The Wellcome Library has a great collection of Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Reports. These reports are stuffed full of grim and useful information from the 19th and 20th century, such as statistics on infant mortality. JISC is, very wisely, funding the digitisation of the London reports. There are some gaps in the Wellcome Library’s collection so, in order to make a really useful digital resource, we have been working out what is missing. This has not been straightforward.
First we needed to check what we held and then we needed to make sure that our gaps really were gaps. We didn’t want to waste time looking for reports that were never created. The very first MOH report in Britain was produced in Liverpool in 1847. The first London report was produced in the following year but the early reports do not cover the whole of London. The Public Health Act of 1848 permitted local authorities to employ MOHs but, since it was not obligatory, only a minority did. The Metropolis Management Act of 1855 required MOHs to be appointed in central London but the big change came with the 1875 Public Health Act. From then until 1972 the production of MOH reports was pretty solid.
Another challenge was getting to grips with the boundary changes. Over the years the administrative boundaries of London have altered several times. The current 32 London Borough boundaries date from 1965 when Greater London was established. Before that there were 28 metropolitan boroughs plus various boroughs, urban and rural district councils in what is now, outer London. Before 1899 much of what we now think of as London was part of Kent, Middlesex, Essex or Surrey. The City of London has long gone its own distinctive way and the tangle of parish boundaries there is particularly confusing. Old maps and a book on administrative units by Frederick A. Youngs helped us to make sense of all these changes.
We have decided to start from the centre and try to create a complete as record as possible for the 12 inner London Boroughs. We’ve got to the stage where we have a list of reports that we want to find. The next step is to track them down in other collections and ask if we can get them digitised.