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Eight of the more disgusting things we learnt from London’s historical health reports

Posted at 3:00 pm, November 7, 2013 in Fun London
The Wellcome Library

Last week, medical historians The Wellcome Library published 125 years worth of London health reports – from 1848 to 1972 – on a searchable website. Here are some of the ickier things we’ve learned about our city as a result:

1.In 1860, a widow in Hanover Square had her husband’s rotten corpse confiscated from her house, as the smell that emerged every time she opened the coffin lid to kiss the body left neighbours wanting to vom.
2. The fine for selling a customer a bread roll filled with bird droppings in 1978? £75.

3.  According to the 1916 records for Poplar, one resident ate a Chinese meal so rancid they died (although it was probably Typhoid that got ’em).

4. In 1908, staff at Bethnal Green station’s duties included flushing toilets, as the public didn’t understand how to use them.

5. Your fate if you were a pale schoolboy in post-war Barking? You got treated with ultraviolet rays – ‘glows vigour into young bodies in the winter’.

6. Probably the world’s only haddock stand-off happened on Colombia Road in 1870, when health inspectors’ attempt to confiscate 68 cases of ‘putrid haddock’ spilled over into violence.

7. It was common in 1849 for Londoners to have a boarded-up cesspool in one of the rooms of their house, emitting ‘fetid pollution and poison’.

8. Londoners loved cheese flaps. They bought them in tins, and they ate them with tomato sauce. But assuming the Urban Dictionary definition is incorrect – seriously, don’t Google it – no record survives of what the hell one is.

Read more gory health reports at wellcomelibrary.org.  

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