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Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight

Against Filth



In Victorian London, filth was everywhere: horse traffic filled the streets with  dung, household rubbish went uncollected, cesspools brimmed with "night soil,"  graveyards teemed with rotting corpses, the air itself was choked with smoke. In  this intimately visceral book, Lee Jackson guides us through the underbelly of the Victorian metropolis, introducing us to the men and women who struggled to stem a rising tide of pollution and dirt, and the forces that opposed them. Through thematic chapters, Jackson describes how Victorian reformers met with both triumph and disaster. Full of individual stories and overlooked details-from the dustmen who grew rich from recycling, to the peculiar history of the public toilet- this riveting book gives us a fresh insight into the minutiae of daily life and the wider challenges posed by the unprecedented growth of the Victorian capital. 
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Wow, now that was really interesting! I just spent the last couple of months reading up on what to do with  rubbish, dung and filth if you produce so much you have no means anymore to get rid of it (answer: build  yourself some massive sewers and dump it all in the river…preferably downstream). I have a strange  fascination for Victorian England, probably as a result of my interest in occupational health. This was  after all the time of the industrial revolution…….while it was, of course, also the time of Jack the Ripper  and the period in which ‘Ripper Street’ was set. Anyway, this book is a very detailed history of how the  people of London dealt with the sudden expansion of London in terms of “what the hell do we do with all  our waste”. It tells you all about the street sweepers, the night soil collectors, about the building of the  sewer system, and of course the politics involved in all of this. It’s amazingly, well disgusting really…  The level of detail is just astonishing, but at the same time, it does not make for an easy read. There is  just so much stuff to get through. That’s the main reason for giving it 8 out of ten. The book is great, but  as night time or public transport reading one gets lost in detail. I deducted another point for the, in my  opinion, noticeable underwhelming presence of Dr Jon Snow. As the grandfather of epidemiology and  public health I had hoped he would have made a prominent appearance, and that the issue of the 1854  Broad Street cholera outbreak would be covered in as much detail as the other ‘disgusting stuff’-related  history. Unfortunately, he was only mentioned in passing by, Anyway, in summary, this really is a great book, and if you are interested in Victorian London and public  health you should give this a go. More specifically, if details are your thing, you should consider this a  9 out of 10!