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Public Health: lack of recreational facilities in towns

from the Report of the Committee on the Health of Towns, 1840, No. XI, by John Robertson, a surgeon.

Until 12 years ago there was no paving [and sewage] Act in the township of Manchester, containing in the year 1831 upwards of 142,000 inhabitants. ... At the present time the paving of the streets proceeds rapidly in every direction, and great attention is given to the drains. It is gratifying to bear testimony to the zeal of the authorities in carrying on the salutary improvements, especially when it is known that no street can be paved and sewered without the consent of the owners of the property. Owing to this cause several important streets remain to this hour disgraceful nuisances.

Manchester had no Building Act, and hence, with the exception of certain central streets, over which the Police Act gives the Commissioners power, each proprietor builds as he pleases. New cottages ... huddled together row behind row, may be seen springing up in many parts... The Authorities cannot interfere. A cottage row may be badly drained, the streets may be full of pits, brimful of stagnant water, the receptacle of dead cats and dogs, yet no-one may find fault. Food is dear, labour scarce, and wages in many branches very low; disease and death are making unusual havoc. It is in such a depressed state of the manufacturing districts as at present exists that unpaved and badly sewered streets exhibit their malign influence on young and old...

Manchester has no public park ... where the population can walk and breathe fresh air. New streets are rapidly extending in every direction, and those who live in more populous quarters can seldom hope to see the green face of Nature.


from Chadwick's Sanitary Report

There are no public walks or places of recreation by which the thousands of labourers or their families can relieve the tedium of their monotonous employment. Pent up in a close, dusty atmosphere from half past five or six o' clock in the morning, till seven or eight o' clock at night, from week to week, without change, without intermission, it is not to be wondered at that they fly to the spirit and beer shops and the dancing houses.

Manchester is singularly destitute of these resources which conduce at once to health and recreation. With a teeming population she has no public walks or resorts for the community to snatch an hour's enjoyment.

Whole streets, unpaved and without drains or main sewers, are worn into deep ruts and holes in which water constantly stagnates, and are so covered with refuse and excrementious matter as to be almost impassable from depth of mud and intolerable from stench.

The inability of workmen to improve their conditions.

Taken from Chadwick's Sanitary Report (1842) pp. 231-233

I may assume that it has been proved that the labouring classes do possess the means comforts of superior dwellings, and also that they are not benefited by exemptions from the immediate charges wherever requisite to defray the expense of those superior comforts.

I shall now show how little it is in the power of these classes voluntarily to obtain these improvements - setting aside entirely the consideration of the obstacles arising from depraved habits already formed.

The workman's "location," as it is termed, is generally governed by his work, near which he must reside The sort of house, and often the particular house, may be said to be, and usually is, a monopoly. On arriving at manhood in a crowded neighbourhood, if he wishes to have a house, he must avail himself of the first vacancy that present itself; if there happen to be more houses vacant than one, the houses being usually of the same class, little range of choice is thereby presented to him. In particular neighbourhoods near Manchester, and in other parts of the county of Lancaster, in some other manufacturing and in some rural districts, instances occur of the erection of improved ranges of larger and better constructed houses for the labouring classes; and, making deduction for the occasional misuse of the increased space by sub-dividing them and overcrowding them with lodgers, the extent to which these improved tenements are sought, and the manner in which an improved rent is paid, afford gratifying evidence of an increasing disposition prevalent amongst artisans to avail themselves of such improvements These opportunities, however, are comparatively few, and occur in districts where multitudes continue in the most depressed condition, apparently without any power of emerging from it.

The individual labourer has little or no power over the internal structure and economy of the dwelling which has fallen to his lot. If the water be not laid on in the other houses in the street, or if it be unprovided with proper receptacles for refuse, it is not in the power of any individual workman who may perceive the advantages of such accommodations to procure them. He has as little control over the external economy of his residence as of the structure of the street before it, whether it shall be paved or unpaved, drained, or undrained. It may be said that he might cleanse the street before his own door, By some local acts the obligation to do so is imposed on the individual inhabitants. By those inhabitant who have servants this duty may be and is performed, but the labourer has no servant; all of his family who are capable of Labour are out a-field, or in the manufactory or the workshop, at daybreak, and return only at nightfall, and this regulation therefore is unavoidably neglected.

Under the slavery of the existing habits of labourers, it is found that the faculty of perceiving the advantage of a change is so obliterated as to render them incapable of using, or indifferent to the use of, the means of improvement which may happen to come within their reach. The sense of smell, for instance, which generally gives certain warning of the presence of malaria or gases noxious to the health, appears often to be obliterated in the labourer by his employment He appears to be insensible to anything but changes of temperature, and there is scarcely any stench which is not endured to avoid slight cold

It would have been matter of sincere congratulation to have met with more extensive evidence of spontaneous improvement amongst the classes in receipt of high wages, but nearly all the beneficial changes found in progress throughout the country are changes that have arisen from the efforts of persons of the superior classes. Inquiries have been made for plans of improved tenements, but none have been found which can be presented as improvement, originating with the class intended to be accommodated. In the rural districts, the worst of the new cottages are those erected on the borders of commons by the labourers themselves. In the manufacturing districts, the tenement erected by building clubs and by speculating builders of the class of the workmen, are frequently the subject of complaint, as being the least substantial and the most destitute of proper accommodation. The only conspicuous instances of improved residences of the labouring classes found in the rural districts are those which have been erected by opulent and benevolent landlords for the accommodation of the labourers on their own estates; and in the manufacturing districts, those erected by wealthy manufacturers for the accommodation of their own workpeople.

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