A Matter of Convenience: Sanitary Improvements in Working-class Housing in Lancashire 1830-1890

A presentation by Dr Alan Crosby

This really interesting and informative talk brought back many memories to the audience, as it also did to the speaker. It was surprising how many people had been touched in the earlier part of their lives by Victorian sanitary arrangements.

The growth of legislation and the development of technology went hand in hand with the improvements that occurred throughout the nineteenth century. In the earlier part of the century particularly, little provision if at all was made for the efficient disposal of human waste. One of the curious things about this topic was that the houses were generally built before sanitary provision was made. The Kirkdale area of Liverpool was a case in point where sanitary waste had to be carried out of the house and deposited in middens. These houses were inhabited till the 1930’s.

There were many different arrangements for disposal throughout Lancashire; each local authority made its own regulations. There were four basic methods to deal with the problem.

1. Private or public open ground with no systematic procedure for removal.
2. Private or communal ground removal by private enterprise.
3. Private or ground with subsequent removal and dumping without formal sanction in public space.
4. Controlled deposit in some form of receptacle and subsequent removal by private by private or public enterprise on a regular basis.

Removal by drains and sewers required organisation by a statutory organisation, local authority or limited company. This came later.

Dr Crosby gave us some examples. In 1841 Whitehaven had no provision at all! In Lytham in 1875 the “Nuisance Inspection for the Improvement Commission” described houses where human and animal waste rose to half way up the windows and this waste would be subsequently sold for manure once a year or sometimes every two years. Night soil collection had become typical by c.1900. Warrington used the water carriage method. However Warrington’s waste drained untreated into the River Mersey at Warrington Bridge. Blackburn’s local authority insisted on wider back accesses to allow carts to dispose of waste from the privies. Previous to this the narrow backs had huge heaps of night soil in a sort of hump configuration because the occupants shovelled the waste from their privies into the backs outside their houses.

Dr Crosby went on to describe the different technologies used for privies. There were ones over a cesspit often using ash-pits, dry earth closets, the tippler toilet and the Bevel Midden method to name but a few. Piped water supplies from the 1880’s onwards meant that flushing sewers started to come into use. In Bury and Manchester sink water was used which flushed the waste down the drains. These methods did alleviate the problems somewhat but it would be well into the 20th C when sanitary waste problems would be effectively solved.

The canals were used to take human and animal waste to the farming and market gardening areas of Lancashire. The canal barges had a lucrative trade in taking the phenomenal amount of waste from Liverpool to Burscough to be used in the market gardens of the district.

This talk gave us a fresh insight into the home lives of our not so distant forbears.

Report by Jeanette Dobson


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