Victorian London - Food and Drink - Adulteration - Milk


Kirchoff, a Prussian chemist, is reported to have discovered a process by which milk may be preserved for an indefinite period. Fresh milk is evaporated by a gentle heat till it is reduced to a dry powder, which is to be kept perfectly dry in a bottle. When required for use it need only be diluted with a sufficient quantity of water. Mr. James Jones, who keeps a red cow—over his door—claims the original idea of making milk from a white powder, which, he states, may be done without the tedious process of evaporation, by using an article entirely known to London milk-vendors—namely chalk.

Punch 1841


A SUGGESTION has recently been made for the supply of the Metropolis with pure country milk, in lieu of that wishy-washy triumph of art over nature, which flows morning and afternoon into our jugs and mugs, from a thousand milk-cans.
    The announcement has shaken, as if with a panic, all the metropolitan pans; and those purveyors who have dealt in new milk from the pump and chalk-pit, without ever having been possessed of a cow, have been cowed all of a sudden by the very thought of the introduction of the genuine article into London. So unaccustomed are we to anything else but the well known chalk mixture, that the probability is the pure article will - like the genuine squeak of the pig in the fable, be pronounced far inferior to the imitation with which use or abuse has rendered us familiar.
    London, in fact, knows nothing of real milk, which differs as thoroughly as chalk is unlike cheese, from the spurious stuff we are at present contented with. Commercial milk is a compound which any conscientious cow would indignantly repudiate, The Londoner, as we have already hinted, knows literally nothing of milk; for of the stuff he has been taught to accept as milk, he knows it would be idle to attempt to skim the surface, We understand that the Chalk Market baa already begun to show symptoms of weakness at the bare rumour of real milk being introduced into the Metropolis.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1849

Milk. — London milk-sellers are supplied partly from cowsheds in London itself, partly from numerous farms in all parts of the country, brought within easy reach by the railway system. Milk is, unfortunately, as recent experience has proved, often the source of, or rather, perhaps, the means of spreading, serious epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria, and scarlatina. The Adulteration Act made it a penal offence to sell milk and water as “milk” and an Order in Council has recently been issued (4th February, 1879) for the registration, regulating, and cleansing of dairies milk shops, &c. It is almost impossible for small proprietors of milk businesses to properly carry out the sanitary arrangements necessary to secure freedom from contamination of milk. A medical inspector to frequently inspect and report upon the farms from whence the supplies are obtained; an engineer to supervise the water supply and drainage;  care taken of the employes in London, by giving them suitable dwellings for themselves and families, so as to avoid the probability of their living in wretched and crowded tenements; and staff of inspectors to guard against malpractices on the part of the milk-carriers, are precautions that can rarely be adopted by private milk-sellers. It is only to companies with large capital at command that the necessary precautions and supervision can be thoroughly carried out. A system comprising such arrangements given above may be seen in operation in the establishments of the London and Provincial Dairy Company, and the Aylesbury Dairy Company. Much confusion was caused by an ingenious person who discovered an ambiguity in the Adulteration Act, and who unfortunately succeeded in inducing several magistrates to adopt his views. According to the judgments delivered in accordance with the reading of the Act, no public inspector buying goods for the purpose of analysis could be prejudiced if they were adulterated and consequently no penalties could be en forced. This for a time frustrated the undoubted object of the legislature. Fortunately in March last the superior court, on appeal, adopted the common-sense view, and the provisions of the Act are now again in useful operation.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879