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Public Health: Overcrowding

A description of part of Stockton, from Chadwick's Sanitary Report

Shepherd's Buildings consist of two rows of houses with a street seven yards wide between them; each row consists of what are styled back and front houses - that is two houses placed back to back. There are no yards or out-conveniences; the privies are in the centre of each row, about a yard wide; over them is part of a sleeping-room; there is no ventilation in the bedrooms; each house contains two rooms, viz., a house place and sleeping room above; each room is about three yards wide and four long. In one of these houses there are nine persons belonging to one family, and the mother on the eve of her confinement. There are 44 houses in the two rows, and 22 cellars, all of the same size. The cellars are let off as separate dwellings; these are dark, damp, and very low, not more than six feet between the ceiling and floor. The street between the two rows is seven yards wide, in the centre of which is the common gutter, or more properly sink, into which all sorts of refuse is thrown; it is a foot in depth. Thus there is always a quantity of putrefying matter contaminating the air. At the end of the rows is a pool of water very shallow and stagnant, and a few yards further, a part of the town's gas works. In many of these dwellings there are four persons in one bed.

The Liverpool Domestic Mission 1847 Report

Houses of the lowest class were so overcrowded that it was common to see every room of the dwelling occupied by several families, without even a curtain to separate them. The wretchedness of the poor was the inevitable consequence of their circumstances and not necessarily their own fault.

Mr Riddall Wood's evidence to Chadwick; Sanitary Report 1842

In what towns did you find instances of the greatest crowding of the habitations?

In Manchester, Liverpool, Ashton-under-Lyne, and Pendleton. In a cellar in Pendleton, I recollect there were three beds in the two apartments of which the habitation consisted, but having no door between them, in one of which a man and his wife slept; in another, a man, his wife and child; and in a third two unmarried females. In Hull I have met with cases somewhat similar. A mother about 50 years of age, and her son I should think 25 at all events above 21, sleeping in the same bed, and a lodger in the same room. I have two or three instances in Hull in which a mother was sleeping with her grown up son, and in most cases there were other persons sleeping in the same room, in another bed. In a cellar in Liverpool, I found a mother and her grown-up daughters sleeping on a bed of chaff on the ground in one corner of the cellar, and in the other corner three sailors had their bed. I have met with upwards of 40 persons sleeping in the same room, married and single, including, of course, children and several young adult persons of either sex. In Manchester I could enumerate a variety of instances in which I found such promiscuous mixture of the sexes in sleeping-rooms.

Nottingham was surrounded by common land that could not be built upon. Consequently, the town became very overcrowded as the map shows (click on it for a larger view):

From An Inquiry into the State and Condition of Leeds, Robert Baker, 1842

Courts and Cul-de-sacs exist everywhere ... In one cul-de-sac in Leeds there are 34 houses, and in ordinary times there dwell in these houses 340 persons, or ten to every house. The name of this place is Boot and Shoe Yard, from whence the commissioners removed, in the days of Cholera, 75 cartloads of manure which had been untouched for years.

For the most part these houses are built back-to-back. ... A house of this description will contain a cellar, a house and chamber ...

To build the largest number of cottages on the smallest possible space seems to have been the original view of the speculators. Thus neighbourhoods have arisen in which there is neither water nor privies.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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