Miners & The Water Supply, 1874

By 6th October 1874, Sheriff Spens had issued his judgement in the case of Blantyre local authority against Mr McGregor, residing at Hydepark House at the corner of Springfield and Broompark Road Blantyre. The case, a prominent one was around the water supply to miners’ families at Stonefield.

It was alleged by the petitioners that at two different places, the sewage was allowed to run into the stream of water coming down from Springfield House and passing by Dixon’s Rows and Stonefield (Hasties) Farm and that this water was being used by the inhabitants for domestic purposes. It was thus polluted, constituted a nuisance dangerous to the public health.

Mr McGregor was held to be responsible for this, and under the 16th and 18th clauses of the Public Health Act, his Lordship was asked to cause the discontinuance of the alleged nuisance. He had dismissed the petition, and in a long note explained that at the diet on 16th September 1874, Mr Thomson, the sanitary inspector stated that from 150 to 200 families, mostly if not exclusively miners’ families, used the water of the drain or stream had complained of it being a nuisance for their domestic supply. The Sheriff distinctly understood that Mr Thomson meant that it furnished these families with their sole supply.

As a subsequent meeting, Mr Thomson explained that he did not say sole, but chief of principal supply. If these words had been used, the Sheriff would have asked, “What other means have they?”. One thing was clear that Mr Thomson either wilfully or unintentionally withheld the knowledge that the miners’ families referred to had other water supplies – a fact obviously bearing on the merits of the case.

Mr Watson, sanitary inspector of Hamilton to whom the case was remitted, stated in his report that “the miners’ families” referred to were getting their supply from a reservoir recently made for that purpose, the supply to which is got from a different source. The Sheriff understood that Messrs Dixon & Co had been seriously annoyed at the strictures of the press as to the supplying sewage water to their men. His Lordship could only now say that Messrs Dixon had provided a reservoir for supplying their men with water from other sources than the polluted stream in question, and he regretted that he should have accepted his understanding of what Mr Thomson said without further investigation into its accuracy,

The conclusions arrived at by the Sheriff were as follows:
1. It appears to the Sheriff Substitute that there is no nuisance, in respect that even were respondent interdicted from discharging his overflow into the drain in question, it will still be utterly unfitted for domestic supply.

2. As regards the miners’ families specially referred to at last diet, it now appears that they have other sources of supply, and there is no reasonable prospect, even were respondent interdicted, of the water of the stream or drain being other than wholesome.

3. Respondent was willing to fit up a tank, if the Local Authority saw to the removal of the overflow. This the latter declined to do. In the whole circumstances, the Sheriff Substitute thinks the Local Authority should have provided proper drainage , and he is not prepared to put a heavy expense on respondent, merely because the Local Authority have neglected an obvious duty.

4. Had it been true that the owners of the miners’ houses had provided a proper supply of water therefor, the Local Authority are entitled under the Public Health Act to require them to provide it.

This event goes to show that even one property emptying their sewage into a stream within their land can have serious consequences further downstream if the residents are reliant upon that stream being pure and clean.

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