported from cholera in the epidemic years 1831-1832 and 1848-1849 as an indicator of the extent of sewage contamination of water in English and Welsh towns in this period. Surprisingly, the geography of reported mortality did not indicate that northern manufacturing and industrial towns were especially deficient in this respect. However, logistic regression analyses identified a number of risk factors for high cholera mortality, including location on coal-bearing strata, which was a feature of many industrial towns. Notably, however, textile-manufacturing towns, although often located in coal-rich districts, were associated with low levels of cholera mortality, and high population growth rates did not influence the risk of cholera. Reductions in cholera mortality after 1849 raise the possibility of widespread improvements in water quality after mid-century, rather earlier than is often assumed. However, in contrast to cholera, infant and diarrhoeal mortality remained high especially in northern towns until at least 1900. Several lines of evidence suggest that infants were relatively protected from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and therefore did not benefit greatly from improvements in water quality. We conclude (1) that any worsening of water quality in urban areas c.1800-1850 was not confined to new͛ or rapidly growing industrial or manufacturing towns; and (2) infants probably rarely drank untreated water, so high infant or diarrhoeal mortality rates should not be read as indicators of poor water quality, in the English context.
Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2012-803)
Wellcome Trust (103322/Z/13/Z)
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External DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1081602X.2018.1525755
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/286237
Attribution 4.0 International
Licence URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/