1873 Urgency for Sanitary Improvement



During 1873 the Visiting Officer called the Board’s attention to Blantyre’s sanitary condition. After failing to persuade the Local Authority to take its duties more seriously, Dr. Littlejohn was sent to inquire and the following is an extract from his report. Subsequently the Board, using the threat of court action, insisted that the drainage and water supply be improved.

I visited in succession, Blantyre Works Village, Stonefield, Dixon’s Village, Barnhill, Hunthill, Blantyre Village, Causeystone and Auchenraith. The first circumstance that attracted my attention was the state of the surface-drainage.

(a) The condition of the roads, although after some days of continuous dry weather, was very bad. The footpaths were not properly maintained, and the gutters were generally absent, or so filled in with mud as to be practically useless.

(b) In the neighborhood of dwellings these sanitary evils were greatly increased, as all the sewage and liquid refuse from the houses was generally thrown on to the road in front, and there generally it lay, where, from the total absence of fall, it could not pass to a lower level, polluting the atmosphere as it lay.

(c) On the other hand, where, as at Barnhill and Braehead, from the arrangement of the houses, it was easier for the tenants to throw their slops to the back, this fluid-refuse was, in many instances, allowed to flow over the bank behind, spreading as it went, and gradually losing itself in the soil, or ultimately the Calder.

The second matter to which I directed my attention was the character of the water-supply — which consists mainly of wells, in nearly every case placed in dangerous proximity to manure heaps and privies. It is also defective in quantity. This was a general complaint. At Stonefield, I saw villagers coming from a distance to draw water from a spout which in summer is often dry, and the water of which is contaminated at a farm a little higher up, as the farm utensils are washed in it. Nothing could be worse than the surroundings of the water-supply. A large quantity of sewage from the houses in Stonefield at a higher level passed into a pool formed by a small burn and the water from this spout. I was informed by the villagers that in summer here was most disgusting — that the water itself, if present, was equally so.

The water-supply at Barnhill, supplied by the Nether Well, was almost equally objectionable, the ground in its immediate neighborhood being soaked with sewage, which a slight amount of supervision could easily have diverted. Nowhere was the very faulty state of the surface-drainage more noticeable than at Auchenraith Check-bar, where a large quantity of sewage had collected by the wayside, and from some impediment to its free escape had become dammed up, forming a collection of fluid which tainted the air at the time of my visit, although the weather was cold.

Drainage — The parish of Blantyre, in a large portion of its area has lost the character of a rural parish, and is fast becoming a very populous township. The population in 1861 was 3,002; in 1871, 3,472; and from a census which was made by the police at short time ago, the population was found to be upwards of 7,000. Within the last few years mining villages have been built, none of which are to be seen on the Ordinance Survey. For example, Dixon’s Village consists of 55 blocks, each block containing four houses. For this population there is only one well; and those living farthest from this source of supply betake themselves to a burn, the water of which is contaminated higher up by the entrance of sewage. Again, the liquid refuse passes along the front of the houses, and finds its way toward the burn. Before actually reaching it, the refuse is interrupted by being passed into large cesspools of enormous size. The wooden cover of one of these was deficient, and the contents were seen to be decomposing rapidly. These cesspools were in dangerous proximity to the town, and, from their position, I have no doubt, contaminated it by overflow and soakage.

Water Supply — I am also of the opinion that it is imperatively necessary that a suitable and constant supply of pure water should be introduced. The well water, at present largely used is, to say the least, of most doubtful quality. In Dixon’s Village, just alluded to, the proprietors propose to introduce a large  quantity from some pits in the immediate neighborhood. Such an addition is urgently required. The source, however, is liable to contamination and the quantity to great diminution, should any deeper pits be sunk in the neighborhood. When one sees such a large population only supplied with one well, it comes to be a question whether the Legislature should not interfere, and prevent the erection of houses under a certain rental until satisfactory evidence has been afforded that sufficient and wholesome water-supply has been supplied.

In conclusion I beg to express my opinion, that the present juncture is a most important one in the sanitary history of this important parish. It is rapidly being built upon. I observed houses of good proportions being erected in almost every quarter; and those which were first inhabited, as at Stonefield, opposite the new school house, were discharging their sewage into a quagmire. Allow a few years to elapse, and the building operations to progress, it will become a matter of great difficulty to drain efficiently without incurring enormous expense; and I need hardly add, that this rapidly-increasing population imperatively demands an abundant supply of wholesome water.

Report by Dr. H. D. Littlejohn on the Sanitary Condition of Blantyre, dated 1 May 1876, Reprinted in Sanitary Journal for Scotland, Vol. 1, 1876-77, pp. 16-17. Thanks to Schalene Dagitus for sending in this article.

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