This page contains javascript

The interactive parts of this resource no longer work, but it has been archived so you can continue using the rest of it.

A Healthy Nation? Click here for the Main Menu
* * * * * * *
* *
* Timeline opens in a new window * *
* Print opens in a new window * *
* *
* *
find out more one *
activity one *
* * *
activity two glossary *
* * *
Were the rich just as likely to catch diseases as the poor?

Catalogue ref: ZPER 34/23; Picture showing inside of a poor house*

click for source 1
Source 1:
Cholera hospital,

click for source 3
Source 3:
Poster on
cholera, 1848

click for source 5
Source 5:
Health of the
town of

click for source 7
Source 7:
Petition from

Prince Albert married Queen Victoria in 1840 and they had nine children, but in December 1861 he fell ill and died. Prince Albert had caught TYPHOID, a disease that is caused by drinking either dirty water or milk, or eating dirty food. The usual cause of typhoid was allowing drinking water to be polluted by sewage.

The death of her husband was a great shock to Queen Victoria. How could one of the most important people in Britain die from a disease like this? Was this common? Were rich and poor just as likely to die from diseases like this at the time of the Great Exhibition?

The big killer disease of the mid-nineteenth century was CHOLERA which was caused in a similar way to the disease Prince Albert had died of. Cholera had arrived in Britain for the first time in 1831, probably arriving on ships bringing imports from China.

Doctors had little idea about the causes of cholera. Most accepted the miasmatic (read on!) theory of disease. They believed that diseases were caused by the air somehow being polluted by waste. This came about because severe outbreaks of disease often happened in hot summers when there was a great deal of rubbish lying in the streets. As the rubbish rotted, it gave off a stronger and stronger smell. This, many doctors believed, caused disease.

Cholera was most dangerous in the new industrial towns of the north or in the centre of big cities like London. Here people lived in crowded housing. Most people got their water from a tap in the street and often the supply was pumped out of a nearby river. This river could easily be used for sewage disposal at the same time. In London, one water company drew water out of the River Thames from a point right next to the outlet of the Great Ranelagh Sewer.

In the new industrial towns, cholera was even more dangerous because many of the houses had been built quickly with no attempts at planning. Often there was no sanitation and no fresh water. In one street in Bolton the people used a trench at the back of the houses as a toilet, which was cleared out and the mess stacked up against the end wall of the last house. The mess was taken away every six months.

There was a second big outbreak of cholera in 1848, a third in 1853 and a fourth in 1866. Each time thousands of people died swiftly and in terrible pain. They suffered violent vomiting and diarrhoea, coupled with very bad stomach pains. The actual cause of death was often dehydration (not enough water).
click for source 2
Source 2:
Meeting about
cholera, 1832

click for source 4
Source 4:
Cholera epidemic

click for source 6
Source 6:
Public health
poster, Ormskirk

click for source 8
Source 8:
Cholera outbreak,