9-15 May 1916: The Medical Officers of Health

Every fortnight the Medical Officer of Health prepared a report on the health of the borough. This included summaries of births and deaths, causes of death and dealing with insanitary conditions across the borough.  It also gives a good idea of what concerns there were about the public health of the borough and sometimes an insight into the conditions people lived and worked in.

In the two weeks covered by the report, 264 houses had to be disinfected by the Council, with a further 52 having their drains flushed with disinfectants following infectious disease and 93 having disinfectant supplied. 78 cases of infectious disease were reported and 1815 items were disinfected.  This may seem somewhat over the top, but this was before antibiotics and vaccines so many infectious diseases were fatal.  21 people died of measles in this period, all were under the age of 15 – and only 2 were over 5.  The report made to the Council includes an instruction from the Board of Education that children under 5 should be excluded from public elementary school and that if children had siblings under 5 then they should be excluded from classes infected with measles.  In order to try and combat the heavy mortality associated with measles, the Council was to seek permission from the Local Government Board to employ an additional female sanitary inspector and health visitor.

Anyone suffering from particular infectious diseases had to notify the Council, presumably so that disinfection could take place. Scarlet fever was the most common notifiable disease with 24 notifications, followed by chicken pox, both mainly in children and all over the borough.  The statistics given also include “Infectious Diseases Contacts at the Reception Shelter” (14 for the fortnight), which presumably was how the Medical Officers team were notified.

Library bye-laws stated that anyone who had a library book and came into contact with infectious disease had to notify the library. This meant that in the May 1916 accounts, there as a charge of £3 and 4s for books destroyed after cases of infectious disease – charged to the Health Committee.  The Health Committee also spent 17s on disinfectant from Sanitas Co Ltd and £96 14s and 5d on disinfectant from Newton, Chambers & Co.

Medical Officers of Health annual reports for across London are available via the Wellcome Library – the Heritage Service has the reports for Wandsworth and Battersea but as neither produced annual reports during the war years, these can only be traced through the Council minutes.  They are a fantastic resource for information about life in the borough and challenges faced by those who lived here.

Advertisements

21-27 September 1915: The Battersea Milk Depot

Amongst the items of business discussed at the Battersea Borough Council meeting of 22nd September 1915 were Council prosecutions.  These included two prosecutions for the management of brothels (one on Lavender Road and one on Middleton Road [now Buckmaster Road], see this post for how this sort of offence was handled), a prosecution for selling sausages mixed with boric acid and one for selling watered down milk.  A look through the prosecutions brought by the Council in 1915 shows that the majority related to food and drink, and especially to the watering down of milk.  In June alone four shopkeepers were prosecuted for it and of the 15 prosecutions brought since April 1915, 9 were for watering down milk, 2 for selling margarine wrongly labelled, 3 for brothel keeping and one for adulterated food – the sausages mentioned above.

The standards for food, and especially milk, were a particular concern of the Council because of their impact on public health.  The Health Committee were responsible for the maintenance of the Council’s Milk Depot at 28 York Road, as well as for the prosecutions, and in the same meeting were reporting on the expenditure of the Depot.

Milk depot – we are aware that the expenditure on the Milk Depot has exceeded the income for several years past.  The depot, however, was not established with the object of making a profit but primarily for the purpose of reducing the infant mortality, and there can be no doubt that the depot has been a great success from a health standpoint.  We do not consider that it is possible to reduce to cost of production of sterilised milk or to increase the income from the sale thereof, without impairing the value of the work for which the depot was instituted.  We, however, think that it is possible that a saving might be effected by the sale of dried milk as supplied at the Infants’ Milk Depots in Leicester and Sheffield in partial substitution for sterilised milk and we recommend:

That the Council try, as an experiment, the sale of dried milk for the feeding of a certain number of infants

The Depot opened in June 1902, following the model of similar depots in France.  The first such depot in the UK opened in 1899 in St Helens, followed by Liverpool, Ashton under Lyne and Dukinfield in 1901 and then Battersea, with others to follow.  All the depots were municipal, run by local councils to deal with public health issues in their areas.  The aim was to provide safe milk, which could be used for babies and young children when breast feeding was not possible – a 1910 publication on Infant Mortality, written by the former Medical Officer of Health for Battersea, was very clear that breast feeding was considered the best option for ensuring the good health of infants.  Milk was bought from approved farms, mixed with water, cream, sugar and salt and then sterilised before it was issued in varying amounts depending on the age of the child in need of it. Older babies were given unmodified milk, which was also sterilised.

The Milk Depot 1910The Battersea depot had a daily output of 1421 bottles for 211 customers in September 1915.  A 1910 report on Infant Mortality (available here, via the Wellcome Library) showed that the mortality rate for infants using the Depot was lower than the mortality rate for the rest of the borough, this was referenced in the recommendation put to the Council above.  The Depot was gone by the 1930s, but the Council’s responsibility for public health continued, the Heritage Service has photographs of the Borough milk inspector in the 1950s and the Council still have duties today.

 

Battersea Borough Council minutes, 1915: MBB/1/16