In England and Wales, both rural and urban sanitary districts were replaced in 1894 by the Local Government Act 1894 by the more general rural districts and urban districts. A similar reform was carried out in Ireland in 1899 by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898.
Urban sanitary districts were formed in any municipal borough governed under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, in any improvement commissioners district formed by private act of parliament, and in any local government district formed under the Public Health Act 1848 or Local Government Act 1858.
The existing governing body of the town (municipal corporation, improvement commissioners or local board of health) was designated as the urban sanitary authority.
When sanitary districts were formed there were approximately 225 boroughs, 575 local government districts and 50 improvement commissioners districts designated as urban sanitary districts. Over the next nineteen years the number changed: more urban sanitary districts were formed as towns adopted legislation forming local boards and as additional boroughs were incorporated; over the same period numerous urban sanitary districts were absorbed into expanding boroughs.
Rural sanitary districts were formed in all areas without a town government. They followed the boundaries of existing poor law unions formed in 1837, less the areas of urban sanitary districts. Any subsequent change in the area of the union also changed the sanitary district. At the time of abolition in 1894, there were 572 rural sanitary districts.
The rural sanitary authority consisted of the existing poor law guardians for the rural parishes involved.
The Local Government Act 1894 brought an end to sanitary districts in England and Wales. In boroughs, the sanitary authority was merged into the corporation. All other urban sanitary districts were renamed as urban districts, governed by an urban district council. Rural sanitary districts were replaced by rural districts, for the first time with a directly elected council. It was a requirement that whenever possible a rural district should be within a single administrative county, which led to many districts being split into smaller areas along county lines. A few rural districts with parishes in two or three different counties persisted until the 1930s.
Urban sanitary districts were established in the following categories of towns:
The existing corporation or commissioners became the urban sanitary authority. The Local Government Board for Ireland, created by the same act, could designate other towns with commissioners as urban sanitary districts.
Rural sanitary districts were formed in the same way as those in England and Wales, from the Poor Law Unions with the Board of Guardians as the rural sanitary authorities.
The urban and rural sanitary districts were superseded in 1899, under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898, by urban and rural districts. Unlike rural sanitary districts, rural districts could not cross county boundaries: so for instance, Ballyshannon rural sanitary district was split into Ballyshannon No. 1, Ballyshannon No. 2 and Ballyshannon No. 3 rural districts in Counties Donegal, Fermanagh and Leitrim respectively. The Local Government Act 1925 abolished rural districts in the Irish Free State, creating a single rural sanitary district for the non-urban portion of each county, called the "county health district". The Local Government (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1934 allowed this district to be split on request of the county council; this happened only in County Cork, the largest county, which was split into three health districts.
Sanitary districts were not formed in Scotland. By the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1867 public health duties were given to the town councils, commissioners or trustees of burghs, and to parochial boards. In 1890 the public health duties of parochial boards were allocated to the newly created county councils, administered by district committees.
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