In February 1805 a Board of Health was established by the Privy Council to advise it on action to prevent the spread to Britain of a fever then prevalent in Spain and Gibraltar. It ceased to meet in August 1806. Similarly, in June 1831 another consultative Board of Health was established at the Royal College of Physicians under Privy Council auspices due to fears of a cholera epidemic. It was charged with the preparation of regulations to prevent the spread of the disease, which were issued by orders in Council.
The following November it was replaced by a new Central Board of Health sitting at the Privy Council Office. Nearly twelve hundred local boards of health were established under its direction and temporary legislation was passed to give the order greater force. This board was itself dissolved in December 1832 and the local boards also disappeared as the danger passed.
Appointed by the Home Secretary in 1832 to investigate the administration of poor relief and to make recommendations for the reform of the poor law, the commission made major recommendations for the reform of the administrative structure and of relief policy.
The Poor Law Commission was appointed in 1834 under the Poor Law Amendment Act of that year, which incorporated many of the proposals of the Commission of Enquiry. Three commissioners were appointed for five years to act as a central board to co-ordinate the work of assistant commissioners in the formation of poor law unions and the maintenance of direct contact with the new boards of guardians. One of the commissioners had special responsibilities for poor law administration in Ireland under arrangements similar to those introduced in England and Wales.
The administration of poor relief in Scotland remained independent and free of central control until the appointment in 1845 of a Board of Supervision for Scotland. The Poor Law Commission was renewed annually from 1839 to 1842 and for five years from 1842. Its commission expired in 1847 and it was succeeded by the Poor Law Board.
The Poor Law Board was established by the Poor Law Board Act 1847. The board did not in practice meet; its work was carried out by the president with the assistance of a parliamentary secretary and a permanent secretary. Unlike the Poor Law Commission it was not responsible for the administration of the Irish poor law, which was assigned to a separate board appointed under the Poor Relief, Ireland, Act 1847.
The role of the Poor Law Board came to be the supervision of boards of guardians and the inspection of workhouses rather than the formulation of an integrated system of poor relief. In 1868 the board was authorised to appoint auditors of poor law union accounts; previously auditors had been elected by the unions themselves. Though initially appointed for specific periods, the board became permanent in 1867. In 1871 it was absorbed within the new Local Government Board.
Conditions of public health and sanitation were a concern of the Poor Law Commission and Board and their medical officers. In 1843 a Royal Commission on the Health of Towns and Populous Places was appointed and reported in 1844 and 1845. Its recommendations led to the passing of the Public Health Act 1848. This act established for five years a General Board of Health of three members: the first commissioner of Works sitting ex officio, one unpaid and one paid member. A fourth medical member was later appointed.
The ministerial member was in no sense head of the department nor was he responsible to Parliament for the work of the board. In 1854 the board was reconstituted in the manner of the Poor Law Board, with a president, responsible to Parliament, and ex officio ministerial members, who in practice took no part in the administration of the department.
The General Board of Health was empowered to create local boards of health in areas of high mortality upon the application of one tenth of the rate payers of a place or on its own initiative in areas in which the average death rate exceeded twenty three per thousand. The General Board could sanction the appointment or dismissal of local officials, approve the mortgage of local rates for sanitary purposes, and hear quasi-judicial appeals. The board was also empowered to appoint engineering and medical inspectors on an unsalaried and temporary basis, but after 1854 a permanent salaried inspectorate was introduced.
In 1855 a medical officer to the General Board was appointed. The local boards were concerned with sanitation, sewerage, drainage, water supply, streets, burial grounds and the regulation of offensive trades. They had power to levy district rates. Burials in London were placed under the direct control of the General Board by the Metropolitan Interments Act 1850, but in 1852 these powers were transferred to the Home Office.
The Public Health Act did not cover the metropolis, which was dealt with by separate legislation authorising the appointment of metropolitan commissioners of sewers and later the Metropolitan Board of Works.
In 1858 the term of office of the General Board of Health expired and the Local Government Act 1858 transferred some of its powers to the local boards as a measure of decentralisation. The residue of its administrative powers passed to a newly formed Local Government Act Office, a sub-department of the Home Office, and its medical duties passed to the nascent Medical Department of the Privy Council. In practice, both of these new departments were staffed by former officials of the General Board who continued to share the same premises.