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Chadwick, Sir Edwin (1800-1890)

Chadwick, Edwin, 1800-1890.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


6 autographed letters from Sir Edwin Chadwick, 1842-1883. Correspondents include: Richard Owen (1804-1892), naturalist, no.2; Sir Joseph Francis Olliffe (1808-1869), physician, no.4.



Physical description

1 file (6 items)

Acquisition note

Purchased from: Stevens, London, August 1928 (acc.77598); Glendining, London, December 1931 (acc.67590); Sotheby's, London, February 1932 (acc.76088); Provenance details not recorded (acc.67430).

Biographical note

Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890), social reformer and civil servant, was born at Longsight, near Manchester. He moved with his father, James Chadwick, a radical journalist to London where Edwin started a career as a clerk until 1823 when he transferred his allegiance to law by entering the Inner Temple. He supported himself by writing for newspapers and this in combination with the law drew him into acquaintance with the social problems of prisons, hospitals, and slums, as well as with the like-minded explorers in the circle of Jeremy Bentham. By 1824 he was already intimate with the Benthamite doctors Neil Arnott and Thomas Southwood Smith, and with John Stuart Mill, of whose London Debating Society he was a founder member.

From the start Chadwick was interested in "quick fix" solutions to technical and administrative solution to deep-seated social problems. His first publication proposed means of extending life expectancy ( Westminster Review , 9, 1828) and propagandized for the police as a deterrent force against crime ( London Review , 1, 1829). These brought him to the attention of Bentham himself, who in 1830 engaged him as a private secretary to assist in the completion of the Constitutional Code . The death of Jeremy Bentham in 1832 left Chadwick but he soon gained employment as a freelance civil servant. His role was as an assistant to the political economist Nassau Senior, in the newly appointed royal commission on the poor law. Chadwick significantly influenced the drafting of the new poor law of 1834 and he was appointed full commissioner in April 1833 on the strength of this role. In the midst of the poor law work Chadwick was seconded for another enquiry, the royal commissions on factories. Here, Chadwick had greater influence and his compromise of shorter working hours for children and mandatory education in factories was accepted by the government in the form of the Factory Act of 1833.

Chadwick returned to his poor law work but grew increasingly frustrated by his low position and the conservatism of the senior commissioners, like the conservative landowner Thomas Frankland Lewis. He began to work on other projects, benefiting from his friendship with Lord John Russell, firstly on a commission on rural policing that would later lead to the Rural Constabulary Act of 1839 and then onto the matter of sanitary conditions of the metropolis.

By 1839, Chadwick began his fifteen year engagement with public health matters and by 1842 he produced one of the most celebrated of all Victorian blue books, the Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain , with graphic illustrations of the filth and degradation of the lower classes, it connected the prevalence of disease and high mortality with grossly inadequate sanitary provisions, drainage, and water supply. As a result of the report he was appointed commissioner on the health of towns in 1843. In 1847 Chadwick was appointed to a royal commission on the sanitary condition of the metropolis in order to begin the reform of London's many local sanitary bodies. Here, Chadwick managed to unite all of London under one central body and the following year, the government finally established a national public health authority, the General Board of Health/

The Board was first tested by the outbreak of cholera that year and the board set about cleansing the street and waste removal, in line with the miasmatic theory of disease. Chadwick pressed for the adoption of a new sewer system in London to replace the traditional brick sewers. His over-combativeness led to his removal from the metropolitan sewer commission in 1849. In 1850 he demanded the power to close graveyards and replace them with exurban cemeteries and to consolidate urban waterways. Chadwick by this point had over-reached himself and having lost key political support and angered leading engineers and medical men with his schemes, his paid commissionership was abolished in 1854 and he was retired on a £1000 per annum pension.

Finding aids

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  • English

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