Tag Archives: Public Health

Lessons from the Past: Infant Mortality in Batley 1900-1914

When looking at some Batley population statistics in relation to my family history, I was horrified to see the town’s infant mortality figures.

Infant mortality is the term applied to the deaths of children under one year of age. It is based on the proportion of the annual number of deaths at this age measured against births registered in the same area in that year. It is then extrapolated to represent a mortality figure per 1,000 births.

Batley’s figures were shocking, and acknowledged as such by the town’s various Medical Officers. For example in 1911 there were 852 births in Batley compared to 160 deaths of under 1s. This gives an infant mortality equivalent to a rate of 187.79 deaths per 1,000 births. And this was not the highest rate in this period, and it was at a time when things were improving.

I initially looked at Batley births and infant deaths from 1892 to 1971, plotting them in Table 1 below. The years from 1892 to 1914 make particularly sobering viewing. In four years the figures reached an infant mortality rate exceeding 200 per 1,000:

  • in 1893 it reached 260.55 per 1,000 births;
  • 1895 was 200.24;
  • 1901 saw a rate of 209.30 and
  • in 1904 it hit 235.94.

Table 1 (see Footnote 1)

In his 1914 Annual Report, Batley’s Medical Officer George Harper Pearce compared Batley’s infant mortality with the Great Town’s of England and Wales over a 25-year-period. Although in terms of population Batley was not one of the designated Great Towns, the Medical Officer felt by its urban nature and the fact it seamlessly flowed into its neighbouring population centres, it demonstrated all the characteristics of a Great Town. Therefore he felt its Public Health should be compared against this measure. It provided an unedifying comparison.

Although there was a commonality in the chief causes of infant mortality countrywide, namely premature birth, congenital deficiencies, hereditary illnesses, inexperience of mothers, unsatisfactory municipal sanitation, industrial conditions and improper food, Batley appeared to suffer the effects to a higher degree than its comparator towns. (Interestingly poverty was not mentioned as a factor). In 1914 Batley’s infant mortality figure of 149 compared to the corresponding Great Towns figure of 114. Looking at the earlier high rates I quoted for Batley in 1893, 1895, 1901, 1904 and 1911 and comparing with that of the Great Towns:

  • In 1893 and 1895 the Great Towns rates were in the low 180s;
  • In 1901 the Great Towns was 168;
  • In 1904 the Great Towns stood at 160;
  • 1911 the Great Towns figure was 140.

All therefore far below Batley’s rates, and sadly this was the general pattern.

I decided to focus on the years 1900 to 1914, the period marking the start of the 20th century leading up to the outbreak of the Great War. Both my paternal grandparents, and many of their siblings, were born in Batley in this period. My grandfather, born in 1906, was one of 10 children my great grandmother had between 1889 to 1910. My grandmother, born in 1908, had one other sibling, her senior by one year.

The total number of Batley infant deaths occurring in these years were:

  • 1900: 148;
  • 1901: 189;
  • 1902: 148;
  • 1903: 139;
  • 1904: 193;
  • 1905: 151;
  • 1906: 155;
  • 1907: 123;
  • 1908: 139;
  • 1909: 86;
  • 1910: 107;
  • 1911: 160;
  • 1912: 100;
  • 1913: 98;
  • 1914: 122.

Looking at the mortality statistics for this period I’m amazed, and thankful, that only two of these twelve children died before adulthood; and of them only one death was classed as infant mortality. I have written about these two children here and here.

The upshot of these dire turn-of-the-century figures led to Batley Borough Council, aided by voluntary services, embarking on a concerted effort to reduce the town’s shameful infant death rates, many of which they deemed preventable.

As part of this drive, from 1908 onwards we get ever greater detail regarding infant mortality in the Batley Medical Officer reports including more in-depth analysis of the causes of Batley infant deaths.

The causes attributed to these infant deaths are plotted on the graph in Table 2 below:

Table 2U1 1900-1914 Deaths Blog

The figures behind the graph are at Table 3, below.

Table 3U1 1900-1914 Chart Deaths Blog

Picking out some causes, we take for granted the impact of vaccinations today – perhaps some are even complacent about it. But looking at some of the death causes for infants – measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis – shows that for past generations these diseases were killers. And many more infants and children suffered life-changing disabilities arising from the complications of these illnesses. But beyond the direct deaths, bronchitis and pneumonia (illnesses in their own rights) could also be some of the secondary fatal complications of measles, whooping cough and even rickets.

Rickets does not feature in the prime Batley infant mortality causes in the years investigated. It is a condition affecting bone development in children which results in stunted growth and deformity. It affected a frighteningly large number of Batley children in this period. In 1909 64 cases of school-age Batley children suffering from rickets were investigated. The report discovered between them the 64 families involved had 340 children of which 119 were afflicted with the disease, 61 of these dying in infancy with their deaths attributed to bronchitis or convulsions. This is yet another demonstration that the causes of death in Tables 2 and 3 can mask much wider community health problems.

A particularly vague cause of death which features prominently throughout these years is described as atrophy, debility, marasmus. In 1908 Dr J. M. Clements, the then holder of the Batley Medical Officer post, said all the terms were more or less meaningless, failed to indicate a cause of death and should be avoided in death certification. Wasting was attributable to many things, including ante-natal issues and improper feeding. Until a more precise death cause was identified prevention would be difficult.

However by 1914 Dr Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer since 1910, pinned it down to one particular cause above others – syphilis. In his 1914 Medical Officer Report he quoted from the Report for 1913-14 of the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board. In this the impact of syphilis was discussed, and the conclusion reached was direct deaths from it represented only a fraction of its effects.

It is a common cause of still births and premature birth; a considerable proportion of the deaths from marasmus and atrophy, as well as a large amount of disease in childhood and during school life, owe their origin to it.

Building on the Local Government Board report Dr Pearce stated in 1914 Batley 50 children had been born dead, 21 further deaths were a result of premature birth and an additional 13 had a cause of atrophy and marasmus:

It will be seen therefore that syphilis – a venereal disease – was more or less responsible (apart from dead born children) for thirty-four out of 122 deaths amongst infants or approximately more than 25 per cent.

Premature birth was a constant infant mortality theme. Besides the link to syphilis, the reports tried to make a connection with pregnant women working as rag sorters or weavers in the mills. In 1909 for example 18 instances of infant mortality occurred where mothers were in these occupations, and six of the deaths were attributed to premature birth with the mothers working in the mill until shortly before confinement. The tea, fried fish and chipped potato diet of pregnant mill-working mothers who had no time to cook were also blamed for childhood defects such as rickets. The solution put forward (but not adopted) was to prevent women working in the mill for a few months preceding childbirth.

One final cause identified in Tables 2 and 3 which may need explanation is overlaying. Basically suffocation of the infant from sharing a bed with an older person (usually the mother);

However in most of years the overwhelming proportion of deaths were attributed to diarrhoea, enteritis and gastritis. These diarrhoeal diseases were linked to seasonal weather, insanitary conditions and improper feeding. In his 1908 Medical Officer Report, Dr Clements looked at the 43 infant deaths attributed to this cause in this year. Only one infant was wholly breastfed. Of the others, 30 were wholly fed with cows milk, seven a mix of breast and cow’s milk, and five wholly on artificial foods. Dr Clements concluded:

…the only safe way of feeding the baby is by the mother’s breast. The mother’s milk is never once exposed to the air or to contamination, but passes direct from the site of manufacture in the gland to the baby’s stomach.

This also led to a link being made to this mortality cause and working mothers. It was said mothers quickly switched from breast feeding to partial of fully weaning infants in order to return to work as soon as possible. In his 1910 report Dr Pearce wrote:

Medical Officers of Health throughout the country would welcome a bill prohibiting women from working in the mills, or other places where female labour is employed, for several months previous to the birth of their infant, and for the whole period during which they are suckling the child. I would in fact go further and make it illegal for any mother to go out to work at all unless it could be shewn [sic] to be a case of dire necessity. A mother’s proper place is at home with her children.

Besides the danger of the infant ingesting contaminated food resulting in diarrhoea, the childcare itself left much to be desired. Mothers paid between 4s and 5s per week for their infants to be nursed whilst they worked. The surroundings were often deemed dirty and unsuitable, and it was not uncommon for this childcare to be provided by women with advanced TB.

The issue was illustrated in the March 1913 inquest into the death of a nine-week old baby girl, from the Batley Catholic community – the community associated with my family. It led the Coroner, Mr Maitland, to make some pointed comments about mothers leaving their children with neighbours and going out to work. In this case the mother returned to work when her baby was around six weeks old, leaving her and two older children with their grandmother, who told Nurse Musto she had brought up a family of the grandest lads in Batley, and knew quite well how to bring up children without her [Nurse Musto] interfering. 5s per week was paid for the baby’s care, out of which milk had to be provided, she being fed on a milk and water diet. The Coroner, on learning the father (a Collier) brought home 24s weekly asked why the mother felt the need to work. She responded “I would rather go to work than stop at home.” A verdict of “Death from pneumonia and also from want of proper attention and nursing” was reached with the Coroner observing:

…that there were many mothers who preferred to go out to work rather than bother with their children. It was simply selfishness

This, and other cases, led to the suggestion in the 1914 Medical Officer Report of the need for provision of crèche facilities staffed by skilled carers.

Other general findings noted by the series of Medical Officers included the fact first-born babies were more at risk, with the 1909 report identifying 32 of the 86 infant deaths that year being in this category. The same report also investigated the family histories of the 86 dead infants and, other than the first-born issue, noted a clear trend for the families affected to have a previous high rate of infant and child deaths. Ten family profiles were given including one mother of five children, all dead; Another mother of 13 had only three surviving children and of the 10 dead, eight had not survived their first year; similarly a mother of 10 had only three still living, with five of the seven deceased dying under one year of age. Based on this data the conclusion reached by Dr Clements was:

…it would appear that to a large extent the determining factor is the mother herself. Some women are “born mothers”; nature has endowed them with a knowledge of the care and attention needed by the baby; others are not gifted in this respect and they have not received any education to make up for the deficient.

1909 was a particularly interesting year. It can be seen from Table 1 that this year saw a dramatic decrease in Batley’s infant mortality rate. Its rate of 117 was actually lower than that of the Great Towns, which stood at 118. The drop was partly attributed to the cool, wet summer which reduced the severity of the seasonal diarrhoea outbreak – but this weather was not peculiar to Batley, and the number of deaths from diarrhoea in other similar weather years was far higher. The Medical Officer therefore believed 1909 was exceptional largely due to the preventative measures adopted in the preceding two years to combat the causes of infant mortality. There were two main factors behind these measures.

In 1906 a voluntary society was formed, the Batley Public Health and District Nursing Service. It took up the case of infant mortality, much of which was seen as preventable. Through voluntary subscriptions it appointed a Health Visitor, Miss Terry, to tackle the issue. So effective was the role, in July 1909 Batley Corporation agreed to fund this post and the Health Visitor became an official of the Council Health Department.

The other game-changer facilitating the work of the health visitor came in February 1908 when the Council formally implemented the Notification of Births Act. It meant that practically all births reached the notice of them within 36-48 hours, via either doctors, midwives or parents, enabling the Health Visitor to visit women quickly after birth.

By the time of the 1907 Report Dr J. A. Erskine Stuart, the town’s Medical Officer at this point, stated that although early it was days in the work of the Lady Health Visitor, he could vouch for one important fact: as a result of her labours the number of breastfeeding mothers had increased.

The duties of the fledgling Batley Health Visitor service included the schedule of first visits to mothers on receipt of a notification of birth. In these visits the Health Visitor gave advice about feeding, clothing and general baby care. By 1910 a printed pamphlet was left with mothers following this first visit. It contained a wealth of information about the nutrition and care of infants, including precise feeding and weaning instructions, washing guidance, advice on clothing and sleeping arrangements (every infant should sleep in a cot by itself) and information about eye care. It also advised against the use of dummies which it said caused mouth deformities. These comforters also increased the risk of sickness and diarrhoea as when dropped they were shoved back into the mouth, contaminated by dirt. One Batley Medical Officer believed dummies should be made illegal! If she deemed it necessary the Health Visitor would conduct follow-up visits.

Other duties included work around visiting mothers of stillborn children. Under the Notification of Births Act 1907 the Medical Officer was informed of the birth of any child “which has issued forth from its mother after the expiration of the twenty-eighth week of pregnancy, whether alive or dead.” To identify those born prior to this stage, from 1910 the Batley Health Department obtained a weekly return of stillborn children buried in from Batley Cemetery from the Registrar of the Cemetery. There was also work around unnotified births, as some were still ignorant of the requirement. She also worked on epidemic diarrhoea and made visits to those Batley residents suffering from TB. Another duty included health talks with mothers at meetings held by organisations such as Mothers’ Unions or Women’s Cooperative Guilds. Additionally one afternoon weekly was set aside for the Health Visitor to see mothers and infants in her Town Hall office. One particularly interesting initiative was around the establishment of funded cookery classes for poor mothers to teach them how to prepare nutritious, cheap family meals.

By 1910 such was the value of the Health Visitor’s role that she provided a summary of her work for inclusion in the overall Medical Officer annual report.

Obstacles noted by various Batley Health Visitors in this period included the tendency for mothers to take more note of family and neighbours rather than the health professional. Workload was also a huge issue, and was cited as one of the reasons for Miss Terry (Batley’s first Health Visitor) resigning her post in 1910. She also felt incapable of going through another Diarrhoea Season. She was replaced by Margaret Evelyn Harris, who in turn was succeeded by Alice Musto in January 1912. Miss Musto left in October 1914 to become a Staff Nurse with the Territorial Force Nursing Service and in December 1914 temporary replacement Florence Ray commenced work.

One further obstacle to the Health Visitor and the state of infant health and mortality was said to be the incompetence of midwives. This is a recurrent theme in the Medical Officer reports. For example those of  1910 and 1911 indicated none of the 13 registered midwives in Batley were qualified by virtue of Maternity Hospital Training and having passed examinations of the Central Board.

Despite the Health Visitor highlighting regularly cases of midwife ignorance, she had no power to intervene. The majority of midwives could not read, write or use a clinical thermometer or take temperatures. They treated premature babies no differently than full term ones, causing death. Barbaric practices were undertaken by some midwives including squeezing the child’s head into shape after birth. Another cruel procedure carried out by some midwives was squeezing the baby’s nipples, which frequently resulted in the formation of abscesses. The tradition of squeezing the mammary secretions of newborn infants was partly rooted in folklore and superstition around witch’s milk, with midwives and grandmothers believing that if this milk was not expressed from the mammary glands of newborns it would be stolen by witches.

In her contributions to the 1914 report, by which time two of Batley’s midwives did have qualifications, the newly appointed Florence Ray did not hold back in new views about Batley’s cadre of midwives, stating:

Several of the practising midwives are most unsuitable both on account of their ignorance and dirty habits.

One was castigated for:

…urging the mother to adopt the disgusting practice of frequently spitting into her infant’s eyes.

The Health Visitor was playing an increasingly important role in infant and child health in the community by highlighting deficiencies, suggesting solutions and providing help and assistance to mothers. The value of the activities of the Batley Health Visitor spread beyond the town. One example was in the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 31 January 1908:

Babies “At Home” at Batley
The crusade against infantile mortality is being vigorously pursued in Batley. A lady health visitor has been appointed, and yesterday she gave an “at home” to 220 babies and their mothers. The children were all under six months old, but appeared remarkably healthy. The guests were received by the Mayor and Mayoress…The health visitor proposes to hold “at homes” periodically in cottage houses.

This event was continued, with the 1910 report by the Batley Medical Officer including details of another successful tea attended by the Mayor and Mayoress along with 500 mothers of babies in June that year. The Yorkshire Post of 8 June 1910 reported the event, and the overall impact of the Health Visitor on infant mortality in the town:

Bright Babies at Batley
Nearly five hundred of Batley’s brightest babies beamed on the Mayor and Mayoress yesterday at an “at home,” held at the Town Hall. The function, which is an annual affair, is a striking tribute to the work done by Nurse Terry, the Health Visitor, and the Batley and District Public Health Service. It is a remarkable fact that in the first year of Nurse Terry’s service with the Committee, which is a voluntary institution, there was an infant mortality of 180 per thousand births, and in the following year this number had decreased to 162 per thousand. Last year, however, when the Health Visitor was engaged by the Corporation, and was thus a Public Officer as well as interested in the private institution, the death rate was still further reduced to 117 per thousand, which is the lowest ever reached in the sanitary history of the borough.

I wonder if my paternal grandparents or their siblings attended these events? And I also wonder if my maternal great grandmother was one of the midwives who received so much criticism.

The role of Health Visitor was just one of the initiatives focused on improving infant mortality rates in the town. And there were blips in these rates even after the appointment. But things were finally moving in the right direction.

In conclusion, I found it surprising so many of the themes discussed in early 20th century Batley are echoed in topics currently debated: from vaccinations to Breast is Best campaigning; from post and ante natal care to maternity and childcare provision; from providing cheap nutritious family meals to the pressures facing working mums. Above all the series of reports provided a new insight into the lives of my ancestors and the times and community in which they lived.

 

Footnote:

  • Table 1 Note: In 1926 the number of deaths of under ones was reported as 44 in the main statistical notes of the annual Batley Medical Officer report. Elsewhere in that report it is given as 43 which equates to the mortality rate of 68.8 given in the report. I have revised the figure to equate to 44 deaths, giving a rate of 70.40

Sources:

  • Various Batley Medical Officer Reports 1892-1971
  • Bradford Daily Telegraph – 31 January 1908
  • The Yorkshire Post – 8 June 1910
  • The Leeds Mercury – 14 March 1913
  • Yorkshire Evening Post – 14 March 1913

I’d also like to thank Janet Few whose recent Pharos Tutors course about Discovering you British Family and Local Community in the early 20th Century prompted me to start looking in more depth at various local history statistics and using graphs and charts to illustrate findings.

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes.

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”.

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”.

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”.

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”.

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”.

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments.

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry.

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccessful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases.

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally.

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease.

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection.

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse.

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies .

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment.

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now.

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay.

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include:

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)