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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History

THE SANITARY CONDITIONS
AT KNOTTINGLEY

Article published in local newspaper circa 1878

Mr J.T. Harrison, C.E. Local Government Board Inspector, held an inquiry yesterday, at the Board-room of the Guardians, Pontefract, with reference to an application to the Local Government Board, from the Sanitary Authority of the Rural Sanitary District of the Pontefract Union, to borrow £7,000 for works of sewage for the chapelry of Knottingley. Mr W.S. Wood, Clerk to the Guardians, represented the Rural Sanitary Authority. Mr Sendall, Poor Law Inspector for the district, was also present. A deputation from the town of Knottingley, comprising Mr M. Stainsby, Mr John Wild, Mr G. Greenhow, Mr W. Worfolk amd Mr E.S. Atkinson, appeared to oppose the scheme proposed by the Sanitary Authority, or to obtain considerable modifications of the scheme.

Mr W.S. Wood, Clerk to the Pontefract Guardians, stated that the population of Knottingley in 1871 was 4,039, and would have increased up to the present date to 5,000 inhabitants. The rateable value was £14,692. The parish was without any water supply except from wells, and there was no sewage or drainage scheme. The medical officer for the union, in his reports for several years back, had complained of the evils arising, and the high death rate in the town, from the unsanitary condition of the town. The Guardians, after due deliberation, had adopted the scheme of Mr Best, C.E., of Bolton, inasmuch as the Vestry at Knottingley had taken no steps to remedy the evils complained of. Mr W. Best, C.E., Bolton, intruated to carry out the drainage scheme, produced the plans.

Dr. Muscroft, medical officer for the whole of the Pontefract Union, next gave the statistics as to the alarming death-rate of Knottingley for several years back, which he attributed to the impure water supply and imperfect drainage of the place. He handed in the following table of deaths in Knottingley during the last five years:-

Year Deaths Rate per 1,000 on basis of
census 1871
1873-4 98 24.5
1874-5 94 23.3
1875-6 142 35.1
1876-7 116 28.7
1877-8 133 32.9
  583 5/144.5
    28.9

Rata per 1,000 in the supposed calculation of the population being 5,000 equal to 23.3

The Holes at Knottingley was stated to be in a most frightful state for want of drainage and water supply, the drains, if any, running into open fields, whilst the inhabitants drank the canal water, which in dry weather threw off a most obnoxious stench and was in a state of fermentation, the drainage of Pontefract and Castleford being emptied, as well as other places, into the river. The population was so large that urgent steps were needed, and it was shown that in every report for years back, Dr Muscroft had drawn attention to the serious evils of imperfect sewerage and water supply.

Mr Harrison expressed himself perfectly satisfied that Dr Muscroft had, as medical officer, entirely performed, in a creditable way, the functions of his office in recommending the reforms in drainage for years back.

Mr Sendall, Poor Law Inspector, asked whether any system of scavenging was carried out at Knottingley, and this was elicited to be a dead letter, no proper system being adopted.

Mr Harrison and Mr Sendall, each expressed surprise that a town with some 5,000 population should be so neglected.

Mr Wheater, C.E., Leeds, corroborated the plans prepared by Mr Best as being the only means to deal with the sewage of the town, which is intended to be done by means of pumping on to the land in the district east of Knottingley.

Mr W.A. Glover put in documents extending over years as to the state of the place from statistics from the medical officer's reports.

Mr Harrison, the inspector, said, without going further, it was perfectly evident that application was well grounded, and he did not know what the gentlemen could say in opposition.

Mr W. Worfolk contended that, with the exception of dirty water from the houses and the canal water, Knottingley was not so bad as had been painted, for there was not a closet which was emptied into the drains of the town. The greatest nuisance was the stench from the canal in dry weather, when stirred up by the fans of the screw barges of the Aire and Calder Canal Company, which passed up and down many times per day. He disputed the assertions of Dr Muscroft that the bulk of the inhabitants were in the habit of drinking the canal water which was polluted by the sewage &c., from Pontefract, Wakefield, Leeds, and Bradford. He did not consider the high death rate arose from the impure water or drainage of the place. The deputation did not deny that drainage was required, but the scheme as devised by Mr Best was too gigantic.

Mr Stainsby, Mr Greenhow and Mr E.S. Atkinson, likewise hoped the Inspector would see fit to recommend a modified scheme. The death rate, it was urged, was not calculating the number of persons who were absent from Knottingley when the census was taken in 1871, some 900 persons being away seafaring at the time. It was also held that the vestry meeting at Knottingley strongly opposed the erection of engines to pump the sewage. They considered that a gravitation system of drainage might be carried out, as in some places. When a flood took place the proposed drainage scheme would be inoperative.

Mr Harrison said he favoured the latter system of drainage by gravitation, but did not see how in this case it could be carried out. He considered the application as made by the Rural Sanitary Authority as fully established. He would visit the town of Knottingley and would forward his report to the Local Government Board.

 


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