Working-class diet and health in Nottingham, 1850-1939
The rise in population together with industrialisation in the first half of the nineteenth century presented central government and local authorities with new challenges. Large numbers of people crowded together in poorly constructed homes with very limited sanitation facilities and created the perfect breeding ground for infectious diseases. The endemic nature of many of these diseases affected the most vulnerable members of society and the reduction in the high death-rates was an important consideration for the authorities. The Public Health Act 1848 was the first serious attempt by Westminster to tackle the problems of urban health which had been identified in several reports published in the 1840s. During the second half of the century public health policy was hesitantly developed and concentrated on cleaning up the environment in the expectation of bringing about a reduction in deaths. At the same time, rising living standards and improved food supplies to the towns brought about slight improvements in the dietary levels of the urban poor. A combination of factors brought about a rapid decline in death-rates by the end of the nineteenth century, and a further fall mainly attributable to changes in the pattern of infant mortality in the early period of the twentieth century. This thesis tests the general pattern of change in the context of Nottingham, one of Britain's largest provincial cities. It assesses the relative roles played by improvements in the areas of public health and housing and their contribution to the reduction in deaths. It then examines the issue of the improvements in food and nutrition, particularly at the beginning of the twentieth century, by assessing how accessible a more balanced and nutritional diet was available to the working-classes. It then assesses the changes in health during the period 1850-1939 and concludes that the improvements in the environment were minimal until 1920 and had little to do with the reduction in the death rate. The suggestion is that a better diet together with gradual improvements in the environment brought about the decline in deaths from certain diseases.