Hygienic Housing Needed
The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 created poor law unions, each run by a Board of Guardians, centred around towns, which included a union workhouse for the poor of the union area. The union was also responsible for other matters, such as public health. Meppershall was in the Biggleswade Union. The Biggleswade Poor Law Union minute books of 1863 to 1868 and 1868 to 1871 end with descriptions of the sanitary conditions of the major settlements in the area, including Meppershall. These date from 1866 [PUBwM9, p.310] and 1871 [PUBwM10, p.249].
The 1866 report notes that of 930 houses, 150 have "bad" water, and 109 have "none". 134 houses were "v. dirty (95 infected with bugs)". 12 houses were deemed to be "totally unfit for habitation", with one room so heavily over occupied that each occupant had access to only 77 cubic feet of space. Between the 851 people occupying 179 cottages, there were only 37 privies, "in one instance 45 persons to a privy". The inspector also recorded" 205 v[ery] offensive privies" and "12 houses with no privy".
The 1871 report considered the risks of living conditions on the spread of infection, in particular scarlatina, measles and typhoid. It revealed that "Large numbers of children pass a great part of the day in frightfully overcrowded schools". In one school, a room of twelve by ten square feet, with a ceiling lower than six feet, was occupied by thirty-three children for around eight hours a day, five days a week, likely contributing heavily to the spread of disease.