Sanitary investment and the decline of urban mortality in England and Wales, 1817-1914

Harris, Bernard and Hinde, Andrew (2019) Sanitary investment and the decline of urban mortality in England and Wales, 1817-1914. The History of the Family, 24 (2). pp. 339-376. ISSN 1873-5398 (

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Previous authors have drawn attention to the role played by loan-financed public works in reducing mortality in England and Wales during the latter part of the nineteenth century. These arguments have often been based on an analysis of the loans sanctioned by the Government’s central health departments following the creation of the first General Board of Health in 1848, but little attempt has been made to disaggregate the loans either by function or geographical area. Moreover, as the Local Government Board itself acknowledged, it is also important to take account of the large number of loans which were approved by other means. This paper offers the first large-scale chronological account of the full range of loans which were either approved by Local Act of Parliament or sanctioned by a central department throughout the whole of the period from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the start of the First World War. Although it largely supports the outline provided by previous research, it draws new attention to the importance of the loans which were authorised in the wake of the US Civil War in the 1860s. It also explores the relationship between these loans and the decline of mortality in areas which have previously been identified as ‘high-performing and high-contributing areas’ to Britain’s late nineteenth-century mortality decline, and makes an initial attempt to link these loans to the improvements which occurred.


Harris, Bernard ORCID logoORCID: and Hinde, Andrew;