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alfred salter: health, welfare and socialism

Dr Alfred Salter (1873-1945) studied medicine at Guy's Hospital and was drawn to set up in practice in Bermondsey in 1900 following a period of residence (from 1898) at Bermondsey Settlement. Alfred Salter later described the conditions he found in the 1890s. 'Water was drawn from one stand pipe for 25 houses, “on” for two hours daily but never on Sundays. There was no modern sanitation and only one WC and cesspool for 25 houses. Queues lined up each morning, often standing in rain or snow. It was utterly impossible to maintain bodily cleanliness. The conditions of thousands of homes were the same at the time'. Whilst at the settlement Salter organized mutual insurance schemes around health and a men's adult school.

Alfred Salter understood the limits of individual effort and became active in politics. Elected to Bermondsey Council in 1903 and MP for the constituency from 1922 (as a member of the Independent Labour Party) he and his wife Ada Salter made a profound difference in the area. As well as working to improve housing and environmental conditions, he helped to establish a comprehensive local health service - with facilities unknown in this sort of area and an emphasis upon health education (making early use of film). Sadly, Ada Salter and Alfred Salter had direct experience of the problems families experienced in the area. While living in Storks Road (just off Jamaica Road) their only child died, aged eight, from scarlet fever.

Alfred Salter was a committed Christian and pacifist (being involved with the Quakers for a number of years). He also was a strong advocate of Guild Socialism and associationalism.

Reference: Brockway, F. (1949) Bermondsey Story. The life of Alfred Salter, London: George Allen and Unwin.
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