The sanitary inspectors and ‘the slums’ 1914-1921: what they saw, what they thought and how they influenced the post war housing design and standards

Stewart, Jill ORCID logoORCID: (2019) The sanitary inspectors and ‘the slums’ 1914-1921: what they saw, what they thought and how they influenced the post war housing design and standards. In: Homes Fit for Heroes Centenary Conference: Learning from 1919, 18 Jul 2019, Institute of Historical Research, Malet Street, London. . [Conference or Workshop Item]


Sanitary Inspectors (SI) – called in the modern day Environmental Health Practitioners – intervened into poor housing conditions and environments using local and national laws and regulations. During the war they grappled with housing and health subjects including TB, infant mortality, overcrowding, disrepair, household pests and wider planning issues. The largely untapped Sanitary Journal is a rich source of perspectives from the front line: what the SI saw, thought and believed and with plenty of disagreement and debate. This paper help develop our understanding of their unique role and contribution.
We gain understanding of SI values and perceptions around who created the slums in the first place (property owners, jerry builders, local authority inaction, even ‘slum dwellers’ themselves by neglect?). They questioned who should intervene (how and why?) and contributed toward a post war vision of how the state might intervene in providing decent housing in healthy living environments. There was much debate about state subsidised council housing and notions of personal responsibility.
Seeing themselves as ‘the Housing Reformers’ even before the war, SI were thinking about building and supervision of new housing in planned environments, but were concerned over use of building materials, costs and rents. They debated how house building could be cheapened such as by use of direct labour and level of interest. They considered demolition and compensation to owners, delivering and reusing the land for new and sanitary houses, or open beauty spaces with ornamental trees and shrubs. Overall they favoured ‘garden city’ planning as preferable to blocks/tenements. Sir James Crichton-Brown, SI President in 1916, considered housing reform as most vital part of post war reconstruction to stop tenants living in habitations that delivered disease and mortality to “degraded slum dwellers” and to transform congested places into well regulated cities.
SIs began to strategically survey local housing stock to get a sense of numbers of dwellings which were dangerous, unfit and/or, injurious or health, overcrowded and the number of new houses required in both rural and urban areas. The SI argued that houses needed light, air to rid dampness, cleanliness to overcome the germs or disease, to be rid of narrow yards and courts, adequate ceiling heights and adequate land drainage, some commented on (internal) WCs and even the war against the deadly house fly. They called for debate to: “dispel by means of papers for discussion, the lamentable ignorance that prevails.”
In response to the Ministry of Construction Advisory Committee Women’s Housing Sub Committee First Interim Report 1918, they reported that Lady Emmott and her colleagues had “evidently studied the questions from the standpoint of the housewife and … make happy suggestions” about post war reconstruction. Their other war time interventions and contributions included consideration of the Tudor Walters Committee Report and the SI were respected by Dr Christopher Addison still yet to oversee homes for heroes in the form of the Housing and Town Planning Act 1919 and to “keep the homes first burning and welcome (the men) back” from the war.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Areas: A. > School of Science and Technology
Item ID: 26273
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Depositing User: Jill Stewart
Date Deposited: 12 Mar 2019 13:24
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2019 16:18

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