Did "King Dirt" and "Bumbledom" defeat the objects of the Public Health Act, 1848? : a case study of the political, social and cultural attitudes to public health reform in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead and Sunderland, 1835-1858
This thesis reinterprets the progress of social reform by assessing the variety of responses to the Public Health Act, 1848 that were expressed in three North-East towns. It seeks to challenge the idea that reform was necessarily imposed by a central body onto an unwilling community for Sunderland Corporation were engaged in a collaborative process with the General Board, not only co-operating with the Board's proposals but generating initiatives themselves. The idea that sanitary reform was resisted by local councils made up of tradesmen and shopkeepers is refitted on the grounds that Gateshead Corporation, which was made up of just this socio-economic group, did accept the Public Health Act whereas Newcastle Corporation, which had a wealthier socio-economic structure, resisted state intervention at all costs. It is argued that there was a range of political and cultural patterns of behaviour that determined the individual responses of the three towns to sanitary reform. Some of these are explored by examining the underlying attitudes associated with key words and catch phrases such as "economy", "self-help" and "Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. Different groups played their part in shaping public opinion: religious men, medical practitioners, sanitary associations and the local press. The connection between these groups and the local Corporations is examined in some detail to help explain why it was that the three towns reacted so differently to the Public Health Act. It is argued that political, religious and medical factors were principally at work in shaping Sunderland's positive approach to sanitary reform. The environmental factors implicated in typhus, typhoid and pulmonary tuberculosis are considered to provide a context for discussions about specific environmental problems and their solutions. In highlighting the complexities that faced the early sanitary reformers and in describing both sanitarian and dearth models of disease, it is suggested that in the light of current health concerns we need to be less judgmental of the failures of the early Victorians to tackle their health problems.