Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858
Extracts from ‘Report to the General Board of Health on a preliminary inquiry into…the sanitary condition of…the parish of St. John the Baptist, Margate’ E. Cresy, 1850.
Visitation of the Town.—
Vicarage-place, near St. John's Church, is composed of small houses, which let from £12 to £16 per annum. My attention having been directed to the water of the well at No. 12, on examination, it was found to be impregnated with organic matter, and consequently unwholesome. In this particular district several of the wells are so affected, and Dr. Chambers observed that he had attended several cases of low fever here.
A well has been sunk for every two houses under the party fence wall, and water is usually obtained at the depth of 65 feet, the excavations being entirely through the chalk.
The yards at the back of these houses being eight or ten feet above the floors of the basements, all the pluvial water, for the want of a proper drain or channel, passes down the steps of the back areas, or filters under the house: in some instances, deep cesspools have been sunk, to allow it to pass off by percolation. The privies stand over cesspools sunk in the chalk, and whatever water passes into them finds its way through the fissures of the chalk, from which the wells are all supplied.
Argyle-house has a well 60 feet in depth, but the water is frequently affected by the surface drainage, which passes through innumerable channels connected with the liquid contents of cesspools in the immediate vicinity.
Brook-house, which adjoins the last mentioned, has several privies and large cesspools, which renders the atmosphere at all times disagreeable, if not unhealthy.
Frog-hill: near the top is a privy, and the only one, though there are several houses, to which it is so contiguous as to be greatly complained of. The bog-hole abuts upon Brook-house premises, and from its size, 8 feet by 4 feet, rarely requires emptying; it is at this present time highly offensive, and requires to be either removed or the nuisance abated.
High-street: at a corner house, occupied by Mr. Fearlay, there were six families residing; the two privies, with a capacious cesspool, were in a very bad state, although it is cleansed two or three times in the course of the year. A wooden flap covered the cesspool, which was within 12 feet of the well; the staining of which bore evident marks of the running down of what passed from the neighbouring cesspool. Several families depended upon this well for their supply of water, and it was stated that at times what was drawn up could not be used. It stands close to the road, from which it is only fenced off by a low paling.
Six Bells-lane, leading to the church, appears to be in bad condition, and the houses without either drainage or proper ventilation.
Church-alley consists of four or more dwellings. At the corner house cholera prevailed last year. The churchyard is within three feet of these houses, from which it is separated by a wall 15 feet high, built to prevent the windows overlooking the burial-ground. All ventilation is stopped; the drainage through the churchyard passes off in this direction. At the entrance to the alley is a grating, through which the surface-waters pass; and as the smell is at times very much complained of, there can be little doubt but that the inhabitants use it for the discharge of their several utensils, and which, from their confined position, they cannot avoid.
Crossing High-street, opposite the “Six Bells” the privy which served three houses is in a very bad condition; the smell was very offensive. In one house, without any drainage but into the cesspool, were several deaths from cholera.
Bullar's-yard contains about 20 separate apartments; as it is the property of the parish, it is let to as many of the poorer inhabitants. The whole of them are imperfectly ventilated, and several require to be repaired and rendered dry; the privy has recently been put into order, but it is too near the dwellings, and is often much complained of.
No. 80, High-street, has a privy which abuts upon one of the houses of Bullar’s Yard; and from the want of proper spouts to carry the water from the roof, the poor inhabitants are occasionally inundated, and the walls are always in a damp and unhealthy condition.
No. 78, High-street,which abuts upon the entrance to Well’s-yard, as well as the house at the other angle, had several cases of cholera during the last year. There is no drainage whatever; all the water which falls upon the ground passes off either by percolation or through the cesspools, which, in heavy rains, are the only receptacles; they quickly overflow, and the consequence is that the entire area is covered with the noxious sediment.
Nos. 106, 107, 108, High-street, have in the rear several houses occupied by the humbler classes, and here last year were several cases of cholera. Both the water supply and cesspools were complained of. Here was an instance of a large, respectable house, when it had become dilapidated, and could no longer afford the necessary accommodation for the more affluent, being divided and converted into several tenements, the one well and privy being used by all. To add to the evil, the garden ground, which gave ample means for recreation and ventilation, has in this instance, as is usually the case, passed into other hands, and is used for a variety of purposes. This is one among the many proofs of the necessity for some independent control being exercised which shall oblige proprietors to attend to the drainage and other accommodations required for an increased number of inhabitants.
Kidman’s-yard, where several fatal cases of cholera occurred, contains four-roomed houses, let for 2s. per week. On the basement of some was an accumulation of rubbish, in a decomposing condition, under the very rooms crowded with inhabitants, sufficient to account for all the mischief that has occurred here. The privy used was in so neglected a condition that the very floor had decayed and fallen in. One of the medical gentlemen of extensive practice here, Mr. Price, assured me that the night the cholera broke out the intolerable stench which seemed to hang over the entire town was most remarkable. On quitting his house, when called upon to attend some of the first cases, he was annoyed on opening his door into the street with a peculiar disagreeable odour, and which continued throughout the night, as if the state of the atmosphere occasioned the earth to give out all its poisonous gases at once; the foetid cesspool in particular. There appears to be no doubt whatever that at certain periods the cesspool and its contents are acted upon in a manner to be highly injurious to health, if not immediately fatal to those within its influence. Previous torain, it is commonly observed that the smell which proceeds from them is easily recognised; and this fact is so remarkable that it is considered by many as a sure sign of a change of weather. Any deterioration of the air we breathe is destructive of health, and a greater liberation than usual of the poisonous gases may take place through some powerful agency, such as electricity, so as to account for the injury to which the inhabitants of these ill-drained neighbourhoods are subjected. When chemical science has established this fact, and shown, with irresistible clearness, how life is affected under the influence of decomposing animal and vegetable matters, there will be no dissent to the removal of the cause; but while waiting the result ofphilosophical discussion, decency, cleanliness, and the conveniences of life, demand a change in the arrangement of the smaller tenements in this town; and on referring to the names of the persons who died of cholera in this court, we find that two deaths occurred in the house most crowded with inhabitants.
White’s-place. — The houses here being built back to back have no ventilation whatever. At the corner house a death from cholera occurred; in front was a grating, through which the foul air was discharged from the cesspools, of which there are several within this court; two adjoin the living room of a house occupied by Mrs. Kent. Immediately at the back of the houses are three others belonging to Mrs. Cope, where several persons suffered from attacks of cholera.
Market-street and market are situated in a low part of the town; consequently there is difficulty in maintaining the foundations of the houses dry.
At the Bull’s Head, a corner house, cholera and fever were fatal. Immediately under the chamber window in the rear was a large cesspool, the receptacle of at least five privies; one of them, which adjoins the “Bull's Head,” had its floor a short time since so decayed, that an inmate of the adjoining house, which overlooks the market, fell through it and was nearly suffocated.
There are several shops here under which the cellars are made receptacles of all the refuse produced; which is left to accumulate until absolute necessity requires its removal. No idea is entertained that living over such a mass of decomposing material can be injurious to health.
Pump-court consists of eight houses, and, being a thoroughfare, there is neither area nor yard; and the privy, from necessity, is placed in the basement room. These houses are among the most ancient in the town; for centuries occupied by fishermen and labourers, whose families have had no other means of disposing of their refuse and drainage than by either throwing it into the thoroughfare in front, or down the cesspool beneath the rooms they occupy. The foundations, which are chiefly composed of chalk, are positively saturated with the matter they have absorbed from the overflowing of the basement-floor. Chill and damp as this portion always is, the living rooms over are in a worse condition; here, through very defective floors, the lighter gases are constantly rising; and it would probably be difficult to render these old habitations thoroughly wholesome or fit for families to occupy. Deep and effective drainage would be a great improvement; and by a thorough cleansing, the introduction of water-closets, doing away with the present privies and cesspools, trapping the drains, providing sinks, siphon-traps, and adopting other precautions, much of evil, now evident and justly complained of by the medical gentlemen, who asserted generally that low fever was rarely absent from these houses, would be mitigated.
Such is the general condition of the lower order of tenements in this town. The houses of the more affluent have their cesspools under the kitchens, or in the area behind, of a sufficient depth and capacity not to require emptying more than once in 20 years, which by some of the inhabitants is considered an advantage, the inconvenience and cost of emptying being saved them, not fancying that the noxious gases could by any means escape or affect the purity of the air which they inhaled, or that the poisonous fluids could injure the water they drank from the well in its immediate vicinity. Since water-closets have been introduced, these means for receiving the drainage in many instances have failed, the chalk not allowing the fluids to pass off sufficiently fast. The cesspool has overflowed, or been so disturbed as to be productive of unpleasant smells throughout the entire neighbourhood, but as there are no sewers to carry off the surplus waters, the first evil has been multiplied to remedy the other.
Lodging-Houses for Tramps afford accommodation to this town for about 100 persons nightly, though it was stated, that during the influx of visitors, that number is greatly increased; as usual, the worst of houses for their construction, as well as locality, are selected for the accommodation of the tramp.
The ”Tailor's Arms" High-street, kept by George Knight, has accommodation superior to the other establishments of this kind; there are about 16 beds which are made up for the travelling mechanics.
Well’s-yard Lodging-house, kept by Edward Harpur, has 12 beds, the charge for each per night is 6d.; this house is in a very dilapidated state, miserably situated, and without any drainage, but environed with cesspools; several cholera cases occurred here at the season of the year when the house was overcrowded; the cesspool which was opposite the entrance, and which, from its exposed state, was calculated to produce the greatest mischief, has been filled up. This house lets for 4s. per week, and the average receipts are not less than 21s.
Winter-lane. — Mrs. Reed's lodging-house consists of more than one ordinary tenement, and contains 16 beds. The Irish tramps mostly occupy them, the charges are 3d. per night per person, or 6d. for a single bed.
When it is considered that a building 60 feet by 25, carried up three stories, could be constructed for £1,000, which would afford comfortable and separate accommodation for 100 persons, with sitting and cooking-rooms, it is to be regretted that such an effectual auxiliary to morality and decency is not at once provided. The whole expense, including land and furniture, would certainly not exceed £2,000, taking the interest at 10 per cent., the rent would be only £200 per annum, whilst the receipts might be reckoned at more than double. One hundred threepences per night would amount to upwards of £450 per annum, allowing ample margin for the maintenance of a proper state of cleanliness; the provision of fuel, washing, and other requisites, with a well-selected master and matron, there would be a proper arrangement, for the young of both sexes, and for the married couples, all which important considerations are now entirely neglected; and indeed from its being the usual practice to convert houses, in a bad locality, and which, from their dilapidated state, cannot command respectable tenants into tramp lodging-houses, it is quite out of the question to render them fit for the purpose to which they are applied.
There are no greater blemishes to a town than these houses, they are the resort of the worst of characters, and whence the idle and the wicked meet to concoct much of the evil, from which large communities are constantly suffering; and there is sufficient evidence that they formed at Margate, the very focus of cholera, and are seldom without inmates suffering from low fever and other diseases. The medical profession and the police describe them as injurious to health and morals, and are thoroughly aware how essential it is that some provision should be made to afford rest and lodging for the itinerant population, where health should not suffer by contamination, and cleanliness and propriety should be insisted upon. If this subject were taken up in a truly patriotic spirit by every town, an immense reduction in out-door relief would be the result, it being an ascertained fact, that these houses are generally the foci when diseases are carried to the adjacent villages.
Burial Grounds. — That around the parish church of St. John's has annually about 150 interments made within it, although its extent is probably not more than an acre at present; and since it has been used as a burial-ground there has not been less than from 80,000 to 100,000 bodies placed in it; so that, calculating 1,000 upon an acre, it has been used over and over again, or as many times as there have been thousands of interments: hence it is highly necessary that some new situation should be provided, at a convenient distance from the town, where no contamination of the water or air can take place.
The neighbourhood of the present churchyard is densely peopled by the lower classes, and it was remarked by several persons that the water of the wells was occasionally affected by filtration through the soil.
Zion Chapel, or Countess of Huntingdon's, has a small cemetery around it, but few interments have been made.
At one end of the Baptist Chapel (Ebenezer) is a capacious vault, in which 40 interments have been made; the last was seven years ago: since that period it has been determined by the proprietors to discontinue the practice of burying within the chapel. On each side is a narrow slip of land, where about 40 bodies have been interred.
The Roman Catholic Chapel, on the road to Ramsgate, has a very small piece of land devoted to a cemetery, in which there are about 12 or 13 graves.
In the ground which circumscribes the Church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, no interments have hitherto taken place.
Slaughter-houses. — Scattered through the town are several sheds, in which the butchers kill their bullocks, sheep, &c, and as there are no sewers to carry off the washings so frequent and necessary, to maintain them in a proper condition, it is usual to sink a cesspool for that purpose, as well as for the reception of the offal, which is of course very offensive, and at all times calculated to produce the evils so much complained of by the neighbouring inhabitants.
There would be considerable economy from the establishment of a well-constructed public slaughter house, at a sufficient distance from the town, to obtain a free circulation of air around it, efficient drainage, and an abundant as well as a constant supply of water.
If the rent paid by the 16 or more butchers of Margate for the use of the buildings, where they now conduct that portion of their business, were put together, it would be more than ample for the provision of a public slaughter-house, upon the best arranged system. The meat, when moved to the shop for sale, would be in a much more wholesome state, and would remain in an atmosphere uncontaminated by the organic matters usually found in the rear of a butcher's premises.
The maintenance of pigs, within such enclosures, would of course not be permitted, a practice fraught with abuses of the most offensive and disgusting character.