THE SANITARY CONDITIONS
Article published in local newspaper circa 1878
Mr J.T. Harrison, C.E. Local Government Board Inspector, held an
inquiry yesterday, at the Board-room of the Guardians, Pontefract, with
reference to an application to the Local Government Board, from the
Sanitary Authority of the Rural Sanitary District of the Pontefract
Union, to borrow £7,000 for works of sewage for the chapelry of
Knottingley. Mr W.S. Wood, Clerk to the Guardians, represented the Rural
Sanitary Authority. Mr Sendall, Poor Law Inspector for the district, was
also present. A deputation from the town of Knottingley, comprising Mr
M. Stainsby, Mr John Wild, Mr G. Greenhow, Mr W. Worfolk amd Mr E.S.
Atkinson, appeared to oppose the scheme proposed by the Sanitary
Authority, or to obtain considerable modifications of the scheme.
Mr W.S. Wood, Clerk to the Pontefract Guardians, stated that the
population of Knottingley in 1871 was 4,039, and would have increased up
to the present date to 5,000 inhabitants. The rateable value was
£14,692. The parish was without any water supply except from wells, and
there was no sewage or drainage scheme. The medical officer for the
union, in his reports for several years back, had complained of the
evils arising, and the high death rate in the town, from the unsanitary
condition of the town. The Guardians, after due deliberation, had
adopted the scheme of Mr Best, C.E., of Bolton, inasmuch as the Vestry
at Knottingley had taken no steps to remedy the evils complained of. Mr
W. Best, C.E., Bolton, intruated to carry out the drainage scheme,
produced the plans.
Dr. Muscroft, medical officer for the whole of the Pontefract Union,
next gave the statistics as to the alarming death-rate of Knottingley
for several years back, which he attributed to the impure water supply
and imperfect drainage of the place. He handed in the following table of
deaths in Knottingley during the last five years:-
||Rate per 1,000 on basis of
Rata per 1,000 in the supposed calculation of the population being 5,000
equal to 23.3
The Holes at Knottingley was stated to be in a most frightful state for
want of drainage and water supply, the drains, if any, running into open
fields, whilst the inhabitants drank the canal water, which in dry
weather threw off a most obnoxious stench and was in a state of
fermentation, the drainage of Pontefract and Castleford being emptied,
as well as other places, into the river. The population was so large
that urgent steps were needed, and it was shown that in every report for
years back, Dr Muscroft had drawn attention to the serious evils of
imperfect sewerage and water supply.
Mr Harrison expressed himself perfectly satisfied that Dr Muscroft had,
as medical officer, entirely performed, in a creditable way, the
functions of his office in recommending the reforms in drainage for
Mr Sendall, Poor Law Inspector, asked whether any system of scavenging
was carried out at Knottingley, and this was elicited to be a dead
letter, no proper system being adopted.
Mr Harrison and Mr Sendall, each expressed surprise that a town with
some 5,000 population should be so neglected.
Mr Wheater, C.E., Leeds, corroborated the plans prepared by Mr Best as
being the only means to deal with the sewage of the town, which is
intended to be done by means of pumping on to the land in the district
east of Knottingley.
Mr W.A. Glover put in documents extending over years as to the state of
the place from statistics from the medical officer's reports.
Mr Harrison, the inspector, said, without going further, it was
perfectly evident that application was well grounded, and he did not
know what the gentlemen could say in opposition.
Mr W. Worfolk contended that, with the exception of dirty water from the
houses and the canal water, Knottingley was not so bad as had been
painted, for there was not a closet which was emptied into the drains of
the town. The greatest nuisance was the stench from the canal in dry
weather, when stirred up by the fans of the screw barges of the Aire and
Calder Canal Company, which passed up and down many times per day. He
disputed the assertions of Dr Muscroft that the bulk of the inhabitants
were in the habit of drinking the canal water which was polluted by the
sewage &c., from Pontefract, Wakefield, Leeds, and Bradford. He did not
consider the high death rate arose from the impure water or drainage of
the place. The deputation did not deny that drainage was required, but
the scheme as devised by Mr Best was too gigantic.
Mr Stainsby, Mr Greenhow and Mr E.S. Atkinson, likewise hoped the
Inspector would see fit to recommend a modified scheme. The death rate,
it was urged, was not calculating the number of persons who were absent
from Knottingley when the census was taken in 1871, some 900 persons
being away seafaring at the time. It was also held that the vestry
meeting at Knottingley strongly opposed the erection of engines to pump
the sewage. They considered that a gravitation system of drainage might
be carried out, as in some places. When a flood took place the proposed
drainage scheme would be inoperative.
Mr Harrison said he favoured the latter system of drainage by
gravitation, but did not see how in this case it could be carried out.
He considered the application as made by the Rural Sanitary Authority as
fully established. He would visit the town of Knottingley and would
forward his report to the Local Government Board.