One of the best things about working toward a specific goal is the unexpected things that happen along the way. In the development of our new book, Pioneers in Public Health: lessons from history, several people got in touch. Although some did not wish to contribute whole chapters, they were keen to share their love of history, and things they had been involved in, such as exploring local archives and regularly presenting at events.
These lovely contacts aside, two people got in touch with their books of particular interest.
The first of these was Hugh Thomas, at St George’s Medical School, inviting me to me Blossom. Blossom, it emerged, was the very cow from which cow pox was extracted and injected into that unfortunate young boy, but it is reported that he never did contract small pox. St George’s now houses an archive of Jenner and others, but in an era of very different modern day ethics.
But there was another thing Hugh loaned me of huge interest – what appeared to be a notebook of an Inspector of Nuisances dating back to 1899 – all beautifully handwritten and illustrated by a William Henry Tucker, of Cardiff.
Mr Tucker lists the Acts available back then and appears to be studying, or even a lecturer, with examples of how things were then understood, exam questions and model answers. One reads: “Describe some of the main provisions of the Public Health Act 1875 with reference to the duties of an Inspector of Nuisances.” Another asks: “What are the regulations affecting persons suffering from infectious diseases and what are the duties of Inspector of Nuisances with reference thereto?” Another: “A house is found to be unhealthy there are occasionally offensive smells perceived, both in the basement and upper rooms. What is the most likely cause of this and how you would you proceed to investigate it?” Model answers are provided for each, with many terms we are still so familiar with in the modern day.
Then, remedy for infectious disease noted that burning sulphur was recommended, clothing thoroughly disinfected and linens thoroughly washed and boiled. The notes advised that windows should be opened so that air could become sweet, then thoroughly cleansed with soft soap, scrubbed and painted before the convalescent patient could again occupy the room.
Tucker probably could not have imagined that his book would be found and read over a century later and be of great interest. He talks about then day to day issues in public and environmental health: common lodging houses feature strongly, including matters of numbers of occupants allowed to occupy cubic space; problems of food mixed with poisoned water; scavenging the streets; cattle plague; rats getting in to basements via drains; foul air containing the poison of diseases; and even the problem of health effects arising from arsenic in wallpaper. He also talks about powers of entry and inspection techniques, some of which still have resonance today.
More recently others in environmental health, realising their profession has unique stories to tell, have captured some of their working memories in books. One such book is Memoirs of Southwark in Transition: tenements, tower blocks and traffic by R. B. Marshall, which the author was kind enough to send to me. In his book, Raymond recalls the start of his environmental health career in south London, a very different place then to now. He recounts such varied stories as what they did about troublesome feral cats, dealing with mass exhumations, food sampling and court attendances.
Raymond will be happy to send you a copy of his book for £7.50 plus £1.20 post (cheque) if you email him here.
And for us at EHRNet, we would be pleased to hear about any other memoirs you may have written! We are considering capturing these on a new EHRNet page. Please leave a comment below and we can get in touch.