Edwin Chadwick is the man who transformed the health of Londoners.
In a time when diseases like smallpox, cholera, and TB were insatiable in their taking of human life Edwin Chadwick used his position to persuade the government to invest in public health. Chadwick must be credited with being Britain’s premier pioneer in public health reform.
In 1834, he was appointed Secretary to the Poor Law Commissioners. Unwilling to administer an Act he was largely the author of in any way other than as he thought best, he found it hard to get along with his superiors. These disagreements contributed to the dissolution of the Poor Law Commission in 1847. Chadwick believed that public health should be the domain of the local government who he said should train and select their own experts.
While still officially working with the Poor Law Commissioners, Chadwick took up the question of London’s sanitation in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith. Their joint efforts produced a salutary improvement in the public health.
Chadwick’s report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population (1842) was researched and published at his own expense. A supplementary report was also published in 1843. The formation of the Health of Towns Association and the creation of various city-based branches followed rapidly. These national and local movements contributed to the passing of the Public Health Act 1848.
In 1848, Chadwick was appointed Sanitation Commissioner and a new Central Board of Health. The Board of Health was created with the powers to clean the streets and improve both the water and sanitation systems. Chadwick had many ideas on how he could improve the lifestyle of the poor. His priorities were a constant supply of fresh and clean water, toilets in homes and a sewage system that would carry the sewage from the cities.
One of his innovations was the use of glazed earthenware pipes for sewage, which reduced the possibility of contamination of drinking water. He also ensured that shallow drinking wells were abolished and replaced by a mains water supply.
Chadwick’s efforts were acknowledged by at least one health reformer of the day: William James Erasmus Wilson who dedicated his 1854 book Healthy Skin to Chadwick “In admiration of his strenuous and indefatigable labors in the cause of Sanitary Reform”.
Chadwick and Florence Nightingale corresponded on methodology. He encouraged her to write up her research into the book Notes on Nursing. He promoted it among well-placed intellectuals, making her much more visible.
Thomas Robinson Leadam 1809 – 1881 MD Cleveland 1853 MRSC Eng 1853 LRCP Edin. was the descendant of John Leadam surgeon of Tooley Street who inspired my series of Tales of Tooley Street. He was a British orthodox physician who also practiced homeopathy. He was the Surgeon to St. Olave’s Union, Surgeon Accoucher the London Homeopathic Hospital, Surgeon, and Surgeon Accoucheur to the Marylebone Homeopathic Dispensary.
In 1848, Thomas Robinson Leadam was a witness called before the Metropolitan Sanitary Commissioners. Leadam was the Medical Officer and Surgeon to the Poor Law Union of St. Olave’s, Southwark, and present during the Cholera and Typhus epidemic in 1848, when he partitioned off part of a workhouse to become a Cholera Hospital.
In his report to the Commissioners on this epidemic, Leadam described his district as a very poor area with no water supply beyond a few street taps, with cesspools and open stagnant ditches such that the stench outside his house was terrible.
Leadam continued that the effluvia often floods into the houses. This local doctor’s recommended was that Parliament should instruct landlords to connect the houses of Southwark to the sewers and initiate appropriate sanitation and drainage, as well as street paving.
Volume One, Tales of Tooley Street by Julia Herdman is available on Amazon worldwide. myBook.to/TalesofTooleyStreet
Key Words: Whistleblower, Maternity
Ignaz Semmelweis was the Hungarian obstetrician and a whistle-blower who spoke out about bad practice in maternity wards. The work done by Semmelweis all but removed puerperal fever, commonly known as Childbed fever, from the maternity wards he worked in. He was not the first to try to change the medical practices of his day and like his predecessors, he was to suffer for his outspokenness.
The son of a tenant farmer from Aberdeen was the first modern doctor to realise how the infection was passed from person to person but he had no proof to back up his findings. Alexander Gordon was born in the hamlet of Milton of Drum, eight miles west of Aberdeen in 1752. His twin brother James went on to contribute to the development of farming introducing the Swedish turnip – the swede to Scotland and improving the diet of the Scottish people. James died at the grand old age of 90; his brother Alexander was not so lucky.
Alexander became a medical student and studied at the medical faculty of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in March 1776. Teaching at the University took the form of topics rather than through learning the writings of the ancient Greek and Roman treatises on medicine. Students learned to exhibit a caring attitude at the bedside and to take meticulous notes.
After his time in Leiden, there is evidence that Gordon attended physicians’ ward rounds at Aberdeen Infirmary, although the city had no formally established medical school. His notes of lectures by Alexander Monro Secundus in the library of the University of Aberdeen indicate that he studied for a time in Edinburgh. After his time in Edinburgh, Gordon joined the Royal Navy, serving as a surgeon’s mate and ship’s surgeon, a move that would have offered the opportunity for adventure but also funding for further medical training before setting himself up in practice.
In April 1785, he retired from the Navy on half-pay and spent nine months in London, as a resident pupil at the Middlesex Hosptial and Store Street lying-in hospitals, where he heard lectures from leading obstetricians and attended dissections and lectures in surgery at the Westminster Hospital. Early in 1786, with an education gained in prestigious medical centres, he returned to practice in his native Aberdeen.
Gordon became a physician to the city Dispensary in February 1786. Here he saw sick people as outpatients or in their own homes, an activity that continued throughout his time in Aberdeen. The keeping of accurate medical records was a hallmark of the Scottish medical Enlightenment. Gordon was required to maintain a log of the dates of each patient’s attendance, their name, age, address, the presenting condition and its outcome; this discipline was to prove important for his later discovery about the spread of puerperal fever.
There were two major outbreaks of puerperal fever in and around Aberdeen while Gordon was there. From his notes, Gordon noticed that mothers living in the villages developed the fever if they were in the care of midwives from the city, where the infection was rife; village mothers attended by country midwives, who had no previous contact with the fever, avoided the disease.
Secondly, in common with what was becoming part of informed medical inquiry at this time, he created a table and noted the appearance of cases in date order, the maternal place of residence, the outcome and crucially, the name of the person who attended the birth. It was immediately apparent that cases of fever began in date sequence after visits by particular midwives. Furthermore, with impressive scientific objectivity, he implicates himself in the transmission, stating: It is a disagreeable declaration for me to mention, that I myself was the means of carrying the infection to a great number of women. This evidence-based discovery long preceded the findings of Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1843 and Ignaz Semmelweissin 1847, whose names are commonly associated with establishing the mode of transmission of puerperal fever.
Gordon’s advice to any physician who had seen a patient with severe fever was to return home and change and fumigate his clothes. By instituting hygiene measures that included hand washing, fumigation of rooms and burning of infected clothing, Gordon was able to claim, ‘In my practice, of 77 women, who were attacked with the puerperal fever, 28 died; so that very near two-thirds of my patients recovered.’ He goes on to quote contemporary reports of puerperal fever mortalities in the range 68–100%. Alexander Gordon died at the age of 47 in 1799. No one had listened to his advice and he had left the job in loved to work once more as a naval surgeon.
Ignaz Semmelweis suffered a similar fate. Semmelweis was not prepared to accept the belief that poison air was killing his patients in the No. 1 labour ward in the Vienna hospital where he worked. Semmelweis believed that the cause of so many deaths in the maternity ward was the nearby post-mortem room. Ward No. 1 was the preserve of doctors and trainee doctors whereas Ward No 2, where the death rate was lower, was the domain of the midwives who did not perform routine autopsies. Semmelweis believed that there had to be a link between the work done in the post-mortem room and the rate of infection in Ward No 1.
In 1847, a colleague of Semmelweis, Jakob Kolletschka, died from septicaemia. He had been cut with a scalpel during an autopsy. Semmelweis attended his colleague’s autopsy and noticed that the lesions on his body were very similar to those on many of the women who had died in Ward No 1. Semmelweis believed that it had been the scalpel that had transferred the ‘miasma’ from the corpse to his former colleague.
Semmelweis ordered that all medical staff in Ward No 1 had to wash their hands in chlorinated lime before visiting a patient and that the ward itself had to be cleaned with calcium chloride. The mortality rate in Ward No 1 dropped dramatically and by 1849, just 2 years after the death of his colleague Kolletschka, death from ‘miasma’ had all but disappeared.
Semmelweis provided his evidence to the medical elite of Vienna. He stated that cleanliness was the way to defeat ‘poison air’ and backed this up with the statistics he had gathered. His views were not part of the general medical beliefs of the time and he was immediately attacked by most senior medical figures – three did support him but none of them had a background in obstetrics. Semmelweis was dismissed from his position and went to live in Budapest. In Ward No 1, the doctors went back to their old ways and fatality rates immediately increased to their level pre-1847.
Semmelweis gained employment at the St. Rochus Hospital in Budapest and applied his findings there. The death rate in the maternity units there dropped drastically. In 1861, Semmelweis published ‘Die Aetiologie, der Begrif und die Prophylaxis des Kindbettfiebers’ (Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever) – “which stands as one of the epoch-making books of medical history.” (History of Medicine by Roberto Margotta)
The work was filled with a mass of statistics and proved difficult to read. It was met with hostility by the medical profession and many simply mocked its findings. It took another twenty years before his findings were universally accepted. For years many of Europe’s leading medical practitioners believed that childbed fever was a disease of the bowel and that purging was the best medicine for it.
The years of rejection by his colleagues almost certainly took its toll. Semmelweis suffered from severe depression and may have suffered from premature dementia as he became very absent-minded. After the effective rejection of his 1861 work on puerperal fever he wrote a series of ‘Open Letters’ to his main critics in which he openly called them “ignorant murderers”.
In 1865 he was tricked into visiting a mental asylum. When he tried to leave Semmelweis was forcibly restrained and put in a straitjacket. The injuries were such that they became infected and he died two weeks later.
Ignaz Semmelweis died in 1865. He was buried in Vienna. Very few people attended his funeral. In 1891, his body was transferred to Budapest. A statue was only erected to him and his achievements in 1894, nearly thirty years after his death; Alexander Gordon remains almost entirely unknown.
Image: The Knick—Steven Soderbergh’s riveting Cinemax series, which looks inside the Knickerbocker Hospital in Manhattan at the turn of the last century.
Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle
This is the history of the shocking case of a Princess who was married against her will, spurned by her husband, divorced, and then imprisoned for 33 years.
Princess Sophia Dorothea of Brunswick- Lüneburg did not have a good start in life; she was born illegitimately; the daughter of her father’s long-term mistress, Eleonore d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, Countess of Williamsburg (1639–1722) on 15 September 1666.
Her father, Prince George William, Duke of Brunswick Lüneburg, eventually did the right thing and married his mistress which had the effect of legitimising his only child.
Sophia Dorothea was ten years old when she became heir to her father’s kingdom, the Principality of Lüneburg in Lower Saxony and this made her a highly attractive marriage prospect.
Like her mother, Princess Sophia-Dorothea was attractive and lively. At the age of sixteen, she has married her cousin, George Louis of Hanover, the future king of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1705. When she was told of the match Princess Sophia Dorothea shouted, “I will not marry the pig snout!”
George I of Britain
Twenty-two-year-old George Louis was not keen on the match either; he already had a mistress and was happy with his life as a soldier.
Although he was a prince he was ugly and boring, even his mother didn’t like him.
For his pains, George Louis received a handsome dowry and was granted his father-in-law’s kingdom upon his death; Princess Sophia-Dorothea was left penniless.
The unhappy couple set up home in Leine Palace in Hanover where Princess Sophia Dorothea was under the supervision of her odious aunt, the Duchess Sophia, and spied on by her husband’s spies when he was away on campaign.
Despite their unhappiness, the pair produced two children; George Augustus, born 1683, who later became King George II of Great Britain and a daughter born 1686 when Princess Sophia Dorothea was twenty.
Sophia Charlotte von Keilmannsegg.
Having produced two children George became increasingly distant from his wife spending more time with his dogs and horses and his nights with his mistress, the married daughter of his father’s mistress, a woman called Sophia Charlotte von Keilmannsegg, who was rumoured to be George Louis’ half-sister.
Aggrieved, lonely, and unhappy Princess Sophia Dorothea found a friend in the Swedish count Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, (1665-1694) who was a soldier in the Hanoverian army. Philip was a year older than Princess Sophia Dorothea and the antithesis of her ugly, boorish husband.
Princess Sophia Dorothea was no saint. She was quick-tempered and rarely discrete. Her choice of Von Königsmarck as a lover was not the best. Königsmarck was a dashing handsome gigolo and the former lover of her father-in-law’s mistress, the Countess of Platen and the Countess had a jealous nature.
Königsmarck and Princess Sophia Dorothea began a love affair of clandestine trysts and physical love facilitated by coded correspondence through a trusted go-between. Their love affair did not stay secret for long. In 1692 the Duchess of Platen presented a collection of their correspondence to Princess Sophia Dorothea’s father-in-law, the Elector of Hanover.
Countess of Platen
Von Königsmarck was banished from the Hanoverian court but soon found a position in the neighbouring court of Saxony where one night when he was deep in his cups he let slip the state of affairs in the royal bedchamber of the house of Hanover. George Louis got wind of what had been said and on the morning of 2 July 1694, after a meeting with Sophia at Leine Palace, Königsmark was seized and taken away.
Princess Sophia-Dorothea never saw her lover again. George Louis divorced her in December and early the following year she was confined her to Schloss Ahlden a stately home on the Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony. She stayed there for the rest of her life. Her children were taken away from her and she was forced to live alone. She was probably one of the most unlucky royal women in history.
In August 2016, a human skeleton was found under the Leineschloss (Leine Palace, Hanover) during a renovation project; the remains are believed to be those of Swedish count, Philip Christoph von Königsmarck, (1665-1694).
Philip Christoph von Königsmarck (1665-1694)
History shows that when Princess Sophia Dorothea died in 1726 she had spent 33 years in her prison. Before she died she wrote a letter to her husband, cursing him for his treatment of her. A furious George forbade any mourning of her in Hanover and in London. George I died shortly after.
The Countess of Platen and George I were suspected of Von Königsmarck’s murder by both Princess Sophia-Dorothea and her children. The Countess was exonerated from any involvement in Von Königsmark’s death by the deathbed confessions of two of her henchmen so on whose orders Von Königsmarck met his death remains one of history’s mysteries.
What we do know is that his son George II never forgave his father for his treatment of his mother.
Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty By Leslie Carroll
The Georgian Princesses By John Van der Kiste
The history of letter writing is part of women’s history. Writing letters to family and friends was one of the new pastimes enjoyed by 18th-century middle-class women. Although the Post Office had been open since 1660 it was not until the 18th century that the use of letters for private correspondence took off. It was only then that middle-class women began to enjoy what had been until then an aristocratic luxury.
Should letters be personal and private, public or works of art? These were the questions being debated in the parlours of the 18th-century chattering classes.
For the 18th century household, the distinction between what was public and what was private was seldom straightforward. Controlling relatives or husbands were frequently concerned by the potential secrecy between correspondents, especially female ones. This gave rise to a general unease about the propriety of women’s letter writing.
Samuel Richardson’s fictional heroines, Pamela and Clarissa are repeatedly praised for their talents in letter-writing by their hosts. but it was an insult to a host if a lady refused to read aloud the contents of her correspondence. The contents of women’s letters were viewed by many in society as public property.
Letter writing was a place where a woman might show off her literary prowess in the same way she might demonstrate her ability on the pianoforte. But, as Richardson wrote to one of his female correspondents, Sophia Westcomb, in 1746, letter-writing was not only a social talent.
‘The Pen is almost the only Means a very modest and diffident Lady (who in Company will not attempt to glare) has to shew herself, and that she has a Mind. … her Closet her Paradise … there she can distinguish Her Self: By this means she can assert and vindicate her Claim to Sense and Meaning.’ (Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson)
Richardson’s sentiment was echoed and expanded by Virginia Woolf two centuries later when she wrote; ” A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” This is the central theme of her book ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ In it, Woolf asserts that unlike their male counterparts, women are routinely denied the time and the space to produce creative works. Instead, they are saddled with household duties and are financially and legally bound to their husbands. By being deprived of rooms of their own, there is little possibility for women to rectify the situation. Woolf’s assertion, even in the mid 20th century was deemed revolutionary.
An example of a woman who used her letter-writing to assert their intelligence and enter the public sphere is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Montagu’s Letters from Turkey, written between 1716 and 1718 and published in 1762, were influential both as models of epistolary style and as anthropological works.
Other women followed where Montagu had led. Mary Masters’ ‘Familiar Letters’ (1755) discussed women’s education and domestic abuse. Hester Chapone published her ‘Letters on the Improvement of the Mind’ in 1773. These letters and Elizabeth Carter’s to Catherine Talbot were published in 1809, were referred to by Elizabeth Gaskell in ‘Cranford.’
After being estranged from her husband, Lady Sarah Pennington wrote ‘An Unfortunate Mothers Advice to Her Absent Daughters’. This was a book in a series of letters instructing women on religion, prayer, dress, needlework, the theatre, marriage, dancing, and other “feminine” pursuits. it was published in 1761.
Pennington wrote that a good marriage is rare. “So great is the hazard, so disproportioned the chances, that I could almost wish the dangerous die was never to be thrown for any of you.”
Lady Sarah also discusses the need for a certain “cheerful compliance” when it comes to men and their disagreeable habits. The book enjoyed much popularity and ran to three print runs, the last was in 1803. ((See Vivien Jones, “Mary Wollstonecraft and the literature of advice and instruction,” in Claudia Johnson, ed., Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (2002), 119-40, at 124).
In one of life’s ironies, it was men not women who would excel when it came to transposing the letter into literature and commercialising it. Perhaps this was because writing for a living was considered morally suspect for women. In an ideal world, women had no reason to seek financial independence through their writing. Nevertheless several of the major female novelists of the period began with the epistolary form.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Fanny Burney abandoned the epistolary form after her first novel Evelina and, most famously, Jane Austen dabbled with the form in her short story ‘Lady Susan’ subsequently finding a more satisfying form in the omniscient authorial narrative.
In its private capacity, the letter allowed a woman confined to the home to communicate outside the home with both men and women. While in the form of published letters it was a valuable platform from which publicly to assert women’s intellectual capabilities. Of course, the eighteenth century did not wholeheartedly embrace the potential of such a development. Both kinds of letters aroused contemporary criticism, but it was the suspicion aroused by private, domestic letters that inspired many of the novels of the period, exploiting as they do the potential scandals and secrets and it was female novelists such as Jane Austen who created the modern novel.
This article is based on an original article by Mona: https://blue-stocking.org.uk/2011/03/01/public-and-private-real-and-fictional-the-rise-of-womens-letter-writing-in-the-eighteenth-century/
The story of the Portland Vase encapsulates so much about the 18th century. It is a story of fascination with the classical world, the acquisition of antiquities and of technological and artistic excellence of British manufacture.
The vase that is known as the Portland Vase is a Roman cameo glass vase, dated to between AD 1 and AD 25. Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador in Naples, purchased it in 1778-1780 from James Byres, a Scottish art dealer, who had acquired it after it was sold by Cornelia Barberini-Colonna, Princess of Palestrina. Hamilton brought it to England and sold it to Margaret Cavendish-Harley, widow of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland.
The vase is a Roman two-handled glass amphora dating to between the second half of the 1st century BCE and the early 1st century CE. It has a cameo-like effect decoration which perhaps depicts the marriage of Peleus and Thetis from Greek Mythology. Standing 24.5 cm in high and 17.7 cm at its maximum width it was made by blowing the dark cobalt blue coloured glass covered with a layer of opaque white cased glass. Large areas of the white glass were then removed to reveal the underlayer of blue. Areas of white were left and carved in relief to depict the scenes. The style of the decoration has led scholars to date the piece to the reign of the first Roman Emperor Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE). The fineness of detail of the decorative scenes is comparable to the highest quality Roman cut-gems and so it must be the work of a superbly talented gem-cutter or diatretarius.
The scenes on the vase are divided into two parts by a bearded head (perhaps with horns), one under each handle. The first scene has four figures which include a young man leaving a shrine in the countryside and wearing a cloak. The man holds the arm of a semi-naked woman sitting on the ground preoccupied with stroking an animal resembling a snake. Above the woman is the flying figure of Eros with his customary bow and a torch in his right hand. On the right is a bearded male standing between two trees and depicted in a contemplative mood with his chin resting on his hand.
The second scene on the other side of the vase shows three figures all sitting on rocks with a background of a single tree. On the left is a young male next to a column or pillar, whilst in the centre is a young woman with her arm raised to her head and holding a torch which hangs down to the ground. On the far right is another half-dressed woman who holds a sceptre or staff in her left hand.
The two-handled amphora vase is incomplete as it has lost its pointed base and the mouth of the vessel is curiously uneven in the cut. The base was repaired using a similar coloured disk carved in the same style and depicting Paris. Although it is remarkable that such a delicate object has survived at all from antiquity, the vase is not unique, as a similar type vase has been found at Pompeii which dates to the mid-1st century CE and depicts scenes from a grape harvest. However, these cameo-cut vessels are regarded as something of an experiment in Roman glassware, carried out in a limited period spanning just two generations, so they were almost certainly not commonly produced.
It was sold again in 1786 and passed into the possession of the duchess’s son, William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 3rd Duke of Portland who lent it to Josiah Wedgwood who copied it in his new jasperware.
Wedgwood devoted four years of painstaking trials to achieve the perfection required to replicate the vase. He had problems with cracking and blistering and the sprigged reliefs ‘lifted’ during firing. In 1786 he feared that he would never be able to apply the Jasper relief thinly enough to match the glass original’s subtlety and delicacy. However, his copy of The Portland Vase was placed in a private exhibition in Greek Street, Soho, during April and May 1790. The exhibition was so popular that visitor numbers had to be restricted.
Wedgewood’s success inspired a 19th-century competition to duplicate its cameo-work in the glass, with Benjamin Richardson offering a £1,000 prize to anyone who could achieve that feat. Taking three years, glassmaker Philip Pargeter made a copy and John Northwood engraved it, to win the prize. This copy is in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.
After a long history of changes in ownership, disaster struck in 1845 when the vase was smashed to pieces in the British Museum. Fortunately, it has since been painstakingly restored so that it can once more take its rightful place amongst the very finest masterpieces of Roman art.
The Wedgwood Museum, in Barlaston, near Stoke-on-Trent, contains a display describing the trials of replicating the vase, and several examples of the early experiments are shown.
The original Roman vase can be seen in the British Museum.