Even his contemporaries disliked him, but it was his single-mindedness that led to major changes in child labour, the poor laws and, most significantly, public health.
Chadwick was born in Longsight, now a district of Manchester, in January, 1800. Ten years later his family moved to London and, after a private education, he trained as a lawyer. At the age of 29, he became the friend and literary secretary of philosopher and reformist Jeremy Bentham.
A year earlier, Chadwick had written an article in the Westminster Review - a journal started by Bentham - outlining his ideas on sanitation. Those ideas were given form when he was appointed secretary to the Poor Law Commission in 1832 and to the commission investigating child labour a year later.
He was largely responsible for the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, which brought both him and the Government fierce and sustained criticism, but already, his thoughts were turning more and more towards sanitation. He felt there was a distinct link between the health of the working population and the numbers seeking poor-law relief.
In 1842, at his own expense and after a national investigation, he published his Report into the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. It made grim reading. Disease among the working classes, he insisted, was caused by "atmospheric impurities produced by decomposing animal and vegetable substances, by damp and filth, and close and overcrowded dwellings." Too many people, particularly heads of families, were dying too soon, and throwing their wives and children on the mercy of the workhouse.
He added: "Where those circumstances are removed by drainage, proper cleansing, better ventilation and other means ... the frequency and intensity of such disease is abated." He pointed out, however, that cleanliness was obstructed by defective water supplies: "The annual loss of life from filth and bad ventilation are greater than the loss from death or wounds in any wars in which the country has been engaged in modern times."
How to solve the problem? Carting away refuse was expensive, he admitted. But, he pointed out: "this expense may be
Chadwick became a director of the Board of Health in 1848, and was responsible for the first Public Health Act. But his outlook and manner never endeared him to his contemporaries, and he was pensioned off in 1858. However, he continued to campaign, now advocating a reform of the civil-service entry system - a proposal which was taken up 20 years later.
Chadwick was made to wait until 1889, the year before his death, before he was granted his knighthood.