Nineteenth Century

The Nineteenth Century: 1800-1899

The nineteenth century was a time of rapid change and expansion for Great Britain. Not only was there a revolution in industry, but also further growth to the British Empire. For better or worse Britain was in the process of taking over as much of the world as it could. This put the country in a similar position to the Roman Empire in that the government began to realise that it had a vested interest in keeping its citizens healthy, partly to continue expanding the empire but also because industry needed workers.

Industrialisation brought with it some problems for the health of the nation. Before the nineteenth century the majority of people lived in the countryside. However, towns grew rapidly in any area where there was a factory or mill, such as Manchester. Many towns and cities grew up around these businesses because people moved to where the work was. The challenge with this was the lack of infrastructure to cope with the change. Badly built back-to-back house was thrown up quickly to house the new workers. It was overcrowded with several families living in two rooms. Disease could spread quickly and easily in these conditions.


  • 1831 there was an outbreak of cholera – very frightening disease as you could die within a day
  • It spread quickly due to poor, overcrowded living conditions – 1000s could die in a week
  • Common treatments included: burning the clothes & bedding of victims, praying, cleaning the house & scattering chloride of lime, smoking cigars, lucky charms, burning barrels of tar to create smoke in the streets, making “cure all” pills –
  • Shows there’s a continuity in types of treatments, e.g. things to clear miasma in the air, supernatural beliefs in God and prayer, natural remedies – none of which worked of course!