Thursday, 24 January 2013

Woolwich and the Assassinating Stinks

Now, when I came to Woolwich, in the winter of 1889, it was to a parish situated on the banks of the Thames, which was then, especially in hot weather, an open sewer that sent forth assassinating stinks, while the foul Lea and the untreated sewage of North Woolwich and a part of Ham was still poured into our boundary-stream. Life on its banks could hardly be salubrious. A boy in my Sunday-school tumbled into the Thames. He was promptly pulled out, but was ill for a fortnight from the " water" he had swallowed. A man in the next street was down with dysentery, derived solely, his doctor said, from his working on Thames barges. The whole parish of Holy Trinity is on the river flat, and so without the alleviation of the currents of air possessed in every other part of the undulating hilly district of Woolwich and Plumstead. It is, in shape, an isosceles triangle, with four hundred yards of the Thames as its base and thirty yards of the Market Square as its apex. Into its thirty-two acres were  crammed (without any lofty " model" lodging- houses or tenements) 4,300 people, so that while for Woolwich generally there were thirty-six persons per acre, in my parish there were 125. Into this triangle lanes and courts were crammed, while in many cases even the back yard of a house had been seized upon as a site for another house. The lifting of a brick in a yard showed a substratum of sewage. It was difficult to find any closet in the parish with a water-supply. Whole streets were without dustbins. Cellars were used as bedrooms. Seven adults were found occupying one very dirty room, with one bed, in a house let at five shillings a week for its two rooms, of which the lower one was quite uninhabitable, while the boards of which the whole dwelling was composed were broken away in several places so that the sky could be seen, and the walls were broken and black, and the roof leaked. In another house of ten rooms there were nine families and one closet, without a water-supply.
     In the worst parts I found that the visit of the one inspector of the Local Board was four years ago, which was hardly surprising when he had five thousand houses in Woolwich to inspect. Into one bedroom the rain penetrated in so many places that the mother of six children said "Some nights we did not know how to keep shifting the children about in their beds to keep the water from dropping on them." In the lower room the smaller children could, and did, crawl through the holes in the floor, and the rent of this two-roomed house was £13 a year! Next door I picked from the floor-joists a fungus eighteen inches long that had grown in a fortnight, and I exhibited it at a lecture with the label, "Local Board Vegetation." Another house that was a regular death-trap from dampness (one of the chief causes of consumption) held two families in four rooms, and the rent of this suburban and riverside villa was only £18 4s. a year! There were eighteen public-houses and eighteen four-penny lodging-houses for tramps of both sexes and casual labourers at the docks and elsewhere. Part of the parish was locally and expressively called "The Dusthole," and formed an Alsatia for vice and crime that it was thought by the respectables and rulers of the town convenient to ignore, and even politic to allow. Mr. Montagu Williams, then our police magistrate, described it in print as the worst plague-spot in London, and had in vain called upon the Local Board to do something for its purification. Cannon Row, therein, was almost entirely composed of brothels of the lowest kind, and nearly one hundred crimes came from it to the notice of the police in six months. Rents were high, and frequently raised, sometimes because the owner had effected some so-called improvements, which were, in reality, a tardy discharge of his duty, and sometimes simply because there was then never an empty house, or even room, in the parish, and the difficulty of finding lodging near the work caused almost any rent to be paid.
    Plainly,it was a mockery to preach " temperance, soberness, and chastity," until a better environment made better lives possible. I therefore had to set about a work that was new to me, to act promptly, and, at first, alone. As one who had seen in East End slums the good effect produced by the demolition of insanitary hovels and the erection on their site of larger and better dwellings, one of my first thoughts was to get some trust or company to build such houses. But in vain the price of land was too high, because the rents to be drawn from hovels (and especially brothels) was so high where "empties" were unknown, and repairs were not enforced. Then I tried a lecture by my friend Mr. Atherley Jones, M.P. No one came but a few of my own congregation, and no local paper even mentioned the lecture. It seemed difficult to get anything done ; but difficulties are not synonymous with impossibilities, and they are generally indications of being in the right path. Should I bring cases one by one before the fainéant Local Board ? That was infected and swayed by landlordism and included some of the owners of, or agents for, the worst places in the parish. So then I quietly invoked the aid of the Mansion House Council on the Dwellings of the Poor (31, Imperial Buildings, Ludgate Circus), which had shown its power and persistence in other parts of London. Its chief inspector came down at once, and speedily procured for me a list of a hundred instances of insanitary defects and nuisances in part of my parish. Publicity, however, was obviously needful, and so a little later I wrote a series of articles in the Woolwich Gazette. As forcibly, and with as much detail as I could compass, I described the evil, suggested the causes and the remedies, and at the end formulated certain demands, the chief of which were :

1. Appoint a Medical Officer of Health.
2. Have two inspectors instead of one.
3. Adopt the pail system and a daily clearance of refuse.
4. Have automatic flushing cisterns to w.c.'s.
5. Thorough and house-to-house inspection.

     Then the ball opened. All these proposals were opposed and even derided. (This was in 1890, but in 1892 every suggestion had passed into law and practice except No. 3.) The Local Board was aghast. "What can his motive be?" inquired a leading member of its Sanitary Committee. "He must be stopped, or he will be a perpetual nuisance," cried another. That I only wanted to draw attention to myself was the common idea, born of the dominant commercial habits of thought. Others "wished that the reverend gentleman would stick to his spiritual duties." I answered in the local paper:
     "I regard as a spiritual duty the removal of the stumbling-block in the way of comfort, or health, or decency that is in my brother's path, and I cannot regard that as a spiritual religion which ignores the needs and claims of men's bodies. One should find each landlord of a tenement occupied by the poor taking pride in doing everything to promote their comfort, instead of refusing repairs or threatening all who complain to the sanitary authority with eviction or raised rent. One should find the local authority taking pride in keeping careless or merely mercenary landlords up to their duties. If one does not, then there is a need for a prophet to arouse in the name of God the righteous indignation and the popular clamour that will compel right action."
      The landlords' organ then tried the meanest argument, and asked, Would not improvement burden the rates? I answered that men were citizens in the first instance, and ratepayers only in the second, and that when "tenemental sin" has to be exposed, rebuked, and punished, no necessary expense falls upon the rates at all. Landlords have merely to be made to disgorge some of the money that they should have expended in the cure or prevention of noxious conditions, but have kept to themselves. Further, it should be obvious that sanitation and better housing will, of necessity, produce better health and more self-respect, and that the possession of these moral and physical conditions will more than anything else tend to lower the rates, and to make into self-reliant producers those who are now so largely found as out- or indoor paupers, casuals, or infirmary patients.
    Then they tried persistently the argument that no harm to health could exist, however comfort and decency might be affected, because, as the Local Board had asserted to the Government, when, in 1888, the Mansion House Council had asked for an inquiry, " The health of the town is thoroughly good, as shown by the Registrar-General's returns." This " proof of the pudding's in the eating" argument was gleefully brandished as a tomahawk already dripping with my gore. It sounded imposing; it was an imposition; for I showed that they were using as a basis the deaths in Woolwich instead of the deaths of Woolwich, ignoring the fact that our workhouse and infirmary, into which so many of the poor retired to die, was in another parish, and that, from our contiguity to some London hospitals, many other deaths of our people took place in institutions outside our limit. In spite of our outlying position, the hilly character of all the town, except my parish, the presence of four thousand picked young men in the garrison (whose extremely low death-rate — about 3.50 per thousand — of course lowered the general average of the town), and the many-acred lung of Woolwich Common, all of which considerations made us in a more favourable condition than other parishes of similar position — e.g., Bermondsey and Southwark — our real death-rate, whether in the table for the Metropolis generally, or for South London separately, was always nearer the bottom than the middle. For the year in which this controversy arose our death-rate was 20.2 (for Woolwich as a whole, but what for my parish?), and we were twenty-sixth in order out of the forty-one districts of London. For the two previous years the Woolwich rate had been 21.6 and 22.8. Thus I finally slew the assertion that we were exceptionally healthy. But still the words of the President of the Health Section of the Social Science Congress in 1884 were once more proved to be true: "Immediately the immaculate sanitary purity of any place, however open to just criticism it may be, is questioned in a spirit of truth and philanthropy, out rushes some maddened authority, whose utter abandonment of self-command is plain evidence that it has been very hard hit indeed, yelling maledictions in which 'liar ' and 'calumniator' are the only articulate sounds."
     I was kept busy with the pen for a long time in presenting fresh facts and meeting old errors and untruths ; but men no longer lived in a fool's paradise, and the poor began to know their rights, and how they might be obtained. A friend of mine was agent for some cottages in my parish. One of the tenants pointed out a defect, and asked for attention. He said he was very busy with other property, but would come to it in time. "If you don't do it at once, I'll tell the parson," was the answer, which he retailed to me with some amusement. To be the people's tribune, you must become the landlords' bogey. Property-owners develop theological grievances, and leave the church to join a chapel, where they hope to find an independent congregation with a dependent minister. A novel with a purpose, "Down in the Flats" (Fisher Unwin), says: "But for the parson, many a foul nuisance would have survived condemnation, and many a vitally necessary improvement would have been postponed until its proposal was forgotten . . . and in cases demanding external pressure, the parson was the only man to be looked to for tackling negligent, or curbing tyrannical, authority. Bad landlords are his Ahab, and he is their Elijah. Nor is it unknown to local historians " (the novel speaks of Bristol ; I found it true also in Woolwich) " how, in spots most unlike a vineyard, collisions have occurred between the two, the Ahab owner, quivering with rage, railing from off some shaky roof or from the edge of some unsavoury drain: 'You call yourself a minister of the Gospel? Look what expense you're putting me to! Yah! I know you ; you're no gentleman!' A very 'Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?' And the reply might be expressed thus: 'Yes, I have found thee ; and so long as you let sick folks lie under dripping roofs, or let their drain-pipes be clogged, and their yards flooded with sewage, so long will I find thee, O thou nineteenth-century Ahab!'
     The next step was to form a local committee of the Mansion House Council, with the rector, a doctor, and some vigorous working men thereon. (I may note, by-the-by, that throughout my campaign I had not a word or act of sympathy from any Nonconformist minister, nor even from any of my brother clergy, except the Rector of Woolwich; deacons and churchwardens were apt to be property-owners.) We put out handbills inviting aggrieved tenants to communicate pri- vately with us, and soon the dusty complaint-books at the parochial offices began to bear the frequent blossoms of our name as we verified complaints, forwarded them, and showed we meant business. I frequently entered twenty complaints in one day. Then we got what the landlords' organ described as "Coercion for Woolwich," as the Mansion House Council got a clause inserted into the Infectious Diseases Act compelling our recalcitrant Local Board to appoint a Medical Officer of Health. Partly from finding that it was useless to kick against the pricks, and partly from the persuasions of this Medical Officer of Health, now Professor W. R. Smith, things began to move more rapidly, and inter alia we obtained, since the passing of Ritchie's Act, fifty-three orders closing houses as unfit for human habitation.
    To become at once archer and target had not entered my mind, but on receiving a requisition from working men, I consented to be a candidate for election on to the Local Board. This caused some excitement on both sides, and nearly three thousand more votes were polled than in the previous election, and I was returned, to the music of the gnashing of the teeth of slum-owners, only second to a colleague who ran on the same lines, and was at the head of the poll. In our address to the electors, which I drew up, I see that we said :
      "The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor made it plain that the worst landlords always tried most to get on a Vestry or Board, to 'protect' the property of themselves and their friends from the beneficial action of laws passed for the protection of the tenants. We want on the Board men who will:
     "1. Promote sanitary reform in a different fashion from those who have resisted the appointment of a medical officer, and considered one inspector sufficient for four thousand houses, and maintained that there was no need for action to improve the dwellings of the poor.
     "2. Allow no further procrastination in the matter of providing public baths and washhouses for Woolwich. You remember how eagerly you signed a memorial eight months ago, calling on the Board to act. They have only just now taken the first step in the matter, and that only when shamed by the rapid decision and action of Plumstead.
     "3. Promote the adoption of the Free Libraries' Act for Woolwich. The adoption was lost on a poll, largely in consequence of landlords (some of them members of the Board) threatening tenants with a rise of rent if they voted for the Act.
     "4. Be in favour of giving contracts only to those who will guarantee to pay their workmen not less than the fair and accepted wages of their trade. No fair master objects to such action, while public bodies should be careful to protect both workmen and the public from the many evil results of underpaid work. This applies also, as the L.C.C. has shown, to the servants of the Board."
     Next year I was able to report progress all along the line — landlords were making a virtue of necessity ; plumbers and jobbers were making their fortunes; tenants were alive to their rights, and knew how to get the laws passed for their protection put into force. One hundred and twenty-six houses were dealt with under the Housing of the Working Classes Act during the year, and I noted that out of 233 complaints in the book of the Board, 127 had been lodged by me as secretary of the local committee of the Mansion House Council.
     Quid plura dicam? I have given simply an illustration of what can be done, and that in a short time, where evils exist. The necessary steam-power exists in the shape of many Acts and orders, the machinery exists in the shape of the Borough Council or District Council, and all that is needed is a single resolute citizen to turn on the steam. And if that citizen be also the clergyman of the parish, he need not fear that his spiritual work will be omitted or even hindered by atten- tion to the more secular demands of health and decency. The conversion of a privy into a proper water-closet will not obstruct the conversion of souls, nor will the removal of dampness from the houses of the poor make his sermons perpetually dry.

by John William Horsely, Wells Gardner Darton & Co. 1911

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Soho, 1854

Here's how The Builder reported the cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854 - a very evocative first-hand account of a stroll through the district.  This was the outbreak in which John Snow would prove that the disease was transmitted through polluted water, with his ground-breaking epidemiological study that located the source as the Broad Street pump - and the poisoned well beneath. The author of this piece, however, is concerned about cesspools and their 'miasma' - the foul smell thought to breed disease, or predispose the body to its effects.



Many months ago we referred to the bad condition in a sanitary point of view of houses in the neighbourhood of Wardour-street, Berwick-street, Broad-street, and Marlborough-street, the absence of proper drainage, and the want of water.

On Friday, the fisrt of September, this district was attacked by a pestilence which has unfortunately swpet away a large number of persons who were, the day before, in perfect health. The people in this district were, no doubt, reading in the newspapers or learning from others, that the cholera had reached London, but felt notwithstanding the cautions which have been given, and the accounts of deaths from other aprts, that they were themselves safe. On Friday morning, however, says an informant, people might be seen before break of day running in all directions for medical advice. "The angel of death had spread his wings over the place," and by midday, groups were standign in the street looking the picture of wonder and consternation. We have paid several visits to this neighbourhood since the cholera has come upon it. We will not particularly describe the cadaverous and frightened countenances meeting us at every step - women weeping in the street, and children who, but a few hours before, saw their parents in seemingly perfect health, and are now without a protector on the earth. Our object is not to excite alarm; but it becomes the duty of all who have an interest in the welfare of the community to investigate the causes of this sudden and frightful attack in the midst of the metropolis.

Taking the Pantheon, in Oxford-street, as a starting place, we pass down Berwick-street to Broad-street: this is a wide street, well paved and most of the people who live near say well drained. "We have capital drainage," say many, and the general impression over the whole district is that the disease has been caused, not from ill sanitary condition, but as they say "by the hand of God." Strongly believing, however, that an all wise Providence sends the pestilence and other evils upon for the general good, we nevertheless feel certain that much is left in the hands of man. We must insist, as we have done again and again, that the lives and health of thousands are sacrificed for want of proper sanitary measures.

In Broad-street, few houses have escaped the disease; and in looking along it on Wednesday last, we counted seventeen shops closed, and about twenty open. On some of the closed shops written papers were posted, stating that, "In consequence of the death of the proprietor, this business would be closed," until a certain day, &c. Groups of people were standing at the doors of private houses, seemingly let in tenements, speaking of losses which they had sustained. A baker said that on Tuesday morning he counted nine persons whom he knew, close at hand, who had died on Monday and were buried. Mr. Jones, the active City missionary, told one of our inquirers, "that on the same day he knew that sixty had perished in his district, which did not extend far. It was like a plague." We made numerous inquiries, and although the first answer usually was that the drainage was good, further examination showed the existence of cesspools everywhere.

At one house in Broad-street, the people said that they had no ill smell to complain of until only a week back, and then it was very bad. The dust-heap was nearly full of refuse. The condition of the atmosphere within the house was bad in the extreme. This and the discolouration of the paint of the doors seemed to show that a cesspool was close at hand. "Have you had cholera here?" we asked. "Yes; a person lies dead in the kitchen, and two have died upstairs." In the closet there was a glazed pan, but the water was not laid on.

"You see," said an intelligent man in the same street, "that these closets are only a disguise - the cesspool is still there; and I would like to know how many cesspools there are in this street that have been partly filled in, not emptied, but covered up. There was a great deal of wet weather at the early part of this year; and, in fact, for some time past the earth has been saturated, and now the hot sun gathers the moisture and of course where cesspools are, the evaporation from the earth is poison. It is almost unnecessary to tell you that these disguised water-closets with surface drains only carrying off the liquid matter pass through the kitchen; and it is a sad faft that very often in the kitchens of the houses around here ther are more human beings lodged than in the whole house besides. But what can poor creatures do?" Next door, and the next, and almost in every house in this street, there has been disease and death.

The most careful examination of this street by the proper authorites should immediately be made. An exciting cause there must be, and this should be traced out. Some attribute the outbreak to the opening of the sewers. A correspondent of the Times speaks of the plague-pit near Regent-street. Let us get at the truth.

"Pray go and look at St. Ann's-court and Place, not far off," said one; "you will find the people almost swept away." On proceeding there, we found the place - as in fact as the streets near were - strewed with quick lime. This court and place are not what may be considered dilapidated, in comparison with many other spots in London. The same appearance of panic showed itself here as in other places; many houses were closed, and the tradespeople, having no business to attend to, stood conversing at the doors with their neighbours. In a passage opposite, the lime-washers were at work, and different kinds of purification going on. This was St. Ann's-place; here the cesspools could not be overlooked; the houses are small. The inhabitants all complained of the bad smells, particularly "against rain" and were in distress, as they said, at receiving a notice to quit. "Where can we go to, sir, although here is not very good, we cannot get better; here is the notice, but none of us can read, no more can the landlady who receives the rent - will you please to read it to us." The paper was not a notice to quit, but a warning to the landlord to empty the cesspool in twenty-four hours, to lime wash the place, and do other matters. We put again the usual question. There had been two deaths in this house, and in the next four had occurred in one room, "a number of people lived in it." There was a cesspool there also. Now that death has taken off the inhabitants of the place, notices are sent respecting the removal of the cause. We have barely patience to ask - why this was not done before the plague came? To empty the cesspools now will do more harm than good.

In St. Ann's-court the drainage of the closets is most imperfect: many of the people complain of bad smells in the kitchens. So numerous were the deaths in this place that the bodies were carried away without ceremony, five or six at at a time. Mr. Allen, one of the medical officers of the district, states that he made four applications to the Commissioners of Sewers to stop up three gully holes. One was after a time done - the other was left until the people around it all died; the third still remains.

So imperfect seems the drainage of this district, so far as the water-closets are concerned, that it would be tedious to mention the various particulars which we gathered afte several hours' painful investigation by more than one person.

Passing into the back yard of a house in Berwick-street, where the shop was closed, we found a cesspool, the dust-place full, the sink dirty. At the back of the yard, we climbed up a ladder staircase, and found two elderly women. "Have you had any deaths from cholera?" "Yes, two; the smell is very bad here at times. You see my room is just above the closet, and there is no ceiling. This lady lives in the cellar," into which we accordingly descended with the tenant. "Here sir, you see I am obliged to live. I pay 3s.  a-week rent. I have a mangle, you see, and cannot very well leave my bread, and so many people object to mangles, but you see the floor is rotten, and the smell at times is dreadful in the winter, when we are obliged to shut up close. When I sit beside that fireplace, it is almost as bad as being in a water-closet."

In some of the places, already alluded to in the Builder, surrounding the model buildings now in course of erection, the condition of the yards is as bad as ever, the same broken pavement and filth. "They should take away the dust, governor," said a man; "there has been nobody here for it for a month."

Our journey through this scene of death more than ever convinces us that to remove the cesspools would be the means of greatly lessening cholera and fever: we say this in perfect confidence; and ask all in their respective neighbourhoods to do what they can to effect this: it is to be feared, however, that nothing effectual will be done until we get an enactment of Parliament much more stringent than those now in operation. Thousands, like the poor mangling-woman, are tied to their cellars and back rooms, and disease,  and they need protection.

The Builder,  9 September 1854

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow in Victorian London

In theory, for much of the nineteenth century, cleaning the London pavements was the responsibility of individual householders. Each homeowner was obliged, under the 1817 Metropolitan Paving Act (aka Michael Angelo Taylor's Act, named after the MP who promoted it) to sweep the pavement outside his property. Previously, local acts had made some provision for this:
‘An early example of this type is the Act obtained for St. Luke's in 1754. In this case the trustees were simply given power to enter into contracts for cleansing the streets, whilst the inhabitants were required to sweep the footpaths before their houses on every Tuesday and Friday either between the hours of seven and ten in the morning or between two and five in the afternoon under a penalty of five shillings for each omission.’ F.H.Spencer, Municipal Origins, 1911 p.202
but the 1817 legislation made pavement-sweeping obligatory across the metropolis ... and was largely ignored.

In particular, servants all but refused to do the work. Polishing the front step was one thing, but cleaning up the mud on the pavement (including copious amounts of horse dung) was too 'low', even for the most common housemaid. The Times, looking back at the legislation, noted in 1894
There are miles upon miles of residential streets the occupants of which either keep only women servants or men servants of a class who would decline to undertake the work of removing snow, even if they were provided with tools suitable for the purpose.
The police, faced with an impossible task of fining virtually every householder on their beat, generally ignored the problem. The exception was when it snowed and pavements became dangerous. Police then paid visits to householders and or leafletted them, to remind them of their obligations. Even in this, however, it seems they were not particularly assiduous:
Accordingly, two or three days after snow has fallen, when there has been abundant time for accidents, a constable goes round to each house, and leaves a printed paper requiring the householder to clear away the snow. If he chooses to disregard the notice, he seldom or never hears any more about it, and as a matter of course very many do choose to disregard it. Pall Mall Gazette 1875
The police were also assumed to be hand-in-glove with those who saw a chance to make a quick profit:
These streets were visited, as soon as snow fell, by bands of men carrying brooms and shovels, and usually far from prepossessing in apperance, or in language, who offered to do the statutory work of a householder for a remuneration perhaps ten times in excess of the proper value of their labour, and who, if their services were declined, would shortly be followed by a policeman whose duty it was to call attention to the penalties incidental to neglect ...
The old system was finally abolished in 1891, under the Public Health (London) Act, derided as 'a grotesque survival of village organization in metropolitan conditions’ - which might be said generally of vestry government in the 19th century metropolis.

For a lovely description of snow in London by arch-diarist Arthur Munby, click here.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Scenes from the Slums

We happen to have some evidence of the condition of St. George's Hanover-square. Let us see what is t his highly satisfactory state of things. Mr. TOYNBEE, one of the surgeons of the St. George's and St. James's dispensary shall tell us.
    ... You mentioned that, in visiting this class of the population, you find the want in personal cleanliness one collateral cause of disease? - Decidedly so.
    Has the action of want of cleanliness as a cause been shown by the effects of cleanliness in abating it or removing it? - Yes; in the case of porrigo or scald head and ring-worm in the children, and some inflammations of the eyes - very common disorders amongst them - which I have removed mainly by the strict enforcement of cleanliness and general ablutions. I believe that a variety of diseases, such as affections of the chest, rheumatism - which are not generally considered to have any connexion with personal cleanlienss - are greatly aggravated by the neglect of it.
    How far, in such places, does this want of personal cleanliness appear to be influenced or governed by the nature of the supply of water, its quality, whether it be accessible or has to be fetched from inconvenient distances or otherwise? - It was only this morning that a patient stated that she could not drink the water that was supplied to the house, it being "full of insects". Patients have said that they only drink water when they cannot get beer, &c., the water is so bad. I find that generally the water is in an impure state, sometimes having an offensive odour; at times it is, as they describe it, "thick" or muddy, and very disagreeable to the taste. They have complained to me that they are often compelled to go to a distances to fetch water, because the water supplied to the house is so bad. Sometimes they have said that they put up with the bad water, because it is just as bad in the neighbourhood.
    Have you observed how far the impurity of the water may have arisen from neglect to cleanse the water-butts? - I have observed that water-butts do not look very proper receptacles, being made of wood, from which the paint has decayed, and the wood itself having decayed, no cover on the top, and a film of blacks and dust on the surface of the water. The water is generally laid on in the yard or the lowest part of the premises, and a supply is generally given three times a week, and, at each time the water comes on, the film of dust and blacks that has been deposited on the surface is mixed up with the previous accumulations. Even in a more open and less sooty and dirty neighbourhood, as on the surface of the Water Company's reservoir, in the Green-park, the deposit of soot, or dust or dirt, may be at times observed, as a dark scum or carpet spread over it. One patient complained very much of the quality of the water taken from an old wooden butt. In respect to it, I learned that this same water is used for making bread by a baker who supplies a great number of the poor. Since attention was directed to the subject by the sanitary report, I have availed myself of opportunities of making observations upon it and the result is, the strong conviction that the quality of the supplies of water, and the mode in which it is received and kept in such atmospheres, influences the dirt and health of the population to a much more serious extent than has hitherto been imagined.
    As to the state of the household economy, have you observed an effects apparent from water not being conveniently accesssible or laid on in the rooms which form separate tenements? - I have observed the same water, which is very filthy from having been used in washing some clothes, used again to wash others. They have told me, indeed, that they have done this to avoid the inconvenience of fetching water from a distance and from the inability to carry the water up stairs when the rooms inhabited have been on the upper floor. My informants on this topic, it should be remembered, are patients, sickly people, weakened by sickness, and who cannot afford to pay for attendance. To the mothers who are debilitated, the carrying water up stairs is a very great exertion; mothers not daring to leave a child in the room have to carry the child in one arm and the vessel of water with the other. I have had even sick children neglected and left dirty, and the excuse given has been the inability to fetch the water. Recently I have had a case of this kind. I have attended three children, two of them with scrofulous inflammation of the eyes, the othero f them with a scrofulous affection of the throat; all of them rarely washed, and in an extremely filthy condition. The mother is a poor woman, who has been in a respectable condition, but she is now so far advanced in pregnancy as to be incapacitated from going up and down stairs to fetch water. She continually deplores her condition of having neither the strength to fetch a sufficient supply of water nor the means of paying for it being brought to her.
    Again, as to drainage and venitlation:
    Supposing a complete ventilation effected in the upper portion of any of such houses as those you visit, but cesspools still allowed to remain on the ground floor and give off their exhalations, though those exhalations might be diluted and rendered less noxious; from the observations you have made on the tenements not ventilated, have you any reason to doubt that the cesspools would still, to some extent, impair the general health of the inhabitants? - I have no doubt of it; indeed, that is one of the sources which it is absolutely necessary to remove before there can be any effectual cure. Some of the cesspools are in the cellars, and give out their exhalations from thence; others are in a yard, close to the door, which door is always open on account of the want of windows in the passage. I continually visit houses in which the smell from the cesspools throughout the whole of the house is so noxious as to be unbearable, and I have found the poor lodgers closely shut up in their rooms, no air being allowed to enter by the door or windows, with the hope of exlcuding the offensive effluvia. When I have proposed to ventilate some of the rooms by means of the window ventilator, the occupants have made the well-founded objection, "We are afraid of any opening in the window on acount of the bad smells which come up from the yard."  I preceived at once that fixing a ventilator in the window would only have been the means of introducing the noxious air. When I have proposed to fix a ventilation in the door of the room, a similar objection has sometimes been made: "The bad smells from the privy and the drain will only get into the room by that way." "The smells from the pssage are often worse than those in our rooms." ... In places which are not overcrowded, and which do not need ventilation so urgently, I have had cases of debility, which were attributed and correctly attributable to the bad odours arising from the cesspools. The patients continually complain of the smells. It is a common expression amongst them, "We owe some rent, but as soon as we can pay it we shall get away from this place on acccount of the bad smells from the cesspool." The strong bear these stenches, but they take beer, which they consider necessary to counteract their effects.
    Were there generally  sewers in the fronts of near to the houses which you have visited? - In some streets and courts there are no sewers; in others, in which there are sewers, there are scarcely any drains from the houses into the sewers, and the gullyholes are so far apart that the slops thrown out from the street-door mix with the dirt of the street, and very little of the fluid appears to arrive at the sewer. There are great complaints that the gullyholes emit very offensive smells.

Daily News, April 22, 1847

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Prams and Problems

Prams were a Victorian invention, which I have covered before (see here). They were not always popular. Here's a couple more pieces which I stumbled across today ...

We are glad to observe a disposition on the part of the metropolitan magistrates to contest on our behalf the last piece of ground which has been left to the unfortunate pedestrians of the London streets. The fooway is, it appears, still our own, and we are to be protected in its enjoyment. The case of Mr. George Peachey, who was sujmmoend the other day before Mr. Knox at Marlborough-street, will, we trust, be a sufficient warning to those who venture to encroach upon our rights in this respect. Mr. Hetton, of Twickenham, the complainant in the case in question, said that on the 25th of July, he was walking through Rathbone-place with two friends when the defendant drove a perambulator against him. On being remonstrated with, the defendant told him he ought to get out of the way. The complainant replied that if the defendant ran against him he should charge him with assault. The defendant thereupon caleld him a blackguard, used the most abusive language to him and his friends, and a second and third time ran the perambulator purposely against him. The defendant, refusing to give his name and address, witness gave him into custody. The perambulator was a large one, and took up nearly the whole of the pavement. The case being clearly proved against the defendant, Mr. Knox observed that it was monstrous to take up the pavement with these perambulators, some of which were of large dimensions. The pavement was for passengers, not for vehicles of this kind. He refused to look closely into the charges and counter-charges of rough language; the evidence had made it clear that the defendant was pushing a perambulator on the pavement, where he had no business, and that he drove it against the complainant. He would have to pay a fine of 20s. and costs. We hail this decision with much satisfaction; for if, after the cabmen have driven us from the roadway, the pavement is to be made impassable by the "furious diving" of large perambulators, we may as well give up the attempt to traverse the streets at all.

The Pall Mall Gazette, 2 August 1873


Emma Morris - a young woman in service in Earl's-terrace, Kensington, appeared before Mr. Saunders to answer a summons at the instance of Chief-Inspector Skeats, for wheeling a carriage, to wit a perambulator, on the pathway so as to cause an obstruction. Mr. Gerald Wheeler, a barrister, appeared for the defendant. Police Constable Barton, of the T Division, said that on the afternoon of the 28th ult. he was in High-street, Kensington, when he saw the defendant and another young women, each with a perambulator abreast on the pavement. He followed them for about 150 yards, both young women walking abreast and talking to each other. The pavement was only six feet wide, the road narrow, and the traffic very great. He had cautioned the defendant previously. There had been many complaints, and he had been directed to report cases of obstruction. An elderly gentleman and lady tried to pass, but could not on account of the perambulators. On the day before he counted 37 perambulators passing to and fro between Young-street and Wright's-lane. - Mr. Saunders inquired of the constable what the young women were to do with the perambulators. - The constable said he did not know. - Mr. Saunders said it came to this, perambulators in such a neighbourhood could not be used, as they obstructed the pavement, and could not go into the road on account of the danger. - In answer to Mr. Wheeler, the constable said it was illegal to draw two perambulators side by side, as they caused an obstruction. He added that Mr. Paget had decided that a person had no right to draw a perambulator on the footway at all. - Mr. Wheeler said they were not talking together. The baby in the perambulator was a "frisky child" and often kicked the rug off. On the day in question she stopped to tuck up the child, and at that instant the young woman came up. Alice Heritage who was also summoned was called as a witness for the defendant. She confirmed Mr. Wheeler's statement, and denied that she and the defendant were looking at shop windows. They never thought of doing so with perambulators. - Mr. Saunders said he did not like to dispose of a case off-hand that a perambulator on the pavement was an obstruction. Perambulators were a great convenience and ought to be encouraged, if they were not an obstruction. In this state of soceity and civilisation they must give and take. He dismissed the summons, as he did not think the case was made out.

The Morning Post, 13 March 1882