Sunday, 23 January 2022

Loughborough Sewerage Works

The Hermitage Brook, once taking waste from the early sewers

Last week we had a look at the second part of Dr Corcoran’s report as Medical Officer, to the Council which acted as the Urban Sanitary Authority for Loughborough. This report was published in January 1895 and covered the year 1894 and in it, Dr Corcoran referred to the issue of sewage disposal.

As early as 1846, a letter appeared in the Leicester Journal of 16th October, written by someone who signed themselves “Miseris Succurrere Disco”. I have no idea who this person was, but I do know the quote comes from the poet, Virgil, and its meaning today is something like “I learn to help those in need.”

The gist of that letter was to bring to the attention of the town authorities the state of Loughborough’s sewage and drainage, and the need for immediate improvements. Apparently, there was no underground drainage, and practically every street had open gutters on both sides, which were usually full of what the letter-writer described as “black, stagnant, filthy fluid”, and even though it was occasionally washed away by the rain, because there was an insufficient supply of water, and no watercourses to wash it far away, the liquid just built up elsewhere.

In truth, a small brook in part of the town did carry some of the filth away, but as it was uncovered, and was used as a dumping ground for all kinds of animal and vegetable matter, it was actually rather offensive, and the writer proclaimed that calling it a brook was quite a misnomer. Another part of the town, centred around Leicester Road, was very occasionally cleared, but the debris was swept into the middle of the road, where it just left. The writer also complained about the state of parts of the town which were crowded and dirty, and where the yards were filled with heaps of filth and refuse.

“Miseris Succurrere Disco” continues with a description of all the different illnesses that had recently been present in the town, and suggested that there should be an inspector of public nuisances, better regulation of sewage and drainage, and measures put in place to supply enough water for that purpose.

The following table shows deaths during the 6-month period, March to September, 1846, which according to the writer were the 6 healthiest months of the year, and as such during that time there were probably fewer than the usual expected number of deaths:

Disease

No. of deaths

Scrofula and mesenteric disease

16

Consumption (Tuberculosis)

27

Diseases of the lungs

3

Debility

17

Fever

12

Smallpox

55

Disease of digestive organs and bowels

20

General decay

13

Rheumatism and disease of the Heart

4

Diseases of the brain and nervous system

20

Diseases of urinary organs

3

Unknown

4

Total

194

“Miseris Succurrere Disco” suggests that there is a connection between the presence of sewage and disease, particularly substantiated by the number of people succumbing to fever and smallpox on a street off Leicester Road without any drainage, where 64 people contracted the illness, 10 of whom died. The writer continues, stating that in their opinion, deterioration in health and physical strength is just the start of a series of evils that might follow, which include, pauperism, destruction of social happiness, moral degeneration, and crime. In support of this the writer refers readers to a report by Her Majesty’s Commissioners on the Health of Towns, which was set up in 1843, building on the work of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and the work on urban public health, particularly on water and sewerage matters, that had been done by Edwin Chadwick [i]. This eventually led to the creation of the Health of Towns Association, active from 1844 to 1849.   

The writer concludes that once the measures they suggest are put into place, the town’s inhabitants would experience “renewed vigour of mind and body, he would be able to work enough to support himself and family without becoming a burden to the parish; his home, no longer the squalid abode of dirt, and disease, would become the scene of all his enjoyments; the public house would be forsaken, social comfort restored, his spirit of independence would revive, and he would rise in the scale of intelligence and morality. Thus, the number of paupers being reduced, the expense of the parish for their maintenance would be diminished, and its power of aiding the necessary means of preserving public health would be increased.”

Later, in 1849, William Lee, the Superintending Inspector, wrote a report on his initial investigation into the sewerage, drainage, and supply of water, and into the sanitary conditions of the inhabitants of the parish of Loughborough [ii], which he presented to the General Board of Health. Although the Public Health Act was introduced to the town in 1850, and a Local Board set up, it wasn’t until 1852, that real improvements were begun to be considered, when the new Rector, Henry Fearon [iii], began corresponding upon the matter, with the Leicester Journal. Two years later, in 1854, an improved drainage system was introduced, although this caused other problems, particularly with the water supply, which eventually led to Fearon’s involvement in providing a piped clean water supply to the town, and the installation of the Fearon Fountain in the marketplace, in 1870.

The Fearon Fountain in the marketplace

Meanwhile, between the introduction of improved drainage and the clean water supply in Loughborough, over in Cheltenham, in 1865, the Cheltenham Waterworks Company’s Bill for obtaining a supply of water from the River Severn came before the Parliamentary referees. There was concern expressed about the river being used as drainage for the town’s ‘filth’, and comparisons with other places were made. This included Birmingham, where The Tame received the drainage from the whole of the ‘Black Country’ but had never suffered from cholera, while nearby Coventry, which had a supply of perfect spring water, suffered badly with cholera. Perhaps this was because the spring water was cloudy and dirty-looking, especially when compared with the clear water that emerged from the same stream about 10 miles away at Warwick – the water having purified itself on its 10-mile journey. A further, similar comparison was made between the black water that left Leicester, and the bright, clear water in Loughborough.

Loughborough may have benefitted from bright, clear water, but it is clear from a report in the Leicester Daily Mercury in March 1879, that the sewage situation in Loughborough had been a talking point for some time. An incident in Loughborough is described thus:

“A … laughable incident occurred just outside Loughborough. A party of ten, consisting of an equal number of ladies and gentlemen, were pitched from their conveyance into the extremely unsavoury ditch which pollutes the roadside. Nine were immersed above the knees in filth, and the tenth, endeavouring to climb the fence to escape the misfortune of his companions, gained the top, when a stake gave way, and he fell on his back. It is needless to say he can now speak from experience of the character of the Loughborough sewage matter.”

In 1887, the Clerk of the Trent Fishery Board wrote to the Loughborough Local Board about the sewage from Loughborough going into the River Soar, and that proceedings would be taken against the Loughborough Board, if the situation wasn’t addressed. In 1889 an investigation was undertaken into the arrangements for the disposal of sewerage from Kegworth, and it was reported that where Loughborough sewerage went into the River Soar, the water was as black as ink at times. Eventually, the Loughborough Town Council began to consider the problem in earnest, and in April 1891 were discussing the benefits – or otherwise – of a variety of disposal methods, the needs of such systems, and that an application for funds from the Local Board be made, to cover the cost of new intercepting sewers, and extension of existing outfall sewers, storm overflows etc.; settling tanks, sludge tanks, screens, pump well, conduits, and pumping plant; buildings, fencing, and contingencies, and land for the works.

Long story short, as they say, in 1892 a scheme was recommended to the Town Council, and work was begun in spring 1893. By the time of Dr Corcoran’s report in January 1895, the construction of the sewage works was well underway, and in October 1895, the works were formally opened, having cost around £20,000 – money well-spent.  


[i] Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (1842–3)

[ii] Lee, William [1849]. Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Conditions of the Inhabitants of the Parish of Loughborough. Public Health Act (11 & 12 Vict., Chap. 63) 10-12 London: HMSO 

[iii] Rev. Henry Fearon became Rector of Loughborough in 1848, and remained in post until his death in 1885

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Dyer, Lynne (2022). Loughborough sewerage works. Available from: https://lynneaboutloughborough.blogspot.com/2022/01/loughborough-sewerage-works.html [Accessed 23 January 2022]

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