Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


What the People Sleep Upon, 1904

A paper delivered at the Congress of the Sanitary Institute in the Glasgow University, July 1904

by Peter Fyfe

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Published in 1904 this pamphlet, by the chief sanitary inspector of Glasgow, contains the results of tests on the bacterial content of bedding materials produced for the working class inhabitants of Glasgow. The bedding materials were made from untreated rags, processed by a shredding machine and neither treated with disinfectant nor cleansed.

The table of results showed that bacteria levels in the contents of four different manufacturers' bedding on sale in 1904 contained a higher count of bacteria than that of raw sewage, as measured in 1903. The author noted 'it would be manifestly safer to sleep on a bed filled with sewage than on this material'.

The publication of these findings were seized upon by the Independent Labour Party to highlight the exploitation of the poorest sections of society by unscrupulous capitalists and to demand government action to restrict the manufacture and sale of products containing these materials.