Nineteenth century London reflected the age of the Industrial Revolution. New buildings and sizeable developments attributed to the overcrowded slums as the population growth surged from one million in 1800 to six million by the dawning of the twentieth century. This notable increase in the population was reflected by the city’s increased sanitation needs. Problems such as overflowing drains, sewage leaking through defective pipes, and decaying animal and human excrement attributed to the sanitation dilemma. In addition, sewage gasses were emitted through toilets, baths, and sinks into the dwellings of London’s inhabitants.
Such destitute sanitation conditions, as well as the employment of coal-fired stoves, produced heavy and foul-smelling air in and around the city. Wastes and other fecal matter plagued the environment and its inhabitants due to the unavailability of proper disposal means. Tons of raw sewage, both from the city itself and by the neighboring valleys, was dumped straight into the Thames River and eventually carried up the river by the tide. Sanitation conditions were abhorrent during Victorian London.
The public suffered severely from epidemics that included three massive contagious diseases: cholera, typhus and influenza. These infectious diseases were often fatal or left its victim weakened in their defense against other diseases. The main cause of these illnesses was attributed to the poor sanitation conditions such as an overcrowding workforce, contaminated water, and unpaved streets with ankle deep mud. Many families ravaged by fever died due to poor public health. It was estimated that in 1839, for every person who died of old age or violence, eight died of specific disease caused by the sanitation.
Many people think it was vaccines that saved us from infectious disease. They’re mistaken. It was sanitation. We eventually figured it out and cleaned up our filth—which was the breeding ground.