Edwin Chadwick

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Sir Edwin Chadwick
Sir Edwin Chadwick

Sir Edwin Chadwick KCB (24 January 1800 – 6 July 1890) was an English social reformer who is noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and to improve sanitation and public health. A disciple of Jeremy Bentham, he was most active between 1832 and 1854; after that he held minor positions, and his views were largely ignored.

Early life[edit]

Edwin Chadwick was born on 24 January 1800 at Longsight, Manchester, to James Chadwick,[1] his mother died when he was still a young child, yet to be named. His father, James Chadwick, tutored the scientist John Dalton in music and botany[2] and was considered an advanced liberal politician, thus exposing young Edwin to political and social ideas, his grandfather, Andrew Chadwick, had been a close friend of the theologian John Wesley.[3]

He began his education at a small school in Lancashire and moved to a boarding school in Stockport, where he studied until he was 10. When his family moved to London in 1810, Chadwick continued his education with the help of private tutors, his father and a great deal of self-teaching.

His father remarried in the early 1820s and Edwin's younger half-brother was baseball icon Henry Chadwick, born in 1824.[4] James, his new wife, Henry and younger sister Rosa migrated to the United States in 1837. Henry mirrored his brother's interest in health by advocating for baseball to become the national pastime for the US.

At 18, he decided to pursue a career in law and undertook an apprenticeship at an attorney's office; in 1823, he enrolled in law school at The Temple in London. On 26 November 1830 he was called to the bar, becoming a barrister, also known as a court lawyer.

Called to the bar without independent means, he sought to support himself by literary work such as his work on Applied Science and its Place in Democracy, and his essays in the Westminster Review, mainly on different methods of applying scientific knowledge to the practice of government. He became friends with two of the leading philosophers of the day, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Bentham engaged him as a literary assistant and left him a large legacy, he also became acquaintances with Thomas Southwood Smith, Neil Arnott, and James Kay-Shuttleworth, all doctors.

From his exposure to social reform and under the influence of his friends, he began to devote his efforts to sanitary reform; in 1832, Chadwick began on his path to make improvements with sanitary and health conditions.[5]


Chadwick's 1838 Bethnal Green parish map showing mortality from four diseases

In 1832, he was employed by the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the operation of the Poor Law, and in 1833, he was made a full member of that commission. Chadwick and Nassau William Senior drafted the famous report of 1834, recommending the reform of the old law. Under the 1834 system, individual parishes were formed into Poor Law Unions, and each Poor Law Union was to have a union workhouse. Chadwick favoured a more centralised system of administration than the one adopted, and he felt the Poor Law reform of 1834 should have provided for the management of poor law relief by salaried officers controlled from a central board, with the boards of guardians acting merely as inspectors.

In 1834, he was appointed secretary to the Poor Law commissioners. Unwilling to administer an act of what he was largely the author in any way other than as he thought best, he found it hard to get along with his superiors, the disagreement, among others, contributed to the dissolution of the Poor Law Commission in 1847. His chief contribution to political controversy was his belief in entrusting certain departments of local affairs to train and select experts instead of two representatives, elected on the principle of local self-government.

While still officially working with the Poor Law, Chadwick took up the question of sanitation in conjunction with Dr Thomas Southwood Smith, their joint efforts produced a salutary improvement in the public health. Chadwick's Report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain,[6][7] begun in 1839 and published in 1842,[8] was researched and published at his own expense. A supplementary report was also published in 1843,[9] the formation of the Health of Towns Association and the creation of various city-based branches followed rapidly.[10] Chadwick's report led to the Public Health Act 1848, which was the first instance of the British government taking responsibility for the health of its citizens.[8]

In 1852, Chadwick conversed with Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn in relation to the construction of a sewerage system in Swansea.[11]

Chadwick's efforts were acknowledged by at least one health reformer of the day: William James Erasmus Wilson dedicated his 1854 book Healthy Skin to Chadwick "In admiration of his strenuous and indefatigable labors in the cause of Sanitary Reform".[12]

He corresponded with Florence Nightingale on methodology, he encouraged her to write up her research into the book Notes on Nursing. He promoted it among well placed intellectuals, making her more visible.[13]

Later life[edit]

Chadwick was a commissioner of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers in London from 1848 to 1849. He was also a commissioner of the General Board of Health from its establishment in 1848 to its abolition in 1854, when he retired on a pension, he occupied the remainder of his life in voluntary contributions to sanitary, health and economic questions.

In January 1884, he was appointed as the first president of the Association of Public Sanitary Inspectors, now the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. Its head office, in Waterloo, London, is named Chadwick Court, in his honour.

In recognition of his public service, he was knighted in 1889, he served in his post until his death, at 90, in 1890, at East Sheen, Surrey.


Chadwick's name as it appears on the frieze of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Chadwick's name as it appears on the frieze of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Chadwick is remembered at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine where his name appears among the names of 23 pioneers of public health and tropical medicine chosen to be honoured when the School was built in 1929.[14] He is also commemorated at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland for the engineering building.

According to Priti Joshi in 2004 the evaluation of his career has drastically changed since the 1950s:

The Chadwick that emerges in recent accounts could not be more different from the mid-century Chadwick. The post-war critics saw him as a visionary, an often-embattled crusader for public health whose enemies were formidable but whose vision, extending the liberal and radical tradition, ultimately prevailed. Cultural critics, on the other hand, present a Chadwick who misrepresented (if not outright oppressed) the poor and who was instrumental in developing a massive bureaucracy to police their lives. Thus, while earlier accounts highlighted Chadwick’s accomplishments, the progress of public health reforms, and the details of legislative politics, more recent ones draw attention to his representations of the poor, the erasures in his text, and the growing nineteenth-century institutionalization of the poor that the Sanitary Report promotes. Chadwick, in other words, is portrayed as either a pioneer of reform or an avatar of bureaucratic oppression.[15]



  1. ^ Finer, Samuel Edward (1952). The Life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick (Reprint ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 6. ISBN 9780416173505. 
  2. ^ Schiff, Andrew (2008). '"The Father of Baseball": A Biography of Henry Chadwick'. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, p. 25.
  3. ^ Schiff, p. 24.
  4. ^ Birkett, Andy (6 July 2015). "The Englishman dubbed 'the father of baseball'". BBC News. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Dunkley, Peter. (1990). "England's "Prussian Minister": Edwin Chadwick and the Politics of Government Growth, 1832–1854". American Historical Review. 95 (4): 1194–1195. doi:10.1086/ahr/95.4.1194. JSTOR 2163556. 
  6. ^ S.E. Finer, The life and times of Sir Edwin Chadwick (1952) excerpt 209-29.
  7. ^ Chadwick, Edwin (1842). "Chadwick's Report on Sanitary Conditions". excerpt from Report... from the Poor Law Commissioners on an Inquiry into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (pp.369–372) (online source). added by Laura Del Col: to The Victorian Web. Retrieved 8 November 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Hayes, Richard W. (2017). "The Aesthetic Interior as Incubator of Health and Well-Being". Architectural History. 60: 277–301. doi:10.1017/arh.2017.9. ISSN 0066-622X. 
  9. ^ name="EdwinChadwick1843">Chadwick, Edwin (1843). Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. A Supplementary Report on the results of a Special Inquiry into The Practice of Internment in Towns. London: Printed by R. Clowes & Sons, for Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Retrieved 8 November 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org)
  10. ^ Ashton, John; Ubido, Janet (1991). "The Healthy City and the Ecological Idea" (PDF). Journal of the Society for the Social History of Medicine. 4 (1): 173–181. doi:10.1093/shm/4.1.173. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  11. ^ Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University, LAC/26/D/61
  12. ^ Wilson, Erasmus (1854). Healthy Skin: A Popular Teatise on the Skin and Hair, their Preservation and Management (2nd American, from the 4th Revised London ed.). Philadelphia: Blanchard & Lea. Retrieved 8 November 2009.  Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org)
  13. ^ Joann G. Widerquist, "Sanitary Reform And Nursing: Edwin Chadwick and Florence Nightingale." Nursing History Review. (1997), Vol. 5, p149-160
  14. ^ "Behind the Frieze - Sir Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) | London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine | LSHTM". www.lshtm.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 24 January 2017. 
  15. ^ Priti Joshi, "Edwin Chadwick's Self-Fashioning: Professionalism, Masculinity, and the Victorian Poor." Victorian Literature and Culture 32.2 (2004): 353-370, quoting p 353.

Further reading[edit]

  • Finer, S.E. The life and times of Sir Edwin Chadwick (1952) excerpt a standard scholarly biography
  • Hamlin, Christopher. Public Health & Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick: Britain, 1800-1854 (1998) excerpt; a New Left hostile perspective
  • Hanley, James. "Edwin Chadwick and the poverty of statistics." Medical history 46.1 (2002): 21+. online
  • Joshi, Priti. "Edwin Chadwick's Self-Fashioning: Professionalism, Masculinity, and the Victorian Poor." Victorian Literature and Culture 32.2 (2004): 353-370, historiography.
  • Lewis, R. A. Edwin Chadwick and the public health movement, 1832–1854 (1952) favourable scholarly study
  • Mandler, Peter. "Chadwick, Sir Edwin (1800–1890)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 25 Oct 2017 doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5013

External links[edit]