North Mymms people in Victorian times
by Peter Kingsford
Cholera visited England, for the third time, in 1866 and killed nearly 20,000 people. Typhoid was also a deadly menace. In the same year the Sanitary Act became law. It made sanitary inspection obligatory on local health authorities and the Government could compel them to remove nuisances.
Public health came under the Poor Law and the health authority for North Mymms was the Hatfield Board of Guardians of the Poor. It took prompt action. On 10 August that year it appointed the North Mymms Sanitary Committee composed of R W Gaussen, the landowner at Brookmans, the vicar, the Rev A S Latter and William Blakey, a rent collector. The committee was assigned a man to do the work, the inspector of nuisances for the parish, Mr Harris, already clerk to the guardians. He was to receive £4 a year. Meetings were held in Hatfield workhouse.
Mr Harris’s reports revealed the state of affairs. He named thirty-one families living in insanitary dwellings, William Speary, Jane Flawn, George Toy, Benjamin Harris, among others. Probably over a hundred persons were at risk. Some sanitary arrangements were more primitive than others; there were degrees of insanitariness. Mr Harris reported carefully the different kinds of nuisance.
Thus, some cottages had no privies at all. There were three of them in Pooley’s Lane, occupied by messrs Pollard, Fowler and Fisher, and reported as being "in a dreadful state". Going up the scale, came those cottages which shared a privy. Of these R W Gaussen owned four with one privy which emptied into the roadside ditch, and Col Greville of North Mymms Place was the owner of three at Water End, sharing a privy, also without a cesspool.
Next were the dwellings which did have a privy each but no cesspool or means of disposing of the contents except to empty into an open roadside ditch. There were about twenty of these, three at Pancake Hall and three in Pooley’s Lane, lived in by Anne Holloway, George Vyse, Catherine Nash and others. The privies at the homes of James Tapster, William Collins and at a cottage owned by the executors of the late Col Sibthorpe were over an open ditch a few feet from the backs of the cottages. Mr Harris was moved to comment that "in warm weather the stench was very great". Another four cottages at Water End came in the same category.
Still higher in the sanitary scale were those cottagers happy in the use of both privy and cesspool. But their dwellings were still a nuisance because the cesspools were uncovered. Ten of these were reported to the committee, one again the property of R W Gaussen.
Mr Harris’s report and the legal powers of compulsion had their effect. Privies and cesspools were soon made. No doubt R W Gaussen, as a member of the committee, felt an obligation to act promptly. Some owners had to be chased. Three cottages owned by Col Greville were repeatedly reported and the rent collector, William Goulburn, formerly the schoolmaster, undertook to write to the colonel’s agent. Later, "a new privy with a large cesspool was now being built", likewise Col Sibthorpe’s executors had to be pursued to take action. But by and large it was taken; "cesspools nearly complete", Mr Harris reported, and the privies at Pancake Hall where Longstaff, Chuck, Bailey, Flint and Messer lived,were "now being removed to a greater distance from the dwellings".
An illness called "the Fever", which was probably typhoid, was often present in insanitary conditions. This was so in Roestock, if nowhere else in the parish and in 1870 the Board of Guardians called for a report on the fever in that hamlet. Mr Harris reported accordingly that there were three cottages where the privy stood on an open ditch a few feet from the back doors, another three where "they have had the Fever in each house and one death, they are in a dirty state and the Privy not far from the back of the houses and in a very dilapidated state" and yet another four cottages where "the Fever has raged in each house and in one two deaths occurred."
Nuisances of a lesser kind, arising from pigs and dung, also came under the inspector’s scrutiny. It was part of his duty to serve notices to the villagers to remove dung heaps and clean out their pig styes. Both were numerous in all parts of the parish. Instructions were given at Roestock to remove "a large heap of London manure by the side of the public road". In Welham Green Fred Pollard and Richard Ray were ordered to remove dung heaps and clean their pig styes. At the Hope and Anchor beer house Mrs Bodger’s dung heap met Mr Harris’s disapproving eye, and at Water End action with the pigs was required. After the dung had been spread and the styes cleaned, the parishioners, the pigs and the fields were in better shape.
Nuisances did not, of course, stop there. Prosecutions occurred. In 1872 John Mansfield and his son John were summoned in the county court for "keeping a pig stye so as to be injurious to the health of the parish". They escaped penalty because they had removed the nuisance. The unfortunate inspector was refused expenses because the defendants were "not very well to do".
On the national scene the new concern about public health resulted in the Royal Sanitary Commission of 1869-71. Its report gave rise to the Local Government Board which was obliged to appoint medical officers of health throughout the country, and then to the main Public Health Act of 1875, the basis of all public health legislation for many years. The Act of 1866 had removed from cottagers as well as property owners the right to do what they liked with their own. How much disease and death had resulted from their previous liberty is not known.
Peter Kingsford, 1986
Chapter 9 - Getting the vote
Index - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Preface - North Mymms people in Victorian times
Photographs - from the book