Cholera: from ‘great stink’ to safe to drink?

Design register for a chemical sanitary belt and cholera repellent, 1848 (BT 45/9/1610)

What impact did the environment have on people’s health in the 19th century?

This exciting workshop has been developed working with the Thames Explorer Trust, with support from the Friends of The National Archives. Children will take part in two sessions, working with original documents and on the river bank.

Workshop 1 with The National Archives
What impact did the environment have on people’s health in the 19th century? Exploring documents taken from the General Board of Health (in response to the 1848 Public Health Act) pupils investigate the causes of cholera in different localities across England and Wales. They find out about the ‘Great Stink of 1858’ and the problems this caused.

Workshop 2 with Thames Explorer Trust
How clean is the Thames today? Different types of science inquiries help pupils to discover what impact the river environment has had on people’s health during the 19th and 21st centuries. Types of scientific inquiry that will be used include riverside observations, identifying river wildlife, and signs of pollution. Fair testing will measure water quality (pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen and water temperature). Collecting, analysing and presenting data allows pupils to be part of ‘River Watch’ a citizen science project. Data will be uploaded to the River Watch database, allowing classes to use it for follow-up work back at school. The data will also be used by scientists monitoring litter and water quality issues in the tidal Thames. The session concludes by making water filters and exploring present-day environmental issues to help devise a sustainable future for the Thames.

This sessions supports schools studying a site dating from a period beyond 1066 that is significant in the locality.

Connections to the curriculum: History (local history)

Session options

This session is delivered as a:


at The National Archives

2 hour workshop at The National Archives and 1.5 hours at Kew riverside.

Available: all year round

Cost: £180 per class of up to 30 pupils for the Thames Explorer Trust session

Suitability: Key stage 2

Request a booking

Contact us

All activities must be booked in advance.

Tel: +44 (0)20 8392 5365

Fax: +44 (0)20 8487 9202