Food in nineteenth century Swansea

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The poor of Swansea were obviously more vulnerable to cholera than any other class.

History will refer to bad diet as being a factor in disease, but there are some other underlying stories that are important.

The Beerhouse Act of 1830 made it much easier to brew and sell beer. Almost overnight, houses, shops and sheds were converted to beer or brew houses. In Swansea as in other towns, the competition to sell beer became intense. The profits normally associated with the trade plummeted and a fierce price war resulted. The temptation to water beer down became irresistible. The watered beer was made intoxicating by the addition of dangerous drugs. Thus the beer sold in the poor areas of Swansea was doubly dangerous, including dirty water and dangerous chemicals.

Milk was another problem. In the early part of the nineteenth century it was almost impossible to obtain milk that had not been adulterated in some way. Usually the milk was skimmed so that almost all fat content had been removed. On occasion, various colourings were added to conceal excess skimming or sour milk. However, most common of all was adding water to the milk. This was a widespread practice, milk would be watered by the farmer, by the milk vendor, by the street sellers, and finally by the mothers of impoverished families. This may go some way to explaining why children always featured heavily in the numbers of fatalities in an outbreak of cholera.



The View for Sunday 7 January 2001

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