The Public Health Act 1848 received royal assent following extensive debate on the poor sanitary conditions in Britain and the publication of Edwin Chadwick’s Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. However, the catalyst for reform was the anxiety caused by a new cholera epidemic sweeping Europe. The act’s provisions were based on the findings and recommendations made.
Local boards were given powers to take action in relation to drainage and water supply as well as removing ‘nuisances’ from streets such as refuse. The local boards could appoint officers of health and inspectors of nuisances (forerunners to the modern-day Environmental Officers).
The act created a new central General Board of Health, which would be responsible for advising on epidemics and disease prevention. The board had responsibility for local boards of health. However, it had no power to compel local boards to implement the provisions of the act.