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Broadsheet: Cholera and Water, 1866

Wellcome Collection

Broadsheet: Cholera and Water, 1866. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

 By 1866, doctors understood cholera far better. This poster identifies drinking water as the cause of the disease and dirt as a public enemy. Limehouse was a working-class area in London. Middle-class people often associated poor people with dirt. Notice also that the authority publishing this information was no longer the parish officials, as in the poster in Source 1 from 1831, but a new Board of Works for the district. The members of that board were middle-class experts, not local residents. What were their suggestions for residents to avoid cholera?

Between the 1830s and 1850s there were several epidemics of cholera in London. In 1854 scientific research had established that cholera was carried by water. The title of the poster —  “Cholera and Water” — explicitly links the two. By 1866, dirt was the enemy. Transfer of authority from the parish (as in Source 1) to a district Board of Works, though composed of middle-class volunteers rather than state bureaucrats, shows the extension of state authority. Parliament had enacted the Public Health Act of 1848, which set up local health boards, investigated sanitary conditions nationwide, and established a General Board of Health. These government agencies publicized health information. Other state-run efforts were the construction of sewers (Source 6) and more innovations for sanitation aimed at controlling the consequences of rampant urbanization.

CHOLERA AND WATER. BOARD OF WORKS FOR THE LIMEHOUSE DISTRICT, Comprising Limehouse, Ratcliff, Shadwell, and Wapping.
The INHABITANTS of the District within which CHOLERA IS PREVAILING, are earnestly advised NOT TO DRINK ANY WATER WHICH HAS NOT PREVIOUSLY BEEN BOILED. Fresh Water ought to be Boiled every Morning for the day’s use, and what remains of it ought to be thrown away at night. The Water ought not to stand where any kind of dirt can get into it, and great care ought to be given to see that Water Butts and Cisterns are free from dirt.