On this day … 16 March 1881

The Preston Chronicle reported that working-class child care and unsafe water supplies were two dangers to health for the Preston Union Rural Sanitary Authority to consider when it met at its offices in Lancaster Road.

The authority’s medical officer of health, Dr Charles Trimble, told members that while the death rate in the rural districts continued to fall, too many of those dying were aged under one and these accounted for well over a quarter of all the deaths. Deaths of these infants and people aged over sixty made up more than half of all the deaths in the district. For children who survived their first year, the death rate began to fall rapidly.

Dr Trimble had a simple explanation for the cause of this high infant mortality:

In my opinion many young lives are sacrificed owing to the exposure to which they are subjected. In many parts of this rural district the population is almost entirely composed of factory operatives, who consequently have to betake themselves at a very early hour to their work.

Their children in many instances are nursed out, and have therefore to be taken in all weathers from a comfortable bed and carried to the residence of the nurse which very often is situated at a considerable distance from that of the parent.

How is it possible that an infant subjected to such treatment can escape bronchitis, pneumonia, and other acute disease? Diarrhoea and dysentery have carried off 26 victims and 15 of these were children under one year. Here, again, is another instance where, with judicious management, infantile and mortality might be greatly diminished.

Much good would be done it medical practitioners amongst the poorer classes of their patients would warn them against the danger of improper food and filthy feeding bottles.’

He then reported on what would now be considered more likely causes of the infant mortality: polluted water supplies and inadequate or non-existent sewerage systems. In Penwortham, for example, Dr Trimble reported that he had found ‘… with reference to the water supply of Middleforth Green … the water at the disposal of the inhabitants was not fit for human consumption.’

However, he felt the danger to health this posed would soon be alleviated, because:

I am now in a position to state that the matter has been taken up by the influential gentlemen living in the neighbourhood, and also that a committee is acting in the matter, so that I am now confident that the people residing in Middleforth Green at no distant period will be enjoying the luxury of an uncontaminated water supply.

Even if the mothers of Middleforth had kept their babies’ bottles spotlessly clean, that would have been no protection against the polluted water supply. And, as the pictures show, those Victorian baby bottles must have been difficult to sterilise.

He then turned to the ‘unsatisfactory state of … Longridge with regard to its sewage’:

Now, when we come to consider a … a small town, with between 3,0O0 to 4,000 of a population, and no system of sewerage, it is a matter to be deplored … in two or three instances the ditches, which take the place of a sewer, run directly under two blocks of houses, all of which are inhabited. Now, if some measures are not taken to rectify this state of matters the result will be a severe epidemic, which will carry off a number of the inhabitants.

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