According to Dr A K Chalmers, Glasgow's Medical Officer of Health, 1898-1925, during the earlier part of the 18th century the people of Glasgow generally enjoyed good health. It contrasted with the situation later in the century when overall standards of health in Glasgow took a downward turn. A major source of the problem was that housing and sanitation did not keep pace with the unprecedented growth in population. This was an outcome of the massive influx of migrants seeking employment in Glasgow's new or expanding factories.
Inevitably, overcrowding and pollution in Glasgow provided a perfect breeding ground for disease. Poverty caused by cyclical unemployment created further health problems through malnutrition that lowered resistance to disease. It was perhaps no coincidence that the first of several major typhus epidemics in Glasgow occurred during the economic depression following the Napoleonic Wars in 1816. Affluent Glaswegians retreated westwards, but there was little opportunity of escape or of medical help for the poor.
Apart from the Poorhouse Infirmary (Town's Hospital, established 1733), infirmaries and dispensaries were in short supply. A notable exception was the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, established in 1894 by voluntary contributions, for deserving but potentially curable cases. Initially, the Royal admitted just fifteen patients, but by 1816 capacity had increased to 226 beds. However, the Lock Hospital, opened in 1805 for women with venereal disease, focussed on incarceration as much as cure. Yet neither institution could prevent sickness caused by poor social conditions and impoverished Glaswegians increasingly paid for rising prosperity with deteriorating health.
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