Weare’s Buildings, Bedminster, Bristol 1931
Image by brizzle born and bred
This photograph provides a fascinating record of a 1930s slum: many of the residents have come outside their front doors to be in the photograph taken by the City Council shortly before demolition; women and children predominate — the men being at work, or just out. With Hope Square, off Stillhouse Lane in Bedminster, which ran close to the back of the row on the left, these Georgian houses of about 1810 to 1820 formed a small self-contained world, hemmed in by adjoining factories and reached only by a narrow passage-way from York Road, off to the right.
By 1930 they ranked among the worst slum properties in the city, and were condemned in 1931 in accordance with the 1930 Housing Act; the inhabitants were rehoused in new council houses in Bedminster and Knowle.
They were two-up, two-down dwellings: two bedrooms were reached by a narrow twisting stairway located between the front parlour and the kitchen. The kitchens had a range with an oven and opened on to a tiny back yard — 9 ft by 5 ft — which contained a sink and cold water tap open to the elements. On one side of the yard, housed in a small, single-storey lean-to, was a WC without a flush, and on the other side was another small structure housing a washing copper. The yards and outhouses of Hope Square backed on to those of Weare’s Buildings, so that the rear walls of the two rows of houses were only about 10 ft apart, providing little light and poor ventilation. While there were narrow gardens at the front with valuable space for drying washing, they, too, must have seen little sun and appear to contain old junk and wooden hutches.
Added to the almost perpetual gloom in which the occupants lived, they also had to tolerate the smells at close quarters from two of the most obnoxious industries conceivable leather tanning and the manufacture of glue from animal bones. No wonder the incidence of mortality and disease was high in this little quarter.
The census of 1851 recorded half of the population of Britain as living in towns – the first society in human history to do so. Over the previous 70 years, the population of Britain had risen at an unprecedented rate, passing the levels reached in earlier period of growth when the population had been decimated by epidemics such as the Black Death in the early 14th century.
Life in Britain’s towns and cities was not pleasant during the 19th century, and was a far cry from the living conditions that we have today. The streets were often filthy, with drains and sewers blocked and overflowing with sewage. Sanitation was poor and inefficient. Toilet facilities were crude and Night Soil Men were employed to remove human waste during the night – not a pleasant job!
The stench must have been awful and on a warm day completely overwhelming. In these conditions, water was often contaminated and unfit to drink and so it comes as no surprise that death and disease were commonplace.
When and where man has crowded together, his self imposed sanitary conditions have left much to be desired. Even animals have their soiling ground – apart from where they live and sleep. Generations of Bristolians have seen fit to live among their perpetually created filth and rubbish.
It might be argued that the circumstances of the poorer classes were such as to make it impossible for them to live in any other way.
To a great extent, this is true, but, at the same time as the poorer people of the 18th and 19th centuries were living under what we now consider to have been unbearable conditions, the wealthier classes, in spite of the. material advantages and fine clothes, were dirty in their personal hygiene an habits.
It was not really until the public health laws came into force and, what more important, were enforced, that some form of order was established. Local authorities, who had to raise rates for road improvement, sewage disposal etc. were often reluctant to do so, and one reason would have been that such impositions, of influential rate-payers, would have prejudiced the chances of individuals at subs quent council elections.
There had been some recognition, as early as the time of the plagues, of a possible connection between the filth of the streets and disease. Attempts were made to clean up public highways by appointing Scavengers, or Rakers, for this thankless task.
Way-Wardens – Felix Parley’s Journal, in the second half of the 18th century carries advertisements, on behalf of various parishes, of yearly contracts for sweeping, twice a week, the streets, lanes and public places.
At the end of each advertisement was appended the names of the relevant Way-Wardens. The latter were appointed by the Parish Council. Human and animal dung were all thrown out into the streets and it is little wonder that the wealthier classes held scented handkerchiefs to their nose, to offset the stench which was always present.
In addition, there would also be thrown out, the after effects slaughtering, decaying vegetables and ashes. In order to walk through the muddy muck of the streets, pattens were worn on the shoes to raise them up from the road. John Veer, formerly a Nailer of 5 Bedminster Causeway, had, in 1837, changed his trade to that of Patten-ring maker and moved to 9, Castle Mill Street. For him to have changed his occupation one can assume, therefore, that there was still a steady demand for pattens because of the atrocious condition of the roads.
Wakefield family of Bedminster – The condition of the Bedminster streets gave rise to comment in 1850 when it was reported that none of the 63 streets was being scavenged; filth was piled up several feet in height along the main thoroughfares. After this report arrangements were made for cleansing the roads by the appointments of Scavengers. The first contract for this work was given to the Wakefield family. In September 1854 badges were approved for issue to official scavengers at the cost of 2s 3d each – no small sum at the time.
Martha and Samuel Wakefield were often the subject of complaints and one in 1851 concerned the putrid smell arising from their yards at Dean Lane and Old Ashton Road.
Because of the frequent complaints laid against the Wakefields one must conclude that the nature of their work was not to many people’s taste. Otherwise, they would surely have lost their contract. In June 1853 Martha and Samuel Wakefield were found guilty of not using water before sweeping and cleansing, for using an uncovered cart and failing to clean up Shim Lane. For this they were fined five shillings for using an uncovered cart and ten shillings for each of the other two offences, plus costs.
In November of the same year the Wakefields were again taken to task for depositing loads of ashes at Dean Lane and North Street. This was contrary to their terms of contract i.e. depositing within the City and County of Bristol. In his defence, Wakefield stated that the ashes were only there at the yards for the purpose of screening and using in his lime kiln. It was general practice to screen sift ashes and sell them to masons. The remainder of the refuse, dung etc, was, or the most part, used for horticultural and agricultural purposes. Similar complaints were still being laid against them in 1857.
The keeping of pigs close to houses in relatively built-up areas was quite common in the 19th century and the Health Reports of the 1850’s contain many examples of this practice.
Pigs were kept in Hope Square, North Street, Bedminster Parade, York Street and at the rear of Brown’s Buildings in Whitehouse Street. But an inspector investigating a complaint of pigs being kept in Stillhouse Lane, found them in clean condition and not a nuisance.
It would seem, therefore, that the Health authorities allowed the keeping of pigs in close proximity to houses as long as no undue filth was allowed to accumulate.
James Taylor’s complaint of Samuel Smith’s pigs in Marsh Lane was turned down on the grounds that the animals were on ground outside the boundary of the local Board of Health jurisdiction, even though the smell of the pigs was not.
In Cannon Street, Moses Reynolds complained of Henry Williams burning pigs and melting fat at his piggery, but nothing seems to have been done about this complaint.
On the other hand, a complaint against the boiling ‘of putrid pigs’ by William Bobbett, was explained by the inspector as a justified procedure being done officially, as ‘the carcases were those condemned by the magistrates’.
In addition to the nuisance caused by deposits of filth and the close proximity of animals to houses, not least was the effect upon the environment by local industry.
In the early 1850’s a petition was got up and signed, by 293 people of Totterdown, Bath Road, the New Cut and neighbourhood, in respect of the nauseous smoke and vapour emitted, both night and day, from the Alkali Works near Marsh Bridge, St Philip’s. In addition, they complained of the several thousand tons of waste deposited upon St Philip’s Marsh, which filled the surrounding atmosphere with an abominable smell of Sulphurated Hydrogen. After heavy rain this waste tended to percolate into the ground, polluting nearby wells.
There was no clause, at the time, by which the authorities could prevent this pollution, apart from trying to persuade Messrs Leonard, Jordan and Co. to remove the deposits. The first thing the company did was to lay the blame at the door, or rather the yard, of local scavengers, the Wakefield family. Their record for creating a public nuisance being what it was, the accusation might be seen, in some circles, to be justified. However, in this instance, they were absolved from blame.
The company then endeavoured to prove that nearby wells, said to be polluted, were in fact ‘sweet and wholesome’; that the area concerned had never been clean due to inundation by the river, at full tide, and the clay pits were used as rubbish dumps. They further claimed that they had converted some of the waste areas into fruitful gardens and that their waste made excellent manure.
The Bristol Gas Works nearby was said by the company to cause a stench which came over the works of Messrs Leonard, Jordan and Co. ‘so powerful and offensive as to produce extreme nausea, that our men can scarcely eat their meals, or proceed with their. work’.
All good diversionary tactics. However, it was obvious that the company were fully aware of the offensive byproducts of their manufactory for they concluded with a veiled threat: ‘It is apparent, when the wind is from the north (which is not very common) the inhabitants of Totterdown do smell all the manufactories of St. Philip’s, many of them consuming larger quantities of fuel than we do, and if the objecting parties should be successful in putting down the Alkali Works, they will find their position very much the same as before and they may then take Into their heads to make a combined attack upon some other establishments that give bread to thousands and so, by degrees, (if the citizens will generally support them) this great hive of industry will become a desert.The theme of the company’s reply has been used in recent years over the consequences of industrial environment and people’s health’.
In spite of their protestations the company lost their argument. A report by George Clark Esq. to the Board of Health of the 3rd April 1860, stated that, in the opinion of the writer, vapours from the refuse and the work’s chimneys were a nuisance deserving immediate attention. When this conclusion was corroborated by Mr F.W. Griffiths of the Bristol School of Chemistry, the Board made Messrs Leonard, Jordan and Co. fill in the offending, open pools – two years later. This was the best which could be done under laws existing, although they did have the power to prevent an extension of such works.
Tanneries and their affiliated trades were a common cause of complaint, mainly due to the discharge of effluent from their premises into the surrounding areas. In 1850 the tanneries on either side of East Street were guilty of this and the large tannery, which was then on the site of what is now Courage Western Ltd, was cited as being particularly offensive.
Apart from the use of lime in the tanning process, some use was made of baths of decomposing dog-dung to soften the hides. There is an indication that this latter process was used in Bedminster by at least one tanner on a regular basis.
In August 1852 it was reported that a sewer, behind Hillgrove, Bishop and Sargent Streets and Water’s Place, was blocked at the upper end, to a depth of four feet, with Tanner’s Slab (hair and lime) coming from Messrs Cox and Co. Stillhouse Lane.
In 1853 the Bristol Board of Health asked Messrs Stephen Cox and Co to discontinue the practice of burning Wet Tan at their premises in Whitehouse Street. Cornish and Parnell, solicitors for the company, maintained that the burning of Wet Tan was not a nuisance, neither did it give off any noxious or offensive odour.
In addition, during the last visitation of cholera, the Tan Burners were inspected by four eminent surgeons who pronounced the smoke or vapour to be beneficial to health and not in any way objectionable; and further said, the tan burner is not newly established but, on the contrary, was built many years previously to the Act of 11 and 12 Vict c 63 coming into operation and from the time of its erection to the present time, had been in use without any complaint having been made before that expressed in this letter from the Board’.
This opinion of the ‘eminent surgeons’ is reminiscent of the belief, during the years of the Plague, that offensive smells could keep away disease. Untold numbers of people spent most of their time crouched over foul-smelling privies during the times of visitation. Even as late as 1929, in Norfolk at least, there persisted a belief that by holding a child upside-down over a privy, it would cure the whooping cough. Today we must be truly thankful for the small mercies of small pills instead.
Other offensive trades giving rise to complaint were many. The following reports are examples. In July 1852, Felix Jones complained of ‘fleshings’ from hides deposited in a field opposite his house in Whitehouse Lane. September 1852, Thomas Palmer removed his business of Glue and Size Boiler from No 12 Bedminster Causeway, to near Brightbow Bridge. Palmer also manufactured sand-paper.
Prior to his leaving he had had complaints concerning the fleshings he had allowed to decompose on his premises. At the new premises he was reported, in 1864, for a horrible smell arising from his works, by Harry Cowlin, and he was asked to improve the situation by the Board. In 1855 Palmer tried to move to new premises at Brightbow but his request was denied on several occasions. At Richmond Terrace, in 1854 a desirable area in which to live, E.H. Hamilton complained of hair and fleshings being allowed to decompose on adjacent land. They had been put out to dry by the adjoining tanyard, as had been the practice for several years, but as that summer had been a wet one, they had become ‘high’.
Fleshings and butcher’s offal were common offenders, together with slaughterhouses. It was decided to advertise in the local press requesting all butchers and slaughterhouse keepers to register with the Board. By 1894, the following slaughterhouses were registered in Bedminster.
Mr Moden 7, North Street – Mr Totterhill 2, North Street
Mr Turner 115, East Street – Perrett & Co 10-11 East Street
Mr Woodhall 82, Bedminster Parade – Mr Jarvis New Inn Yard
Mr Woodhall 66, Bedminster Parade
Mr Orchard 20, Bedminster Parade – Mr Pitman 14, Bedminster Parade
Mr Baker 64, Whitehouse Street – Adams Bros. 1, Weare Street.
The 1850 Health Report mentions: ‘Following the Ashton Road there are three large scavenger’s yards. The manure is for sale at almost any price to fetch, or from 6d to 1/- per ton. It is disposed of principally to the tanners. Mr Miles takes a great deal’.
From early days the significance of industrial pollution upon the health of the public, especially in towns, was recognised by medical authorities. The extent of ever-increasing air pollution during the 19th century may be gauged from a progressive increase in the use of coal for the industrial machine.
Year Amount of coal produced 1815 16,000,000 tons – 1835 30,000,000 tons
1848 50,000,000 tons – 1873 1,000,000 tons – There was then a progressive increase to 219,000,000 tons by the end of the century. Because of the inefficient burning of coal fuel, an ever-present pall of smoke hung over the industrial sections of the city. An atmosphere which turned into sulphurous, smoke-laden smog at certain times of the year, attacking the lungs of those who lived within its reaches. Others experienced its lung corrosive potential only when the prevailing westerly winds carried it to them.
The City of Bristol itself escaped much of this pollution, but the parishes of St Philip’s, Redcliffe and Bedminster were under constant sufferance. St Philip’s was particularly affected, for the western breeze brought smoke and fumes from the manufactories of Redcliffe and Bedminster, to add to the districts own atmosphere.
The iron and steel trade produced brown smoke laden with iron-oxide. Factories producing alkalies, such as soda, sent clouds of hydrochloric acid gas into the atmosphere. All three of the above parishes contained some, or all types, of metal manufacturing works, potteries and chemical processing plants.
At the Shot Tower in Redcliff Hill the quality of the finished product was due to the high content of arsenic in the Mendip lead. Later, when Mendip lead was not so freely available, other types of lead were used and arsenic added during the process, at a ratio of 45 lbs of arsenic to 1 ton of lead.
A newspaper reporter stated in 1883 ‘The walls of which (the tower) are crusted over with a foul, greenish deposit, of a mixture of sulphur and arsenic. The sulphur emanating from the lead in fusion’.
The fall-out from this alone must have taken a terrible toll of the nearby populace.
The effect of pollution on the nearby St Mary Redcliff Church was such that by 1842 it was in a sorry state. Restoration work was done between the years 1848-1854, but the work was not completed until 1872, when the spire was also added. Up to the latter half of the 19th century the general living conditions in Bedminster left much to be desired. Low situated houses were crowded together and few had adequate drainage, or access to a sewer; cess-pits and pools overflowed haphazardly in gardens, streets and the adjoining fields.
Some houses were so positioned that their sewage, or similar waste from adjoining houses, flowed back into them. In the courts about Stillhouse Lane, the population was particularly dense at this time. Many houses were back-to-back, thus having no back premises for a toilet. Altogether, few had privies or an adequate supply of fresh water. Many dwellings had floors lower than the outside street due to a build-up, over the years, of filth thrown out from the houses, as there was no means of disposing of refuse.
Prior to 1850, there were only 4 public pumps, or wells, in the district. Of the 1,517 private wells, 1,389 were judged to be good and the remaining 128 bad. However, all wells were at risk because of bad drainage, for ditches winding their way among the dwellings were depositories for industrial and household rubbish, discharge and sewage.
Most water was spring water – of suspect quality – and this in sparse supply during a hot summer. It was not unusual for people to fetch water from up to half a mile away for domestic purposes. Even the substantial buildings of Redcliff Crescent, (now York Road) letting at £22 and £26 per annum, had no spring water. Most of the small houses had cisterns to collect rainwater, but as supply depended on the vagaries of the climate, it was not reliable.
Later, when company water became procurable, house-owners did not always go to the expense of having it piped for their tenants. And, as the installation of piped water invariably meant a rise in the rent to offset the cost, some tenants themselves did not always press for this convenient supply.
The 1850 Health Report describes a typical drainage condition in Bedminster. In North Street there is an open drain from Messrs Sydney’s Colliery, to that of Mr Benjamin Pain – about 360 yards, with a privy and sink drains from a large boarding school and forty houses running into it.
A continuation of the same drain, covered over and about a foot square, in 382 yards receives the drains of 121 houses. The same drain runs into an open ditch, 316 yards long and receives the drains from 28 houses. It then joins the main culvert, passing under Coronation Road to the New Cut.
The boarding school mentioned would have been Bedminster House, run by Mr Goulstone. The price to empty and cleanse cess-pools varied. Under favourable conditions of access the contents had to be carried a considerable distance in buckets to carts. There was the opening and closing up again so that it seldom cost less than 7s 6d per cubit yard and usually the carts would not take more than half a yard at a time.
Most cess-pools were 12 feet long, 7 feet wide and 10 feet deep, so that the cost of getting them emptied was not insignificant and this, more often than not, led to them being neglected.
Cholera – With the aforementioned conditions existing, it was not surprising that when epidemics of cholera broke out in Bristol, Bedminster was one of the areas with a high incidence of case. The following table identifies where deaths occurred in the Bedminster district. It is from the General Board of Health Report of 1849.
Allen’s Court – Deaths 2 – Knowle Lane -1 – Brightbow – 19
Luckwell Lane – 2 – Bull Lane – 4 Limekiln Dock -1
Baynton’s Buildings – 19 – Mill Lane – 1 – Bagg’s Court – 5
North Street – 15 – Bedminster Down – 6 – Philip Street – 1
Boot Lane – 1 – Prince’s Street – 4 Bedminster Causeway – 1
Parson Street – 1 – Back Lane – 3 – Regent Street – 1
Browning’s Alley – 3 – Southey’s Paddock – 11 – Charlotte Place – 1
Sargeant Street – 2 – Clarence Place – 1 – Stillhouse Lane – 5
Colston Street – 4 – Spring Street – 1 – Clarence Square – 4
Somerset Terrace – 1 – Dean Lane – 8 – Sion Terrace -1
Devonport Street – 4 – Sidney’s Buildings – 1 – East Street – 2
Water’s Place – 5 – Hanley’s Buildings – 2 – West Street – 25
Hope Square – 2 – Windmill Hill – 3 – King Street – 14
Waterloo Square – 2
The living conditions at Brightbow at the time of the 1849 epidemic and where 19 deaths were recorded, are graphically detailed in the 1850 report.
(1) First case (of cholera) in the Paddock was a woman who died. Under the bed on which she lay was found putrid meat, bones and maggots. The woman herself was a drunkard with her husband having twice had delirius tremens.
(2) Then died a man named Witnell, who lives next door. Then a woman named Wilcox at whose front door were two or three pigs. Bamall and son-in-law died. Three feet from the front door of their house was a muck heap, of course. Lawrence and one or two more died making together a fearful number.
At Bnghtbow No 1 died a man and a boy and an old man.
At No.2 – Hancock father and mother and two children.
At No 3 – one man.
At No 4 – one woman who had sold fish and kept pigs, which tainted the whole neighbourhood.
Numbers 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – all more or less clean – no pigs, no deaths.
Baynton’s Buildings, where 25 deaths occurred, were near the Ashton Gate Turn pike. The location here was similar to that near Brightbow; low marshy ground, poor quality houses and tenements, pig sties at the rear of the buildings and a large open ditch which received sewage.
As a consequence of this epidemic a special hospital was opened at Wapping for Cholera cases. 35 deaths were reported there. When an outbreak of cholera occurred in 1832, a notice was printed and issued by the Bristol Board of Health, giving certain directions to the general public.
Preventative Directionswere – Avoid all kinds of food that have a tendency to relax the bowels, and particularly guard against overloading the stomach. Make use of a dry nutritive diet, of which well boiled rice is an excellent article. Eat fruit and garden stuff sparingly, and abstain from fat luscious meats. No meal requires more caution than supper, for Cholera occurs most frequently at night or early in the morning.
Observe the most rigid temperance in every thing. It is desirable that the body should be braced up to its full natural strength; but, in endeavouring to obtain this object, you cannot be too careful to avoid undue excitement, which necessarily followed by depression and weakness. Do not think, therefore, that you will maintain your strength by drinking spirits or other strong liquors; such attempts are useless and dangerous – the intemperate are most frequently attacked, and most rarely recover.
Take exercise in the open air, in fine weather, but not to the extent of fatigue or profuse perspiration. Avoid draughts of air, and sitting in wet clothes. It is of the utmost importance that the whole body, but particularly the feet, should be kept warm. Remain at home as much as possible after sun-set.
Looseness of the bowels should be immediately attended to, as it is the most frequent commencement of the disease. Lose no time, therefore, in seeking medical aid for the relief of this complaint.
As Cholera prevails most in dirty and confined apartments, keep your dwellings well-aired, and in the greatest possible cleanliness. You cannot be too cautious against crowding together in small rooms, as those in public-houses.
Directions to persons whose friends or neighbours may be attacked.
Remember the course of the disease is fearfully rapid, and therefore requires the most prompt and vigorous treatment; that constant attention must be afforded, as well as a great variety of measures, many of which are extremely difficult, and some impossible to carry into execution in your houses.
It is consequently your duty to urge the immediate removal of the sick to the hospitals, which have been specially provided for Cholera patients. In these places good medical assistance, and the attendance of nurses will be constantly at hand for the proper management and care of the disease.
Ask those who have returned to their homes from the hospitals how they have been received and treated; if they tell you the truth, you will be glad to persuade your friends (should it please God to afflict them) to enter these excellent establishments.
In all cases apply, without a moment’s delay, to the Medical Inspector of the District and when unavoidable circumstances prevent the sick from being taken to the Hospitals, observe and execute, with the utmost care and faithfulness, every measure which that Gentelman may think proper to direct.
During the time occupied in sending for assistance, let the person attacked be placed in hot blankets and apply heated bricks or bottles of hot water to the feet, and a mustard poultice to the pit of the stomach.
When a death has unhappily occurred, give instant notice of it to the Medical Inspector, in order that, for the sake of the survivors, the interment of the body may be accomplished within a few hours. Signed J.A. Symonds M.D.
In 1834 a pamphlet was issued with a simple remedy said to help relieve the symptoms of Cholera. The suggestions were – (1) Take a table-spoonful of brandy, as much powdered rhubarb as will lie on a shilling.
(2) Make a strong tea of camomile flowers, mallows and mint, either dry or green, and take a tea-cupful frequently.
(3) Get two pieces of wood, each six inches square, and one inch thick, place one of them against the bars of the fire grate, or in a heated oven, till quite hot, wrap it in a flannel and lay it on the bowels.
After the onset of the epidemics of the early 19th century, it was recognised by the medical profession that Cholera was a violent form of dysentry. Usually, when the patient was removed, he was either violently sick or had an evacuation of the bowels.
The main problem with these periodic discharges, was drastic loss of body fluid and in the majority of cases, when the doctor called, he would find the patient’s bed and floor awash with fluid. In overcrowded, small-roomed tenements, with no privies, and no access to decent drinking water (the latter having probably carried the disease in the first instance) many people died in horrific circumstances. It was, on the whole, a disease peculiar to the poor, bred and spread by unsanitary living conditions.
The instructions given in the first notice could have held little meaning to those most likely to be affected. Their diet was governed by the amount of money available to buy their food; their drinking habits no doubt encouraged by the lack of decent, wholesome, water. They took exercise in the open air in the normal course of their employment, but not without fatigue, while the mining fraternity worked in draughts and wet conditions.
It was not possible to keep the poorer dwellings well aired for, if they were back-to-back, there was no through airflow. To the people of the courts, alleys and side streets of Bedminster, the caution of crowding together in small rooms must have seemed ludicrous. The hint concerning frequenting of public houses no doubt went unheeded, when these establishments often offered far more comfort than unheated, overcrowded homes.
The Cholera epidemic of 1849 and the subsequent reports emphasising the unhygienic and insanitary conditions in the city generally, brought about a greater awareness of public health. From 1851 onwards, the minutes of the Bristol Sanitary Committee show steps taken to cure the conditions which had aided the spread of diseases such as Cholera.
The Committee acted on complaints brought to their attention concerning not only drains and offensive trades etc – as mentioned previously – but also in the matter of the condition of roads and footpaths. After a complaint by Thomas Vear in 1854 of the state of the paving in front of Bateman’s Buildings, Brown’s Row, notice was served on the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company to make the necessary repairs. Sometimes, after complaints by tenants, the owners of houses would be told to put the road in a satisfactory condition.
Up to 1852 public lighting in Bedminster was negligible and for a long time the only light in the streets was that near Bedminster Police Station. In January 1852 an estimate of £900 was given for the parish lighting. From then on, many requests for street lighting were granted.
In 1855 work began on major sewerage work in Bedminster. The General Board of Health was authorised to borrow £9,000 towards the cost of the scheme and upwards of three miles of main sewers were constructed. In 1873, another £18,000 was made available for the same purpose.
The general effect upon sickness in the city may be gauged from the fact that when Cholera again visited Bristol, in 1886, there were only 29 fatalities from the disease.
Of course, the building of the sewers did not take place without incident. Adverts for tenders had been put in all the Bristol papers and also in the ‘Midland Counties’ Herald’, the ‘Builder’ weekly, and once a week in the ‘Times’. One of the first tenders accepted was that of Benjamin Farmer with sureties from Samuel Reynolds and Henry Wakefield, of Bedminster. Six months later the Sanitary Committee clerk reported that Farmer had gone bankrupt and Messrs Reynolds and Wakefield were asked to pay the penalty of £800. No doubt Henry Wakefield wished he had confined his activities to scavenging.
It would appear, from the minutes, that Mr Mereweather took over from Farmer as contractor. He was not able to obtain the necessary surety of £400 so went into partnership with a Mr Coslett in April 1856. The partnership had not been in existence for very long before, in May 1856, William Greenway, of Belize Cottage, Dean Lane, Bedminster, claimed £30 compensation against them for damage to his property during work on a sewer which went under his house.
On the 29th March 1855 a memorial had been sent to the Health Committee from the Rev. Eland (St. John’s Church, Bedminster) and 51 others, calling attention to ‘A great nuisance to the inhabitants of the New Cut from the sewers emptying into the river near Harford’s Bridge and the Gaol’. They stated they had heard it was the Board of Health’s intention to make like sewers discharging into the New Cut, and urged the Board to adopt some plan, for de-odorising the sewage for manure. Should this be impracticable then, they suggested, the whole of the sewage should be conveyed by means of a main trunk very much further down the river where there was not, at present, or likely to be for some years, any houses.
The New Cut was – and still is – an essential part of the Bedminster sewage scheme and this protestation met with no success. Neither did the complaint of William Eggar, in March 1856, of the stench from the sewer discharging into the river near Bedminster Bridge. The surveyor who investigated the complaint suggested that the cause of the smell was not the sewer but pollution from the Chemical Works at Netham. However, Mr Eggar was not put off by this explanation for he was still voicing his opinion to the Health Committee 4 months later.
And, over a hundred years later, complaints of the smell arising from the New Cut, especially at full tide on a heavy-aired summer’s evening, are still to be heard.