“The Crisis of London’s Government”*

*Chapter 1 of “The Government of Victorian London 1855-1889: The Metropolitan Board of Works, the Vestries, and the City Corporation“.

Francis Sheppard: “The Act of 1855, by which the MBW was established, was a landmark of cardinal importance in the history of London’s government. It was the first legislative attempt to tackle the problem of metropolitan administration as a whole, or, at any rate, almost as a whole, for the City was still virtually exempt; and however inadequate its provisions very soon came to be regarded, it was a genuine response to the crises which had recently beset London’s sanitary evolution, particularly since 1848.

Of the traumatic events leading up to the establishment of the MBW probably the most crucial was the cholera epidemic of 1832. The advance of this terrible disease, as it spread from its birthplace in India, had been watched in England with increasing foreboding, but despite the long warning little preparation had been made for it. In February 1832 it finally reached London, at Rotherhithe, and during the next few months it killed over five thousand Londoners.

The chaotic state of London’s administration would in any case have prevented any effective action being taken, even if the Government itself had given a more vigorous lead…”

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