HC Deb 12 March 1875 vol 222 cc1694-6

asked the Secretary of State for War, Whether his attention has been directed to an article in "The Daily News" of the 11th instant, entitled "The Diphtheria Hospital on Woolwich Common;" and, whether the allegations made in such article are substantially correct; and, if so, what action is intended to be taken in the matter?


Mr. Speaker, the Question which the hon. Member has put to me would be repeated, I see, on Monday, with some more particulars, I think, and I have therefore endeavoured to obtain the information sought by the hon. Member, and also by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) at the earliest possible opportunity. The first outbreak of diphtheria at Woolwich began in November, and it was not apparently confined merely to those cottages, but existed even in others in quite another part of the town in a very bad form. I think there were some 8 or 10 cases in Woolwich town itself, nearly all of which were fatal; in those cottages there were, I think, 35 cases, of which only 15 were fatal, so that the proportion was larger in the town than in the country. In the Cambridge cottages there was only one case; but they are very much improved buildings, not on the same common, and some considerable distance from those now in question. These cottages appear to have been built about the beginning of the century, without any due regard to the drainage or to the effect of the proper construction of such buildings. When the first outbreak took place, I directed the Army Sanitary Commission to make inquiries about these cottages, and they recommended a certain number of remedial alterations, such as throwing two rooms into one, draining, cementing the walls, and other things of that sort. Those operations do not appear to have been sufficient to stop the progress of this very severe disease. In consequence of diphtheria having recently broken out again within the last few days, and there being several cases, and in consequence also of my attention having been called to the article in question, I made further inquiries, and directed that the Sanitary Commissioners should again go to Woolwich and personally examine these cottages. They have been there this morning, and their Report is certainly not at all favourable. One of the Commissioners, whom I have seen, says that the article is, to a certain extent, exaggerated in the description, but that these cottages are, no doubt, most unsatisfactory; and, on the whole, they do not recommend that any further progress should be made with those remedial works at first proposed. I intend, therefore, as early as possible—certainly within a week—to remove the brigade depôts of the 49th and 50th from Woolwich to Warley. These latter barracks were meant for the training of the Militia; but in a pressure of this kind, it is better to find room in them for these unfortunate families which have suffered so much distress. I propose, therefore, to remove them to Warley till the barracks are built at Hounslow, and we shall so get accommodation for the whole of these families. Part of these barracks is already occupied by soldiers. I believe the construction of them is very good, and apartments will be at once properly prepared for these families. It will probably be done within a week, and it shall certainly be done as quickly as possible, because the time has come when some very strong measures should be taken to remove these poor people. I may add that they would have been removed to Woolwich, but the disease existed in the town itself, and the dread of it made it impossible to obtain lodgings to which they could be removed with any advantage to themselves.