Nowadays, we take for granted that when we turn on the cold water tap, good clean wholesome water will flow and be fit for human consumption and by flushing the toilet, the waste is taken away safely. This was not the case some 150 years ago.
In 1849 a Board of Health Inspection was carried out by George T. Clark and a damning report published in 1850, what follows are some of the observations made by Mr. Clark. The town at this time consisted mainly of three areas of population, the “Town” (the area around the parish church), “The Sea-side” or “Flats” (the docks area) and the “Wern”. The town’s administration was carried out by trustees who were elected for life. The income for the running of the town was in excess of £500 of which only £90 was used for gas lighting, the rest being divided annually at Christmas by the trustees between the burgesses.
In the town area a few of the observations made were… “At Forge Row and Caemain the cottages were very dirty with dunghills in heaps all around and also a large pool of stagnant water”. Forge Row consisted of about 50 cottages built back to back, the only toilet being in the Public House. This area was within the spring tide area and was often flooded. There was no sewer, and the drinking water had to be brought from a spring half a mile away, water for other purposes was taken “from a ditch called the town drain” which passed in front of it.
In the area of Hall Street through to Thomas Street there were three Abattoirs, all with an inadequate supply of water and badly drained, a large Tannery, a number of piggeries, the smell from these was obnoxious, especially in warm weather. There was also a Meat Market and also a weekly Pig Market in the area, the roads were unpaved and in a filthy state with dung pits and “ill contrived privies, the contents of one of which soaks into the road.” The only water supply in this area was from the river.
Sea-side had a population of about 2,000 and the houses were mostly built on copper slag. The roads were unpaved and unclean with pools of water gathered in the gutters. There were no regular footpaths, no sewer and very few toilets. Near the Cornish Arms (now named, the Bucket and Spade) “were heaps of ashes, stagnant cesspools, and an accumulation of filth”.
The Wern consisted of some 448 cottages, much the same story was reported here with the higher land draining onto the cottages. To the rear of Wern Row the pigsties and toilets had no drains and the “fluid escaping along the falling ground, expose a large surface of putrescent matter”.
A number of recommendations had been made to rectify these problems some years earlier but the Trustees running the town had chosen to ignore them. Because of this Mr. Clark recommended that a new Local Board of Health be elected under the Public Health Act, to replace the present body of Trustees, this would consist of 12 members to represent the whole of the district and each year one third of the members would go out of office and elections held to replace the vacated seats.