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Public Health Act 1875

The Public Health Act 1875 (c 55) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, one of the Public Health Acts,[2] and a significant step in the advance of public health in Britain.

The Public Health Compact 1875[1]
Long titleAn Act for consolidating and amending the Acts relating to Public Health in England.
Citation38 & 39 c 55
Royal assent11 August 1875
Status: Amended
Text of statute as originally enacted
Revised text of statute as amended

Its purpose was to codify previous measures aimed at combating filthy urban living conditions,[3] which caused various health threats, including the spread of many diseases such as cholera and typhus.


Reformers had since the 1830s wanted to resolve sanitary problems in urban areas, because sewage was flowing down the street daily, including the presence of sewage in living quarters. In 1848 their efforts led to the establishment of a three-man Board of Health – if one with very limited powers.[4] Many factors delayed effective implementation of reform, however, such as the fact that to perform a cleanup would cost money, and neither government, factory owners, or local authorities were keen to pay. Gradually, however, reformers helped to counteract the laissez-faire attitude of the government and public. In 1871, the Board of Health was subsumed into the Local Government Board by the Liberal Party; and when the Conservatives came to power in 1874, they were committed by Disraeli to extending social reform. A public health Act was introduced in 1875. Home Secretary Richard Cross was responsible for drafting the legislation, and received much good will from trades union groups in the consequent years for "humanising the toil of the working man". Disraeli ensured the passing of the 1875 Act; and when mocked by his opponents for neglecting more important political reforms, retorted on them with the resounding phrase ‘”sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas” [Health above Everything].[5]

Scope of ActEdit

The Act provided local authorities with new powers:

  1. to purchase, repair or create sewers
  2. to control water-supplies
  3. to regulate cellars and lodging-houses
  4. to establish by-laws for controlling new streets and buildings.[6]

With the rapid urbanisation that accompanied the Industrial Revolution, huge swathes of terraced houses had been built to accommodate the factory workers. The contrast between the housing stock built before the passage of the Act and that built after it was stark. The Act required all new residential construction to include running water and an internal drainage system, and also led to the government prohibiting the construction of shoddy housing by building contractors.[citation needed]

The Act also meant that every public health authority had to have a medical officer and a sanitary inspector,[7] to ensure the laws on food, housing, water and hygiene were carried out; and that towns had to have pavements and street lighting.[8]

It is, however, important to realise that the new powers provided were permissive, not compulsory: they provided a model of best practice for municipalities, but actual implementation remained for the most part up to the individual local authority.[9]

See alsoEdit


  • Halsbury's Statutes. Third Edition. Volume 26. Page 38.
  • Thomas Whiteside Hime. Public Health: The Practical Guide to the Public Health Act, 1875, and Correlated Acts, for the Use of Medical Officers of Health and Inspectors of Nuisances. Bailliere, Tindall and Cox. 1884. Internet Archive.
  • William Cunningham Glen and Alexander Glen. The Public Health Act, 1875, and the Law relating to Public Health, Local Government, and Urban and Rural Sanitary Authorities. Eighth Edition. Butterworths. Knight & Co. London. 1876. Internet Archive.
  • James C Stevens. The Public Health Act 1875: Arranged in a Dictionary Index Form. Shaw and Sons. London. 1876. Internet Archive.
  • Robert Rawlinson. The Public Health Act 1875: Suggestions as to the Preparation of District Maps, and of Plans for the Main Sewerage, Drainage, and Water Supply (Revised to 1878). HMSO. London. 1878. Internet Archive (the description of this book, on that webpage, as another work by William Glen is erroneous).
  • World History 4th Edition by William J. Duiker and Jackson J. Spielvogel
  1. ^ The citation of this Act by this short title is authorised by section 1 of this Act.
  2. ^ The Short Titles Act 1896, section 2(1) and Schedule 2
  3. ^ E Halévy, Victorian Years (London 1961) p. 451
  4. ^ E Halévy, Victorian Years (London 1961) p. 176 and p. 262
  5. ^ E Halévy, Victorian Years (London 1961) p. 451
  6. ^ J N Tarn, Five Per Cent Philanthropy (1973) p. 75
  7. ^ M Walsh, Social Policy and Welfare (2000) p. 40
  8. ^ "History - Government and Public Health". BBC Bitesize. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
  9. ^ J N Tarn, Five Per Cent Philanthropy (1973) p. 75

External linksEdit