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The levels of urbanization have been dependent on geography and the historical situations. During the nineteenth century agricultural productivity and industrialization were the main factors that determined the levels of urbanization (Paul Bairoch P. & Goertz G., 1985). A large population in spite of living in the countryside was not involved in agriculture and a change in urbanization was seen.

The Industrial revolution was not as rapid as it sometimes seemed and there was a continuous drift away from the countryside into manufacturing centers. Industrial development caused the build-up of cities such as Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle. With the new factories coming in during 1850s, most of the population of England lived in towns and worked in these factories (Picard, Liza1).

Living Conditions –


Artistic representation of overcrowded housing in London by Gustave Doré-1872


The prosperous Middle class lived outside the cities in green suburbs. They preferred the west of the city where the prevailing west winds would blow away the factory chimney smokes away from their residences. The houses changed to a neo-Elizabethan style or a Vernacular style with tiles and terra cotta. The working classes lived closer to their employments often in terraced cottages of pleasant housing. The slums housed the labor forces of the industrial era. The living conditions were extremely poor with miles of terraced houses thrown together with no foundation or amenities. Basic amenities like water would be only provided for a few hours every week. Rows of ‘back‐to-back’ houses were built with thin walls on all sides. Light and air came only through the windows and the door in the front. There was little or no sewerage systems around the slums to carry away the waste (Picard, Liza1).

A Glasgow slum, by Thomas Annan-1868

Health – 

Thus, the 19th century saw many killer epidemics in large industrial towns and cities that were overcrowded and provided a low quality of living. Diseases like smallpox, cholera and TB were insatiable and continued to relapse in epidemical waves. According to the Miasma theory, it was believed that bad smells caused disease. Poor districts with lower living standards suffered from the problems of foul air and the death rates were higher. In the prosperous suburbs there was no smell and the quality of living was better and therefore it lessened the diseases in those areas (Picard, Liza2).

John Snow traced the source of a cholera outbreak in London, in 1854. His findings inspired fundamental changes in the water and waste systems of London, which led to similar changes in other cities, and a significant improvement in general public health around the world (John Snow). The government aimed to improve public health and passed a number of new laws to control the living and working environment of the people (BBC, 2014).

Charles Booth’s London Poverty map showing the social standings of inhabitants by street, 1898

Water has always been an essential part of every settlement and the expansion of urban water system was seen during the clutter of the nineteenth century industrial city. Matthew Gandy has explained the relationship between water and urban space by the emergence of what he calls the ‘bacteriological city’. It included features such as new moral geographies and modes of social discipline based upon ideologies of cleanliness (M Gandy, 2010).

Health was thus seen as a key motif in modernism. The key contemporary issues faced today include air quality, water quality, fear of crime, physical and socio- environmental Stressors and other health related problems (Townshend T. lecture). Therefore analyzing and understanding the past to create a better future is essential for the provision of a better living environment.


References :

  1. Bairoch, Paul and Gary Goertz. “Factors Of Urbanisation In The Nineteenth Century Developed Countries: A Descriptive And Econometric Analysis”. Urban Studies 23.4 (1986): 285-305.
  2. Picard, Liza1. “The Built Environment”. (2017): Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
  3. Picard, Liza2. “Health And Hygiene In The 19Th Century”. (2017): Web. 19 Jan. 2017.
  4. “John Snow”. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
  5. “BBC – Standard Grade Bitesize History (2014) – Public Health : Revision, Page 3”. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
  6. Gandy, Matthew. “Rethinking Urban Metabolism: Water, Space And The Modern City”. City 8.3 (2004): 363-379.
  7. “19Th C Public Health – Past Matters”. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.
  8. Townshend Tim, lecture on “Urban Design, Health and Well-being“

Image References :

  1. Artistic representation of overcrowded housing in London, from London, a Pilgrimage by William Blanchard Jerrold with illustrations by Gustave Doré, 1872 (British Library)
  2. A Glasgow slum, by Thomas Annan, 1868 (British Library)
  3. Charles Booth’s London Poverty map showing the social standings of inhabitants by street, 1898 (British Library)


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