Living in Westminster report

Extracts from a report sent to the Home Office by the Medical Secretary for Visiting District Committees of the local Board of Health for St Margaret and St John the Evangelist, Westminster, 6 December 1831, Catalogue ref: HO 44/24/87.

These extracts describe the dangers to health from poor drainage, sewers, rubbish and waste in the streets, animals, and ‘effluvia’.


Total want of common drains and sewers-the general Result being that heaps of putrefying Refuse of all kinds are commonly to be met with, And that the Contents of the Private sinks, privies and cesspools [underground reservoirs for sewage] stagnate in open drains- soak into adjoining cellars or are pumped up, carried in Buckets, -or suffered to run over into the public Gutters, Streets-Highways and stagnant Ditches of the Outskirts.

Again- in the Reports, that the Dustman when applied to stipulate [insist on] for Money or Beer: – that they will remove nothing but cinders [coal dust], and that, occasionally, they are “very abusive”.

Into certain of the less public Streets, Lanes and Alleys, it is alleged that the “Scavengers” [street cleaners] have not been for years- into some never!

A part of St John’s Parish is thus described in the Report: “The streets of this district are much neglected by the “Scavengers”- there is Accumulation of Filth and Vegetable matter on the surface, which is suffered to remain on considerable time. Fowles [chickens] and Geese are allowed to stroll about the streets”. And just previously it is remarked:-“There is a general Complaint that the Dustmen cannot be prevailed upon to remove the dust”- And so, in varying terms, throughout the parish- These complaints are from being confined to the poor alone.

In lower neighbourhoods, where the inhabitants happen to be of a class that cannot meet the Expense of carting away these accumulations in the cesspools, having either no or effective drainage or sewage, they empty the surplus of whatever it may happen to consist into the street gutters at night, whence as in York Street, it runs to the nearest grating, out of which, in consequence not seldom is emitted, an Effluvia [smell of decay] as powerful as it is disgusting and dangerous….

Return to Victorian Industrial Towns