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“Nothing could be a better fever producer.”

The insanitary conditions of many towns in the industrial areas were ideal circumstances for promoting epidemics. For example in Aberdare: typhus in 1847, small pox 1848, and cholera in 1848 / 49 and again in Cwmbach 1866. In 1848, Parliament passed the Public Health Act, which Aberdare town leaders agreed to comply. A Board of Health was formed and Health Inspectors appointed who had to report to the board. In one report of 1865, the inspector brought to the attention of the board the appalling conditions he had found in Cwmbach. For example, in Pleasant Row the inspector saw the contents of a privy running through a pantry. He also observed that, “There is a row of houses called Duffryn Row numbering some twenty four houses running parallel with the canal. The row has only one privy to the lot, and it is such a filthy state that it is impossible to get near it. A drain runs from under one of the houses to the canal and the effluvia is fearful….The filthy water in the canal is frequently stirred up by the boats navigating along….Nothing could be a better fever producer.” The first case of cholera in Wales in that epidemic appeared in Cardiff on 13 May 1849 and in the subsequent months the disease made enormous ravages in the South Wales valleys. A considerable increase in mortality occurred in Cardiff towards the end of May and the outbreak reached its height there in the early days of June; on the 7th fourteen people died of the disease. In the vicinity of the Glamorganshire Canal twenty-four persons died as a result of the disease and Dr. John Sutherland cited this as an example of putrescent mud producing cholera---'On the 26th of May the end of the canal nearest the sea was emptied in order to admit repairs of the lock. By this process a large surface of black putrescent mud was exposed to the direct action of a hot sun, and the result was, that very offensive effluvia were immediately perceptible'. The adjacent houses escaped the disease 'except those close to the side of the basin, and the reason for such a selection will be sufficiently obvious'.

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“Before the end of the month however, Dyke had already reported three cases of cholera.”

The fourth and virtually the last great cholera epidemic in Britain occurred in the years 1865-6. During August, a number of sanitary precautions were instituted in Merthyr, largely through the efforts of T. J. Dyke, now the Medical Officer of Health for the town, and the presence of the disease in Cardiff and Cwmbach by the middle of the month stimulated further efforts by the local health committee. Before the end of the month however, Dyke had already reported three cases of cholera in the district. The first died in typical circumstances---'The patient was a married woman, aged thirty years, who died after eighteen hours illness. She resided with her husband and three children in a two-roomed, ill-ventilated tenement, underneath the Duffryn Arms, (Cwmbach) Canal side. The room was excessively dirty. The family lay upon a filthy mattress placed upon a damp sodden floor. The husband is employed in the Plymouth Iron Works, but he spends most of his wages on drink &c....'. (From the Merthyr Telegraph, 1 September 1866.)


Fletchers’ in the 19th Century-page 3

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