Discovering Local History
Health in Stoke-on-Trent
Early Twentieth Century
Death rates remained persistently high in the Potteries, and although in the middle of the nineteenth century conditions in the Potteries were not markedly worse than those prevailing in other towns and cities, by 1901 the area had become one of the unhealthiest places in England and Wales.
In 1901, John Clare, the Medical Officer of Health for Hanley calculated that the death rates in the borough as a whole, numbered 19.2 per 1,000. This compared with an average for the 33 greater towns of 18.6. The rate ranging from 13.2 in Croydon to 22.3 in Manchester.
The infant mortality rate remained stubbornly high at 212 per 1,000 births (more than one-in-five of all births). This compared with a figure of only 162 per 1,000 births (one-in-seven) for the 33 greater towns.
In 1905 Dr. S. Monckton Copeman reported on the nature and causes of ill health in Hanley at this time.
"For some years the death-rate at Hanley has remained at a higher figure than the average for the 76 greater towns of the Register-General. This statement also holds good as regards the infantile mortality.
The somewhat high death-rate, both among adults and children, is in large measure to be accounted for by the continued prevalence of infectious disease, notably diphtheria, enteric and scarlet fevers, measles, and zymotic enteritis (summer diarrhoea). But during the past year (1903) measles, of which there is voluntary notification, was not present in epidemic form, only 58 notifications having been received by the Medical Officer of Health as against 908 in 1902. There is, however, evidence of a considerable rise during the present year ( 1904) Scarlet fever also, in 1903, was of so comparatively mild a type that among 113 cases of this disease notified, only seven deaths occurred."
1) Diarrhoea. - diarrhoea was the main zymotic cause of death in Hanley particularly of young children. In 1901 it was responsible for the deaths of 120 infants and young children under five years of age.
The Medical Officer of Health is of opinion that the heavy infantile mortality is due to "the excessive employment of adult female labour in the Potteries" with the consequent result that infants are put out to nurse and artificially fed. In this connection he informs me that as the result of personal visits of inspection to fifty-three houses in which deaths of infants from diarrhoea had occurred during 1904 he found that the methods of feeding in the various cases had been as follows :-
In 27 cases infants fed on cow's milk; currently reputed to have been boiled.
In 15 cases infants fed on Swiss milk.
In 4 cases infants fed on breast milk entirely.
2) Diphtheria. - Diphtheria was endemic in the Potteries as a whole at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1898 in Hanley there were 42 reported cases and five deaths, by 1903 these figures had risen to 472 and 76 respectively.
3) Enteric Fever. - Enteric fever was also endemic in Hanley during this period. The diseases reaching its peak in 1899 when there were 143 notified cases and 25 deaths.
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