Death, disease and public nuisances
The shocking state of Walkern in 1856.
An article by Janet Woodall and Eleanor Waldock, orginally in the Walkern Journal
On 21 June 1856, a new committee was formed in Walkern ?for the purpose of putting into force the Nuisance Act and endeavour to check the fever laying at that time in the village?. The first action of this committee was to survey the village for the state of its sanitation, and this survey was documented by George Beecroft, who was to be Walkern?s Inspector of Sanitation for the next 6 years
Members of the committee and those who are mentioned in the report, represent all walks of life in Walkern at that time, and Eleanor and I think this an excellent way to introduce these characters, many of whom who we will write about in future issues of the WJ.
The Removal of Nuisances and Prevention of Epidemic Diseases Act of 1848 (a ?nuisance? in this context refers to poorly maintained household sanitation) was in response to the spread of typhus and the fear of cholera in the desperately overcrowded housing of the poor. Indeed, the publication of the Act coincided with a dreaded cholera epidemic. In November 1848 John Izzard Pryor, the squire of Clay Hall (now Walkern Hall) noted in his diary
‘I attended a Vestry [a forerunner of our Parish Council] soon after 11 this morning to consider putting in force the sanitary measures recommended by Government and sent down to the Guardians of the parishes through the kingdom for warding off as much as possible an attack of cholera. There were only three of us present – Mr. Harding [the Rector], Mr. Rowlatt our guardian, and myself. We made out a list of names for a committee of inspection, informed them of it, and adjourned the vestry to the 13 November to hear their report.’
At the next Vestry ?The persons appointed last week, having merely taken a cursory view, were directed to make a general inspection throughout the village and to give notice that if all the nuisances they remarked were not removed in the course of the week, the names of those who did not comply would be reported. A week was to be given for the removal of general nuisances and a fortnight for the erection of privies.’
The response in Walkern was, it would seem, apathetic, despite cholera moving closer. Pryor noted in January 1849 ‘There have been six deaths by cholera in the Gaol at Hertford and in other places it has become serious.’ And by October there was ?a sad account of several cases of cholera fatal in a few hours, in Norton Street [Baldock].’ On 13 November ‘Mr Harding called and brought a paper respecting the Orphan Asylum at Wanstead particularly adapted for taking orphans of parents dying of cholera, and hoping that a subscription might be made on Friday next after the morning service, as it is a day set apart for thanksgiving to God for the great decrease of that scourge which it is calculated has been the death of 15,000 persons in Great Britain.’
In fact, the cholera epidemic of 1848 caused about 60,000 deaths in Great Britain, 14,000 of them in London. The same year saw an influenza pandemic through which there were about 50,000 deaths in London alone.
Although links had been made between poor sanitation, unclean drinking water and disease, it wasn?t until 1855, when an amendment of the Nuisance Act made it obligatory for every Vestry to appoint an Inspector of Nuisances, that real improvements began to be made.
So in June 1856, the Walkern Sanitary Committee was formed with the Rev John Harding in the Chair, Mr Thomas Rowlatt, farmer at Walkern Place (now Manor Farm) and Walkern?s Guardian of the Poor; Mr Edward Pearman, Churchwarden and farmer at Boxbury farm; Walkern?s two Surveyors of Roads, farmers Samuel Porter (Finches Farm) and Robert Hill (Walkernbury); John Martin, a saddler living near the site of Walkern Gallery; Thomas Garratt, Gentleman and miller, resident of the Water Mill; and George Beecroft, Walkern?s newly appointed Sanitary Inspector who lived at the north end of the village in what we now call Beecroft Lane.
The following are extracts from the minutes of the Sanitary Committee (HALS doc D/P 114 24/1) in those initial days, written by George Beecroft. I have added explanatory notes in square brackets.
On Monday 30 June and Tuesday 1 July 1856, the committee walked around the village and ?examined the following premises for sanitary purposes?.
Carpenter no proper privy accommodation, cottages in a very bad state. The only privy was in the middle cottage and much too near, causing very bad smells. Seven cases of fever, one death. 14 November, Notice of Nuisance served on Mr George Aylott. [The carpenter George Aylott lived next to the Red Lion, now Redlyn, on the high street]
Dilley?s cottages in a worst state if possible. Bad privy accommodation, a filth hole at the back running into the road, five cases of fever, one death. 16 August a Notice of Nuisance served to Philip Dilley to remove filth holes and erect proper privy accommodation. [Philip Dilley was the publican at the Red Lion and shopkeeper].
The privy and yard drainage running at the back of Dilley?s into the same drainage causing an overflow and very bad smells. One death from fever.
Mr Overill?s cottages, privy to be kept emptied, too near the house causing a great nuisance in the same. 16 August, Mrs Overill to remove nuisance from the front of her cottages near the church. Obeyed by laying down a pipe drainage and cesspool. [Straw carter James Overill and his wife Sarah, a laundress, lived in one of two cottages next to St Mary?s Church].
The Rev John Harding. Bad drainage from the cottage yard causing stagnant water etc in the Church Lane road. 2 August a Notice to the Rev J Harding of bad drainage to the Glebe cottage ? obeyed. [Glebe Farm, which burnt down in 1910, was in the ground of the old rectory opposite what is now called Glebe View]
Winter?s drainage also running into the road in a bad state. Notice of nuisance served on 1 August on James Winter?s cottage. [Agricultural labourer, James Winters lived with his wife Margaret, a straw plaiter, and their large family at what is now called Wych Elm cottage at Church End lane, next to Bridgefoot farm]
Mr James Savage yard. Drainage also causing stagnant water and filth by the roadside. 1st August Notice of Nuisance served on Mr James Savage yard drainage. Friday November 14, ordered by the chairman to serve a notice on Mr James Savage of the Bridgefoot Farm for immediate abatement of the nuisance complained of on first day of august last.
Hammond?s privy ordered to be emptied ? obeyed. [William Hammond, maltmaker, lived with his wife Jemima, a straw plaiter, and family at Church End]
The Rev J Harding?s cottages. Privy to be emptied ? obeyed ? but still too near the houses causing very bad smells. [Probably Cambridge cottages which were opposite the church car park in Bockings]
The drainage from the White Lion to be altered. Runs into the Bury Lane [Winters Lane] causing bad smells. Messrs Cannon, ditto. [The White Lion was run by Edward Elliott and his family. Owen Cannon, higgler, poulterer and ?carrier? to Hertford, lived on the main road at the corner of Winters Lane across from the White Lion]
William Bray?s, ditto. The road into the same ? will do anything in reason to alter the nuisance. [William Bray, master wheelwright and smith, lived close to the Red Lion]
Handcock?s privy to be emptied. J Spriggins, ditto ? obeyed next day [William Handcock, agricultural labourer and road man, lived with his family in a cottage next to Walkern Place now called Manor Farm. John Spriggins, bricklayer, lived with his wife Kitty and family in Winters Lane]
Mr Ebenezer Andrew?s privy and filth runs through the garden into the cellar of house, the property of Rev Richard Ward, in the occupation of George Carter into the High Street. On July 29 a Notice of Nuisance served on Mr Ebenezer Andrews. [Irascible farmer Ebenezer Andrews lived at what is now Walkern Gallery. Rev Richard Ward owned property in Walkern but didn?t live in the village. George Carter lived between the Gallery and Walkern Place (Manor Farm)].
Likewise, privy and filth runs through the garden into the cellar of house from drainage by Cock?s shop? also causing an overflow and stoppage by Knott?s shop running across the High Road. July 31 a Notice of Nuisance ordered Charles Cock to remove or cover a foul cesspool ? obeyed. [Charles Cock was the village whitesmith, living between the Yew Tree and the Red Lion]
Mr Thomas Stockbridge, privy to be removed and drainage to be put in proper order, will do anything necessary to prevent the same. [Thomas Stockbridge?s bakery was in the group of cottages opposite Posy Palace?see photo on next page]
The Rev Ward to have a drain at ditch in Froghall Lane. Mr Young, proper privy accommodation. Pigsties removed and do away with filth hole behind ? a very bad case. Humphries cottages Froghall Lane, but one privy for 28-30 persons. Cottage and drainage in very bad state.
The fever at this time very bad in these cottages. Rev J Harding to have the drainage from Froghall Lane to Stevenage Road put in proper order. [Rev Ward owned the property and land lying at the corner of Froghall Lane on the north side. Edward Humphrey owned the cottages that were at that time the furthest along Froghall Lane?s north side]
Mr Edward Pearman [Boxbury Farm]. Privy of cottage by Stevenage Road to be removed. Mr Porter [Finches Farm] to alter the drainage of cottages by the Stevenage lane.
Mr Porter?s premises, the back of HG Eliott?s [Yew Tree] and Dickenson?s [Joseph Dickensen, shoemaker] very bad smells, to be altered
William Warner [Straw thatcher, Totts Lane]. A filth hole ordered to be removed ? obeyed the next day.
Over the next few years, George Beecroft had sharp exchanges of view with several villagers, issued several court summons, resigned from the committee and was persuaded back, finally leaving that post in 1862.