Lamplugh and District Heritage Society: A talk on Public Health in Whitehaven by Jenni Lister

A MOST interesting talk on the above was given to an enthusiastic audience in Lamplugh Village Hall on Thursday, March 24 by Jenni Lister. She explained the need to have […]

A MOST interesting talk on the above was given to an enthusiastic audience in Lamplugh Village Hall on Thursday, March 24 by Jenni Lister.

She explained the need to have a “strong stomach” as the conditions in the early 19th century were deplorable.

To combat disease ample supplies of fresh water are needed, sadly lacking in Whitehaven.

Little was known as to how disease spread, the thought at the time was by bad smells. Public Health needed to accelerate as in the 1852 census the urban population was for the first time larger than in the rural areas,

Whitehaven falling into this category.

To cope for this rise in population small ill ventilated houses were crammed into every available space, called locally as “rookeries.” Families lived in the cellar, the attic, in fact anywhere available.

The yards and streets were used as middens as there was no toilets and nearly every house kept a pig.

With no running water or means to dispose of effluent the conditions are difficult to describe.

No fresh water means unable to wash sewerage away, no means of washing clothes or yourself.

The need for Public Health really came from the engineers on how to install sewers, water supplies etc.

At this time the engineers concluded the optimum shape for a sewer pipe was egg shaped to help with the flow.

Not flat bottomed as previously thought.

The people who ran the towns made the laws, often to suit themselves.

In the early part of the century the laws were only permissive and social unrest occurred.

In the 1830s a new highly contagious disease arrived, cholera. The disease spread rapidly and arrived in Whitehaven in 1832.

The county was terrified and a temporary Board of Health was set up. Vaccinations became available and houses were lime washed.

The General Board of Health sent an inspector to Whitehaven called Rawlinson, he was no respecter of persons and was scathing in his attack on the Local Board of Health.

Still a complete lack of a public water supply and effluent disposal. The New Houses had no water and the residents had to buy water from the Bransty Water Cart.

The drainage either bad or non existent. Stand pipes and fountains supplied the town from a small reservoir which was situate between two burial grounds.

Seepage occurred into the reservoir and wells contaminating the water.

The burial grounds were full and all burials must stop in the town.

The public privies were filthy and not fit for use! Following his report water was piped from Ennerdale to Whitehaven and a new cemetery on Low Road opened.

In 1863, Bristow came for a further inspection and found very little had changed.

The Public Health Act had not been applied as the Act was opposed by the Board of Trustees.

They allowed Whitehaven to become a very unpleasant place to live, a town to be ashamed of.

The New Houses (built by Lord Lonsdale) being among the worst in town.

In 1870 a Typhus epidemic struck Whitehaven, the consequence of being a dirty town still without an adequate water supply and means of disposing of waste other than in the sea.

Unable to be properly washed, the children had lice and fleas.

Without means of storing food disease spread.

The water supply was really not up and running until about 1920.

Northern colliery towns seemed to suffer more than others, Whitehaven for instance had no public toilets and the town had several industries giving off obnoxious smells.

Tannery, Flax works, Slaughter houses and Fish markets being a few. By 1875 Medical Officers of Health were compulsory.

Some were found to do a good job, others just “yes men” to the Board of Trustees.

Running water made tremendous changes to public health with the building of communal wash houses and baths.

Eventually slum clearance commenced and Sanitary Inspectors appointed.

Our next talk is entitled ‘A most Remarkable Woman,’ the story of Therese Martin, a wartime French Resistance heroine, by Jackie Moore and Joseph Ritson.

By Lamplugh and District Heritage Society