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Dirty Potton 1871

Meeting Lane in 1955 [Bedfordshire Magazine]
Meeting Lane in 1955 [Bedfordshire Magazine]

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. Potton was in the Biggleswade Union. The Biggleswade Poor Law Union minute book of 1868 to 1871 ends with a description of the sanitary conditions of the major settlements in the area, including Potton for 3rd May 1871 [PUBwM10 ]. The entry for Potton is below.

“The high death rate from Typhoid fever in this district has been caused by its being epidemic in some filthy places in the town of Potton; the town is well drained for surface water: there are no water closets discharging into the drains; cesspools and dumb wells are in vogue. On the whole, the town is clean and airy, the exceptional places being Known as -”

“Meeting Lane [now a path between the west end of Church Causeway and Horslow Street]. – In a house here where the four children had been ill with Typhoid fever, there are grids to drains just outside both the front door and back door, the latter one being in a filthy condition, as are also the out-houses and privies of all the row. The well is also close to the drain; the water is said to be good, the well having been recently cleaned out; it was formerly thick and dirty.”

“Houses near the [the north side Everton Road more or less at the junction with Horslow Street] – Here, in a House with two rooms, the living room 12 feet square, the bedroom a little larger, but without a fireplace, and with small windows on one side of the house only, so that there could be no through ventilation, are living eleven people, a man and his wife, two unmarried daughters with a couple of children each, and three other children. Three months ago eight of them had typhoid fever, of which one died, and a daughter who did not live there, but who was in the habit of visiting them, died from it also”.

“The privy, used by several houses, was in an offensive condition, but the contents are simply allowed to run out into a field behind. The well is deep, and the water said to be pretty good, but hard. There is no drainage, all slips &c., being thrown into pits behind the houses, which are very offensive. These houses are rendered uninhabitable at certain times by the offensive stench which is blown to them from the heaps of London manure which are allowed to lie outside the station until wanted for the fields. The Medical Officer has no doubt that this, besides being a great nuisance, is a fruitful cause of disease, and particularly of typhoid fever, either directly or indirectly”.

“Franklin’s Row. – Here there are heaps of filth and stinking privies close in front of the houses. There has been lately much Typhoid fever, and a few years ago, scarlatina was prevalent”.

“Biggleswade End. – This might have been named from its resemblance to the worst parts of that town. It consists of two courtyards, which are sufficiently large, but literally covered with filth; the drain is stopped up, the slops &c., are just thrown out in front of the houses, and runs down towards the street. There is no well – water has to be fetched from the public house [the Royal Oak]! There is one privy, found overfull, for nearly thirty people. The stench of the whole place is horrible; no wonder that there is always sickness there”.

“The Fellmongers’ yard causes a nuisance in the neighbourhood, but has not been a source of disease. The refuse water from it ran directly into the brook, but now a pit is being dug to receive it so that it may deposit its sediment; it would, perhaps, be well to pass it through a filtering bed before it enters the brook”.

“The immediate wants of Potton will be found in the entire sanitary reform of the places above mentioned, especially by the adoption of a regular system of excrement and filth removal, the increase of the number of privies, and the encouragement of ventilation, by having windows made in the backs of houses; whole rows are now being built without any possibility of through ventilation. Disinfectants should also be supplied by the Board of Guardians for use in the fever nests, but they must not be relied upon as a cure for the evils here pointed out”.

In 1875 sanitation ceased to be a function of the poor law unions and was transferred to sanitary authorities, in Potton’s case Biggleswade Rural Sanitary Authority. These were replaced in 1894 by the newly created district councils, in Potton’s case, Biggleswade Rural District Council. This was replaced in 1974 by Mid Bedfordshire District Council and in 2009 the new unitary council (incorporating the functions of the former district councils with the abolished county council) of Central Bedfordshire became responsible for all sanitary matters.