Edwin Chadwick

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Not to be confused with James Chadwick.
Sir Edwin Chadwick
Sir Edwin Chadwick.

Sir Edwin Chadwick KCB (24 January 1800 – 6 July 1890) was an English social reformer, noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and improve sanitary conditions and public health.

Early life[edit]

Edwin Chadwick was born on 24 January 1800 at Longsight, near Manchester, to James Chadwick.[1] Edwin's mother died when he was a young child yet to be named. James Chadwick taught music and botany to the scientist John Dalton and was also considered an advanced liberal politician, thus exposing young Edwin to political and social ideas. He began his education at a small school in Lancashire, then moved to a boarding school in Stockport, where he studied until the age of ten. 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.

At 18, Chadwick 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, which allowed him to become a licensed 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. Through Chadwick's 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.[2]


In 1832 Chadwick was employed by the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the operation of the Poor Laws, and in 1833 he was made a full member of that body. Chadwick and Nassau William Senior drafted the famous report of 1834 recommending the reform of the old Poor Law. Under the 1834 system individual parishes were formed into Poor Law Unions – each Poor Law Union was to have a union workhouse. Chadwick favoured a more centralised system of administration than that which was 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, 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 which he was largely the author in any way other than the way he thought best, he found it hard to get along with his superiors. This disagreement, among others, contributed to the dissolution of the Poor Law Commission in 1847. Chadwick's 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. His report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population (1842)[3] was researched and published at his own expense. A supplementary report was also published in 1843.[4] The formation of the Health of Towns Association and the creation of various city-based branches followed rapidly.[5] These national and local movements contributed to the passing of the Public Health Act 1848.

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".[6]

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, and 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, which is now the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. The CIEH head office, in Waterloo, London, is named Chadwick Court in his honour.

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



  1. ^ Finer, Samuel Edward (1952). The Life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick (Reprint ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 6. ISBN 9780416173505. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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)
  5. ^ 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. Retrieved 8 July 2013. 
  6. ^ 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)

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