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Glossary

back-to-back

One building divided into two houses, with one house facing the street and one facing a back alley or courtyard. The lack of through ventilation caused sanitary problems

Board of Health

Elected local government body responsible for public health matters. The Public Health Act 1848 allowed for the established of local Boards of Health in high mortality areas. A more comprehensive system of Boards of Health was established as a result of the Public Health Act 1872.

borough council

Governing body for a town which possessed borough rights and privileges, such as Nottingham. Also called a corporation. Committees dealt with particular issues, e.g. the Sanitary Committee of the Nottingham corporation was established in 1847

burgess

An inhabitant of a borough who had municipal rights such as the right to vote in borough elections, or rights in the common fields

cholera

Disease spread by the ingestion of water or food contaminated by vibrio cholerae germs. Sometimes called ‘Asiatic cholera’ because of its origin in India

common land

Open or waste land which could be freely used

common rights

Rights enjoyed by inhabitants of a town or village over certain pieces of land according to local custom

commonable fields

Land which was subject to common rights, e.g. in Nottingham, fields which the burgesses could use to pasture their livestock at certain times of the year

corporation

Another word for borough council

court

Enclosed space surrounded by buildings and accessed from the main street by a passageway

dispensary

A charitable organisation; a place where medicine was distributed free of charge or for a small fee

effluvia

A popular term for a flow of particles which it was believed could cause disease or discomfort when breathed in - such as a disgusting smell, or a cloud of pollution. Another similar term was ‘miasma’

enclose

To fence commonable fields or common land and allocate separate pieces to individual owners. Sometimes spelt ‘inclose’

inclosure

The process by which commonable fields or common land was enclosed, often by Act of Parliament

municipal corporation

Governing body for a borough or an incorporated town. Reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835

pail closet

A toilet. The waste was collected in a pail underneath the seat, and removed by night soil men at regular intervals

Poor Law

System of providing assistance to infirm and elderly people, and others unable to work. The ‘New Poor Law’ of 1834 was a national system based on Poor Law Unions. The Unions became important administrative areas for other aspects of government

privy

Another word for toilet. In Nottingham, usually a pail closet (in which the waste was collected). A number of privies were located outside, at the far end of a court or yard, and were used in common by all the residents

pumping station

Machinery used to move water or liquid from one place to another. In this context, a means of extracting water from a river or from an underground source, and then moving it to a reservoir for treatment and distribution

Royal Commission

A public enquiry set up by the government to investigate a particular problem or issue and to write a report giving recommendations. The Commission is made up of individual Royal Commissioners

sanitary district

A local government area established under the Public Health Act 1872, and run by a Sanitary Authority. Urban Sanitary Districts in towns were subject to more extensive powers than Rural Sanitary Districts elsewhere. Sanitary Authorities were replaced by District Councils in 1894.

sewer

Underground pipe carrying sewage or waste water away from buildings

smallpox

Contagious and sometimes fatal disease, common in the 18th and 19th centuries. Survivors suffered pockmarks on the skin

tuberculosis

Infectious and often fatal bacterial disease which was widespread in 19th century Britain. Also known as TB and ‘consumption’

typhoid fever

Illness caused by the ingestion of water or food contaminated by the salmonella typhi bacteria

typhus

Disease caused by the rickettsia bacteria and spread to humans through body lice, especially in crowded and insanitary living conditions

ward

Administrative division of a borough

yard

Small enclosed area surrounded by buildings; similar to a court but rather narrower. Some yards also functioned as passageways between two parallel streets

 

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