For the very poor, life expectancy was short; even for the rich, there were many health threats.
At the beginning of the Victorian period, medical help was limited, whatever the budget. Life expectancy had declined in some cities as more people crowded in to find work. More
Epidemics of diseases caused thousands of deaths.
This was especially true in the growing cities. It was one threat no Victorian could ignore, as the diseases affected rich and poor alike; even if you had money there was no cure to buy. More
In 1855, London doctor John Snow, showed that cholera was carried in water.
This was a major breakthrough, made by tracing a number of infections to a single water source. It led to great improvements in public hygiene. A board of health was set up in 1848 to promote public hygiene. Laws were passed to improve water supplies and sanitation. More
The work of Pasteur and others saw epidemics and infections slowly begin to be brought under control.
In the 1860s, French chemist Louis Pasteur showed that contamination in liquids (e.g. milk) was caused by microorganisms (e.g. bacteria) that could be killed by heat. Pasteur also realised that germs infected animals and humans too, leading to the identification and control of many diseases. More
The use of antiseptics saw more people survive operations.
At the beginning of the Victorian period, illnesses or injuries that needed surgery usually resulted in death from gangrene or other infections; then Joseph Lister suggested stopping the entry of germs into the body, by using antiseptics. Joseph Lister’s discovery made the chance of surviving an operation much greater. More
Hygiene greatly improved in hospitals.
In hospitals, new working practices (based on those of Florence Nightingale), which placed an emphasis on orderliness and hygiene, were gradually introduced. There were properly trained nurses and hospitals became places where people went to recover, not just to die. More
At the beginning of the period, many people had little faith in doctors.
At the beginning of the Victorian period, only a few treatments were available to doctors and these had not changed very much since the Middle Ages. The same medicines (herbal cures, cod liver oil and purgatives) were given, regardless of the ailment. Diagnosis was poor. More
Throughout the period there were great advances in medical science.
There was a new understanding about how the body worked and knowledge about how illnesses could be treated. Towards the end of the Victorian era, in 1895, the first medical X-ray was taken; this had a great effect on medicine and diagnosis over the next century. More
More medicines and treatments were available in chemist shops.
As understanding improved, chemist shops became full of new medicines. Not all of these, however, were very useful and there were still some that probably did more harm than good.
The period also saw the introduction of anaesthetics in operations.
At the start of the Victorian period there was little pain relief, and those who did not die from infections often died from the trauma (shock) of the operation. The use of anaesthetics (ether) was first demonstrated in America in the 1840s and, by the end of the Victorian era, anaesthetics were in widespread use. More
Childbirth remained dangerous, regardless of wealth, although improvements were made.
Several advances were made in childbirth practices: professional midwifes were trained and Queen Victoria helped popularise the use of chloroform in labour. Mothers were also encouraged to cuddle their babies, rather than leave them to cry. However, childbirth often saw the death of the mother, child or both. More
Gradually houses and people became cleaner as more products became available.
There were few cleaning agents during the early part of the period but things gradually improved. Drains were disinfected with chloride of lime and all animal and food refuse was burned. Towards the end of the period, there was carbolic soap to wash with. It was used for its anti-bacterial properties. More
A lot of food was still stored in very unhygienic conditions.
Technologies, such as refrigeration and processed foods, made a little improvement in the condition and storage of food. More
During the Victorian period, people worked very long hours.
However, industrialization saw a more set pattern of work and, with it, the introduction of fixed holidays and leisure time (although very limited). More
Railways allowed people to go away for seaside holidays for the first time.
There developed an interest in ‘the healthy lifestyle’, and the day-trip to the seaside or countryside became popular. More
New sport and leisure activities were also developing.
For women, exercise was still restricted by tight corsets but, for the first time, they began to join in with some sporting activities and walking became popular again. More
A big change came about through the invention and refinement of the bicycle.
Every Sunday, the new railways, offering special cheap fares, would take thousands of young cyclists from the city to the countryside to explore the lanes and villages. This form of exercise was available to more people, including women. More
Grinding poverty restricted the poor from benefiting from lifesyle improvements.
Household improvements, holidays and leisure time, were only aspirations for the very poor. Towards the end of the era, reformers from many groups wanted to change the terrible conditions many people lived in. More
Schooling was made compulsory in 1880.
Pupils learnt the "three Rs"- Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic (counting) by rote (reciting out loud). Girls were also taught how to sew and boys were taught woodwork or crafts. There was PE or 'Drill' to ensure pupils kept fit. It soon became apparent that malnourished children could not learn and some School Boards began to make cheap or free school meals available. More
Despite Britain's overall wealth, many children went to bed hungry each night.
By the end of the era, children, particularly, were no healthier than they had been at the beginning. The problem was poverty. Low wages meant that living conditions for many were still overcrowded and that they could not afford to buy sufficient food to feed the family. Many children were malnourished. More