Rule by the Margate Local Board of Health 1851 - 1858

Anthony Lee

5. The Inspector and his Report.

Edward Cresy duly opened his enquiry at the Town Hall on Wednesday 29 May and continued until Friday 31 May, during which time the town was ‘in considerable commotion’.87 On Saturday he ‘perambulated the town, to make observations himself’101  concentrating on those parts of the town ‘particularly drawn’ to his attention as places where ‘the endemic diseases chiefly prevailed or were located’, including Bridge Street, Buller's Court, Bull's-head, Market Street, Church Square,  Church Alley, Cuthell’s Cottages, Dane Hill, Dixon’s Yard, Dunn’s Yard, Fuller's Court, Fort  Mount, George inn-yard, Garden Court, Hawley Street, High Street, Holliday Court, Jolly Sailor-yard, Kidman's Row, King Street, Lime Cottages, Lansell's Place, Meeting House Court, Myrtle House, Upper and Lower Marine Terrace, Northumberland House, Neptune Square, Pantile Row, Pleasant Place, Pump Lane, Paradise Place, Princes Court, Queen Street, Union Cescent, White’s Place, Well's Yard, and Zion Place,  rather a long list for a town claiming to be so healthy.15

The competing local newspapers gave strikingly different views of what happened at the enquiry. According to the Kent Herald ‘Dr. Chambers and Mr. Towne were at their post not withstanding the threats and imputations thrown out, and evidence was heard at considerable length on both sides.  We hear that some of the most violent opponents of the measure have become converts and join in the demand for an improved state of things’.102 On the other hand the Canterbury Journal reported that ‘the only evidence at all to back up the Inspector is that of Dr. Chambers, while Messrs. Waddington and Hunter, on the other side, afforded abundant particulars altogether to knock down this attempt to foist upon the town an expensive and unwarrantable commission’.87 The Canterbury Journal was rather nervous about ‘the existing nuisances’ that the Inspector would find on his walk around Margate, but, they pleaded ‘where is the town pray, in which there are none to be found?’ Surely, the paper suggested, ‘the few in this place are such as do not warrant his interference’.87

Joshua Waddington’s contribution to the inquiry was to read out a prepared statement, stressing the importance of the statistical evidence:103

Having been actively engaged as a medical practitioner in the town of Margate for nearly thirty five years, and having for the last twenty years, held the appointment of consulting surgeon to the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary, I can with equal truth and justice bear my most unqualified testimony to the healthful state of Margate, and to the longevity of its inhabitants. It is not true, as stated in the petition to the General Board of Health “that in various parts of the town, it can be shown that low fever and sickness have always been prevalent, and that such sicknesses are chiefly to be attributed to the want of proper sewerage.” The town of Margate is pre-eminently entitled to its character for salubrity, and it is very rare indeed that ‘bilious remittent fever’ puts on typhoid symptoms, or ends in death. With regard to ‘typhus fever,’ per se, I have not seen a single case for the last twenty four years; and as to epidemics, as ‘scarlatina,’ ‘measles,’ ‘whooping cough,’ &c they are scarcely ever seen in a malignant form. The average number of deaths in my practice, from all causes, has been seventeen and a fraction, for the last ten years; during which period I find eleven only died from the results of fever, two from measles, and not one from scarlatina. The admirable vital statistics of Mr.  Mottley prove that Margate is, with one or two exceptions, the most healthy district in England, and, in particular, it is shown that the mortality among infants under the age of one year is nearly double at Brighton in comparison with Margate.

Having held his inquiry and having seen the town for himself, Cresy returned to London to write his report. Perhaps sensing that things were not going their way, the Improvement Commissioners seem to have decided to challenge the legitimacy of the original petition from Margate to the General Board. On 3 June 1850 J. E. Wright wrote to the General Board on behalf of the Improvement Commissioners asking them to send him the petition, or an ‘authenticated copy of it’ together with the signatures.104 The General Board immediately refused: ‘I am to state that as the inquiry is still in progress, the Board cannot, according to their rules of practice, send the Petition in question, or a copy of it’.105. Undeterred, J. E. Wright wrote again on 5 June: 106

Sir, I beg to acknowledge your letter of the 4th. The object of the Commissioners of this Town in applying for a copy of the Petition to the General Board of Health is that they may ascertain the genuineness of the Signatures to the Petition, the amount of Rate at which the Parties petitioning are collectively and respectively assessed, and whether such parties or how many of them are owners of rateable property, so as to enable the Commissioners to judge as to the weight and effect of any Counter petition other Inhabitants of the Town may deem it prudent to present to the Board of Health through the Commissioners.

I trust the above explanation will entirely remove any misapprehension as to the object of the application and that it may be seen rightly  to waive the general rule of practice and thereby to furnish the means of correcting any misrepresentation the Petition may set forth. Mr. Cresy during his late visit here received all possible official information and every Document and evidence in the hands of the authorities of the town were unhesitatingly laid before him.

The Commissioners meet again on Friday morning and I trust you will enable me to lay an authenticated copy of the Petition and Signatures before them.

The request was again refused, but the promise was made that ‘when the Report is published, a copy of the Petition will be forwarded [to the Commissioners], and if it is determined that the Act shall be applied, copies of the signatures also’.107 It must now have been clear to the Commissioners that all they could do was to wait and, after what must have been a worrying six months, they finally received a copy of Cresy’s report at the end of January 1851.108 The Kentish Observer reported that this ‘put the advocates of the present anti-drainage and pro-cesspool system quite on the move, and consternation is depicted on their faces’. 109

In his report Cresy complained that ‘there is no provisions whatever to carry off the contents of the fetid cesspools which are sunk in the yards and houses of the town, and the present sewers are used entirely to carry off the pluvial waters’.15 He was surprised that although ‘farmers use manure, which is conveyed from the stables in the town, and sea-weed’ they did not use ‘other matters’ on the farms but these were ‘directed into a thousand pervious cesspools, to decompose and give out all their injurious gases, or by infiltration to affect the water, which finds its way into the various wells of the town’.

Cresy calculated that in the town there were 301 ‘stables, outbuildings, and warehouses, &c.’ and 1,970 houses on which rates were charged, with 1,974 rate payers. Of these houses, 520 were occupied by ‘professional and trading persons,’ and 201 by ‘independent persons’. The remaining 1,249 houses, rated at £10 and under, were occupied by ‘mechanics and servants’ and their families and, Cresy concluded, ‘a very great proportion . . .  are left a burthen to the parish, by the premature death of the man, whose constitution is unequal to endure the demands made upon it by labour, and the depressing influences of malaria; hence it is of the utmost importance that every means should be afforded him to bring up his family in a healthy habitation.’

Improving the conditions of the poor would, Cresy argued, save the town money as a large proportion of the town’s expenditure on the poor resulted from ‘the sickness which prevailed in the ill-drained and badly-ventilated habitations of the poor.’ From his visits to the poor parts of Margate he found that ‘the most deplorable and ill-contrived houses, which ought to be declared ruinous, and unfit for habitation, are resorted to on account of the low rents asked for them; and universally, on inquiring of those that occupied them if they received out-door relief from the Union, the answer is in the affirmative, and they have done so ever since they came into these unhealthy places; that now they were incapacitated from doing a fair day's work, and were unable to pay a higher rent, though anxious to remove from a locality which they are conscious is injurious to them; where they consequently linger, and bring up their wretched families, and are constantly imploring aid to drag on their miserable existence; when a change of situation to a pure air and wholesome water would fit them again for the duties they once probably performed.’

Cresy justified his general conclusions with a detailed report which is reproduced here in Appendix I. The flavour of his criticisms is shown by his report on Pump Court, one of the worst places in Margate:

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.

Cresy also reported on the lodging houses in High Street, Well’s Yard and Winter lane, together housing about 100 tramps. Lodging houses were defined as ‘a House in which two or more persons occupy the same room not being of the same family, or household’,303 and had long been identified as a problem in the town. In August 1844 the Kent Herald had reported on three cases of disorderly conduct at a lodging house at the top of the High street.304 In the first case Benjamin Beale had been committed to Dover for one month hard labour, for disorderly conduct. In the second, John Mason, a cabinet maker, was charged with assaulting his wife, and was fined 10s,or one month hard labour at Dover. In the third, Mary Ann Hinds and William White were charged with aiding and abetting John Mason, but were discharged. The Kent Herald was moved to comment:304

The locality of these fracas is one of the greatest nuisances of the town. Here it is that the longing-houses and ‘beggars' operas’ are held, and accommodation offered to upwards of 100 vagrants. The subject has been taken up very warmly by the magistrates, who have issued strict orders that notice be given to the holders of those houses, that if the nuisance be not abated by the 1st of September, informations will be laid against them in time for the October sessions. The magistrates have also requested the police to furnish them with a report of the state of those dens of iniquity every morning. The police observed that the house in question, where the assault took place, was one of the worst description, kept by a person of the name of Emmerson, at whose house from 18 to 20 persons, of both sexes, might be found nightly sleeping in one room, from which the cry of ‘murder’ & ‘police’ was to be heard at allhours of the night. The magistrates again expressed their determination to suppress so great a nuisance.

The following week a boy, Benjamin Divers, of Canterbury, was committed to Dover gaol for 1 month, for begging. The Kent Herald reported: ‘The poor boy slept at a man’s named Emmerson the previous night, in a room where there were 8 men, 3 women, a girl and himself’.305

Cresy’s reports on the lodging houses are given in Appendix I, and his conclusion is damning: ‘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.’ Cresy finally reported unfavourably on the burial grounds, particularly that of St. John’s, and on the slaughter houses and pig sties scattered throughout the town.

The solution to all these problems, Cresy decided, was to apply the Public Health Act to Margate, to set up a Local Board of Health, and to make them responsible for the sewerage and the water supply. He reminded the town that ‘the Public Health Act requires that every house should be supplied with pure and wholesome water, free from all contami­nation, and that it should be daily delivered in sufficient quantities for domestic purposes, as well as for maintaining the drains in a cleanly state, driving out any noxious gases that might otherwise accumulate,’ and that this required that ‘the supply to each house ought not to be less than 100 gallons per day upon an average.’ Because the wells within the town were contaminated with the soakage from cess pools and drains, this water supply would have to be pumped from wells on the outskirts of the town. He estimated that the daily requirement would be two hundred thousand gallons and that the cost of a piped water supply would be only about 5s. per year for houses rated at £5 or less, 10s. per year for houses rated between £5 and £10, and so on, with a total investment needed of about £14,000. As to drainage, Cresy did not feel able to make a proper estimate of cost without an accurate plan of the town. He thought that sewage water should no longer be pumped into the sea, and that a reservoir should be made ‘in either of the valleys, or in both, which run in a southerly direction from the town’. He estimated that ‘six miles of earthenware tubes of various diameters, proportioned to their service, would suffice to carry off from the backs of the houses all that they discharged, and the expense would be about £800 per mile or £4,800; and if that amount were borrowed by the Local Board for 30 years, the average annual instalments required would only be £284’. However, ‘some arrangements must . . . be made for pumping up the sewage of the low districts, which are below the level of a constant flow into the sea.’ 

His proposal was therefore to establish a Local Board of Health with 15 members.15 The members of Local Board of Health were to be ‘seized and possessed of real or personal estate, or both, to the value or amount of not less than £500 or shall be so resident or rated to the relief of the poor of the parish upon an annual value of not less than £20. He then summarized the improvements he thought necessary:

To remove all cesspools and receptacles of filthy and putrescent matters, to fill up excavations, and to establish a proper water-closet to every house with tubular pipe drainage in the rear of each that may be discharged into the sewers, provided to receive all that is required to be drained from it. That sinks and pipes for the carrying off all fluids may be placed conveniently for the use of the inhabitants, and pipes of discharge provided.

To provide an abundant supply of pure and wholesome water, which shall be constantly upon the mains and under a sufficient pressure, that it may be drawn from the first floors of all the houses in the town; and that each should have a pipe and tap for the necessary quantity for domestic purposes, as well as for cleansing, watering, scouring, flushing, or for the extinguishing of accidental fires.

To provide for the carting away all dung, offal, and refuse matters not discharged by the tubular sewerage, and to provide necessary dust-bins for its reception.

To improve the regulations with respect to the construction of dwelling-houses; to prevent buildings being erected where the courts and alleys are not so wide as the height of the intended structure, and to provide at all times in future that every house shall have a thorough ventilation through it.

To remove all slaughter-houses and form one for the general use of the butchers at a convenient distance from the town, under proper regulation, to establish proper lodging-houses for the tramps and vagrants, and also to provide a cemetery out of the town, and to prevent any further internments within the church or burial-grounds of any of the chapels.

To lay down sewers for the discharge of all that is necessary from the several houses, and to conduct it either to one or two reservoirs formed out of the town, into which it may flow or be pumped from the lower level, and that means may be taken to render it useful to the farmer and profitable to the town.