Today was the usual. So I decided to write about something that I learned today: London in the 1850s. It was not a great time for the people of London. Too much poop, too many animals, poop problems, too many people, diseases, cholera, poor people, stuffed apartments, and the list goes on. Janet read us excerpts from a book that describes that time.
WARNING: DISGUSTING CONTENT AHEAD
(though I enjoy it)
London was a great city. Almost too great. People moved there. Population explosion. Back then, only some people had toilets. So the poor people had outhouses. What happens if your hole in the ground is so full of poop that it will just overflow? There’s no room to dig another hole, because the city is overflowing. You hire night-soil men, AKA poop scoopers to haul your poop out of the city and to the farmers. But then the night-soil men start making you pay more, because it is nasty work to scoop poop. Then what if you’re poor and can’t afford it? You poop in your yard. Then your house smells horrible. What if it’s the middle of the night and you live on the 3rd floor of a house. And you don’t want to go all the way downstairs to go to the bathroom? You poop in a bucket in your house and dump it out the window onto the street below.
Back then in Victorian London there wasn’t great plumbing. You would have little gullies running down the side of the street, full of mucky water, where you would get the water you drink. It would usually be muddy water, and you might dangle a little tin can from your window down to the street to fill it will bad water. When you had the water/mud, you would wait until the mud settled, and then scoop the water off the top.
Guess where people dumped their poop? Onto the street. Into the gullies with the water that everyone drinks.
Maybe you ate some bad food or water that was contaminated, then you would be sick. Then your poop would have that bacteria, go into the gullies, and then maybe someone would drink that, then they would get sick too.
That actually happened with a cholera outbreak. Back then they didn’t know that disease was spread through bacteria, and they don’t know how bacteria was spread. Was it food? Water? Air? A certain room? Maybe a brick on the street? Nobody knew. So then a lot of people got cholera.
Here’s what happens when you get cholera. Cholera messes with your small intestines, which control the amount of water your body takes in and lets go. Cholera reproduces really fast, and messes with the amount of water your body absorbs. Normally your body soaks in more water than it lets go, but Cholera switches that around. It tricks your cells to let go of a lot of your body’s water, which will ultimately kill you. Some people have been known to die in a matter of days or hours, and some to lose 30% of their body weight in hours, because they poop out their body water. Then you get so dehydrated that you die. Cholera diarrhea is kind of a white water, with little white flakes, which are basically your intestinal lining just falling out. Pictures of hospital beds back then are basically a board that the patient would lay on, with a hole in the board for the butt and underneath that hole a bucket for the patient to just poop freely.
Imagine if you already have a poop problem, and now part of town is dying because they poop too much. Then you will have more contaminated poop in the water that everybody is drinking, and just more problems. And guess what, all this cholera started in August. In August it is hot, when it is hot you have to drink a lot of water, and cholera is spread through water.
A lot of the cholera outbreak was in just one part of London. Most of this happened because of the population explosion, and where there are so many people, that you would have to cram many people into one space. Maybe if you were stuffed into a house with a bunch of strangers, your space would be a little chalk circle in the middle of the floor in the living room. That would be where you would sleep.
You would also have a lot of animals and animal poop. Horses, pigs, chickens, cows, and all sorts of animals, farm animals stuffed in houses, herds in street, just another problem on top of everything else.
A while later they finally found out that this was happening through the water, and shut off the street sewers, and the whole mess cleared up soon after.
But don’t worry, because cholera is treatable nowadays, and is rare to catch in most parts of the world.
Disgusting and fascinating, right?
Victorian London, 1850s: