Victorian Durham
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Health and medicine for the poor




Seeing a doctor or going to hospital, unlike today, was not free. Most poor people would not have been able to afford to get treated unless they were very sick. Often when poor Victorians were sick they went to the local chemist where they could buy medicine. One popular treatment for both rich and poor people was the use of leeches. The leeches were supposed to suck toxins from the blood of a sick person and make them better.

Selection of medical jars and a leech bowl

A selection of medical jars and a leech bowl. Copyright Beamish Museum.


Photograph of Durham City

Photograph of late 19th or early 20th century housing in Durham city centre. (DUL ref Gibby A/CIT/92)

Where large populations were living in overcrowded areas there was a high rate of disease and people became ill after being in contact with sewage and dirty drinking water. The health of people living in the slums began to improve a little after the Public Health Act of 1848. This Act made local councils responsible for building drains and providing clean water. By the end of the 19th century streets were being swept and cleaned regularly to prevent the build up of dirt. This helped to prevent the spread of disease.

Move on to find out more about the health of the rich in the Victorian period.

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