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Models of hygienic sanitary appliances, England, 1895

Science Museum, London

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Credit: Models of hygienic sanitary appliances, England, 1895. Credit: Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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It’s 1895 and Charles Campbell, a member of the Sanitary Institute, has designed and arranged this cabinet for lectures on hygiene and sanitary science – but who is attending such talks? Sanitary Inspectors employed to check and report on the state of hygiene in their neighbourhood are the most likely audience. It was an essential part of their training, in preparation for examinations held by the Sanitary Institute and other public health associations. Women gained the sanitary officer’s certificate as often as men. In the mid-1890s, Hilda Martindale attended lectures at the Sanitary Institute, passed the examination, and went on to study public health and hygiene at Bedford College, London. What were her career prospects? She worked as a factory inspector for more than thirty years, becoming Deputy Chief Inspector in 1925. It’s possible Hilda Martindale was taught using this or a similar cabinet, so what’s inside? It has three layers of miniature water supply and sewerage fittings, sanitary appliances such as toilets and wash basins, and equipment relating to the ventilation of buildings. Best practice could be demonstrated, but the cabinet also contains items showing incorrect or defective fittings posing a hazard to health. Similar exhibits were found in the Parkes Museum, founded in 1876 as a memorial to military hygiene reformer Edmund Alexander Parkes. What was its role? It aimed to educate and inform the general householder and building tradespeople, complementing the work of the Sanitary Institute (with which it merged in 1888) to raise standards of public health.

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