Monday, March 28, 2011

Sanitation in 19th Century Europe

The industrial revolution in Europe attracted workers to urban centers, creating large, overcrowded slums in the cities. Wealthier citizen fled to residential areas outside the cities, abandoning their houses. The poor moved in, living often in homes vacated by the rich. Rooms were continually divided, making way in a structure for more families. Floors were added with low ceilings. Stairs frequently were only ladders.
Few cesspools were in use, and water was only available in the streets. This contributed to frequent outbreaks of cholera and tuberculosis in the slums, where many people lived in houses with narrow streets and little sunlight.

Gradually, fountains, sewers, urinals, and fire hydrants were constructed. By the 1860s, horse drawn tipcarts were used to collect garbage from sidewalks, where it had been dumped the night before for collection.

In the 1880s cesspools became more popular, sometimes by decree, and in spite of organized protests by cesspool cleaners and some unlikely colleagues, medical men. Louis Pasteur wanted sewage to be dumped into the sea because he believed cesspool treatment did not kill enough of the organisms that caused infection.

When garbage cans came into use, outbreaks of typhoid and cholera became less frequent and killed fewer people. In the late 19th century, as the benefits of fresh water, sewers, and garbage collection became common knowledge, health and life expectancy improved dramatically.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bed Wagons

Bed wagons were used throughout history, to ease the chores of a servant, assigned to keep her master’s and mistress’ bed warm. Ofttimes, before the invention of the wagons, warming pans were rushed to and fro, from fireside to bedchamber, and slid between the bed covers to chase away the chill of an unheated room.

With the invention of a bed wagon, the task of bed warming became easier. The contrivance was made of bent hoops, either iron or wood, which held the covers away from the heat, and made the job of warming a large bed less labor-intensive. The frames of bed wagons were usually made of ash, but sometimes of oak. The total length was normally three feet or longer, enough to ensure that most of the bed area was warmed. A pot of burning fuel was placed in a trivet built into the middle of the frame. An iron sheet was attached to the frame, directly beneath the trivet, to prevent any scorching of the bed linens. Above the pot, situated between two of the hoops, another metal sheet guarded against the coverlets catching fire. Sometimes, the pot of fuel was hung from the top of the wagon, suspended in the approximate middle of the frame. Pots could be made of iron, brass, or earthenware, with or without a lid. If unlidded, ashes might cover the surface of the fuel.

Italian and French bed-wagons were commonly called a ‘monk’ or a ‘priest’, no doubt another bed-humor reference like the English joke that a housemaid was a “Scotch warming pan”.