Category Archives: Public Health

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes.

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”.

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”.

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”.

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”.

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”.

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments.

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry.

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccessful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases.

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally.

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease.

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection.

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse.

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies .

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment.

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now.

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay.

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include:

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)
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