Source 17 - Opponents to sanitary reform

While it would seem that many people - from writers like Charles Dickens to social reformers like Henry Mayhew and civil servants like Edwin Chadwick - were in favour of sanitary reform, there were those who were against it. Often, it wasn't that there was opposition to the reform itself but, rather, to the cost or the effort involved in bringing it about.

Some individuals, usually those with an economic interest in property such as landlords, objected to reform measures - including clean water for every dwelling - because of the cost involved to install them in all of their properties.

Others were sceptical that sanitary reform would even improve the population's health. For example, the journal The Economist also objected to the campaign for sanitary reform, mainly because its editor and contributors believed that cholera and other epidemic diseases and illnesses were not directly caused by poor sanitary measures.

The Times newspaper went even further and campaigned against sanitary reform:

We prefer to take our chance with cholera and the rest than be bullied into health. There is nothing a man hates so much as being cleansed against his will, or having his floors swept, his walls whitewashed, his pet dung heaps cleared away, or his thatch forced to give way to slate, all at the command of a sort of sanitary bombaliff.

  • Who else do you think might have objected to sanitary reform? Think about individuals, like the owners of many properties, who would stand to lose money if sanitary reform was made compulsory.

Taken from: The Economist
Date: 1849
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: ZC.9.d.550