The Public Health Act of 1848 was the culmination of what A. S. Wohl has termed the ‘first stage’ in the British public health movement which followed the publication in 1842 of Edwin Chadwick’s famous Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. The Act not only established a General Board of Health but also had provisions for local authorities to form local boards of health with extensive powers over town infrastructure, including the management of water supply and sewage disposal, and the regulation and control of offensive trades, unfit habitations, and ‘nuisance’ removal. Establishment of local boards was initially slow as the clauses that provided for them were permissive rather than mandatory, and although the General Board could impose them on districts where the death rate exceeded 23:1000 these powers were rarely enacted.2 Paradoxically, it was the smaller towns which enjoyed relatively salubrious living conditions which evinced most enthusiasm for adopting the Act. Thus the average population of the first fifteen places to petition for a local board of health consisted of less than 18,000 inhabitants.3 Foremost amongst these pioneers was the town of Croydon, located about twelve miles south of London and with a midnineteenth century population of about 20,000. Its local board was the first to install a continuous piped water supply and sewage removal

1 Comment in Croydon Chronicle (CC) 13 Apr. 1867. 2 A.S. Wohl, Endangered Lives. Public Health in Victorian Britain (London,

1983), 149-50. For a recent re-evaluation of Chadwick’s work see C. Hamlin, Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick (Cambridge, 1998).