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Public Health and Mexborough Local Board

RIGHT - St. John the Baptist School, then known as the National School. Where the first meetings of Mexborough Local Board were held in 1870.


The local boards, the forerunner of our local councils, were formed as an indirect consequence of the thousands of families living in overcrowded, deprived, filthy, living conditions. Without an adequate water supply, drains, or sewers, conditions which were prevalent in the slums of our industrial cities, during the industrial revolution, were truly appalling. Our local boards were also formed because of one disease in particular, Cholera.

This disease started in India in 1817 but did not reach our country until a ship carrying a group of soldiers docked at Sunderland in 1831. It spread like wild fire and by the time the outbreak had died down 18,000 had lost their lives. In 1833 it had killed 22,000 people and in 1837 an outbreak was so serious that the government asked for a report with a result that shock middle-class Victorians.

The Cholera germ is carried in the excreta of the infected person, which, as middens were emptied into the rivers, quickly found its way into the water supply and therefore infected people downstream who drank the water.

In July to September 1832 there was a vast outbreak in Sheffield, with yet another in 1848, and as most of Sheffield’s sewage went directly into the River Don it was only a matter of time before towns downstream fell victim. On 5th November 1849 a twenty-one year old Mexborough girl, Ester Harrison visited relations in Sheffield 17hrs after her return she had died of Cholera. Our vicar instantly went into action by ordering that the banks of the canal and river, which was used as a toilet by bargees and their families travelling to and from Sheffield, should be Quick Limed. Also he ordered that none should be allowed to alight from barges travelling through our town and, reminiscent of the ‘Plague Village of Eyam’, no person should leave or enter the town. As a result of his diligence Ester was the only one to die of the disease in our town and there is only one gravestone in Mexborough Parish Church Graveyard which tells of the ravages of Cholera.

After the outbreak of 1848 it was evident that something had to be done and Parliament passed a Public Health Act. There became a Central Board of Health which had the power to set up a Local Board of Health in any area where the death rate was 23 per 1,000 or higher. The local board had to have a clerk, surveyor, treasurer and a medical officer of health. They had to make sure that all new houses were built with a piped sewage disposal and lavatories. But most important of all they had to make sure that all households were supplied with clean drinking water. At this time germs had not been discovered and it was a common belief that Cholera was spread by a Miasma, which is the foul smell which comes from sewage and drains. The Central Board of Health therefore took it upon themselves to declare that if a company could supply water for 2d (1p) per week per household, they had the right to force house owners to have water piped to the houses and then to charge a rate for this.

In 1854 Dr. John Snow, after an outbreak of Cholera in Soho, London, proved once and for all how Cholera was transmitted from one person to another and in 1866 the Sanitary Act was passed, which stated that every town had to have Sanitary Inspectors. It was also in that year that Mexborough got its Mexborough Board of Health. The earliest documentation we have of this Board is included in the minutes of the Mexborough Local Board Log Book 1870-1891. The first meeting of this board was held on 7th November 1870 at The National School (St. John the Baptist School), then at Bank Street, Mexborough. The committee consisted of Messes. I. Dickinson, G. Sutton, B. Verity, T. Barron, and Mr. Joel Kirby as Chairman.

Naturally public health was not the only topic minuted and it is documented that at one of the first meetings of the Local Board the fire engine had its annual service. The eleven men, which constituted our fire service at that time, connected the hose to different outlets in order to check their capabilities. The engine obviously past its test as it successfully shot water from the Montagu Arms Public House to the canal, a distance of a quarter of a mile away. Thus proving that Mexborough must have had a fire service pre 1870.

In 1871 a new gate was needed for the ‘Pound Fold’. In those days areas of Dolcliffe Common, where grain was grown and animals grazed, had still not been enclosed. The Pound Fold, or Pinfold as some named it, was still much use and was an enclosed area, situated at the junction of Adwick Road and Bank Street, where animals, which had strayed onto other people’s property, could be kept in safety until their owner claimed them.

In that year we also find that a rounded wall was built at “Mr. Baguley’s Kiln Corner”. Mr. Baguley had once been the gilder for the world famous Rockingham Pottery and upon its closure, in 1842, moved his workshops to the junction of Bank Street and Dolcliffe Road. It was to the rear of this property, on Dolcliffe Road, that he placed his kilns and to accommodate the cone shape of the kilns, it was necessary for the wall to be rounded. This wall stands to this day opposite Mexborough Resource Centre.

In 1872 an agreement was reached to enclose more parts of Mexborough Common. But the main purpose of this special meeting, which is still felt by us to this very day, was to officially name the streets of Mexborough and in some cases to rename them. In those days High Street (named after the Turnpike or Highway which ran down it) stretched from Sarah Street (near the General Post Office) to Pastures Road and the numbers given to the houses as their postal addresses, went into the hundreds, the decision was made to divide it up and renumber the houses. High Street, from that date, was to run from Sarah Street to its junction with Garden Street (so named because Savile Gardens were to be found on it). As there was a bank on the next stretch it was to be named Bank Street and this street ceased at its junction with Adwick Road (so named because it was the road to Adwick-on-Dearne). The next piece of road from Adwick Road to Pastures Road became named Doncaster Road, as it was part of the old road to Doncaster, which continued down Pastures Road in the direction of High Melton. Incidentally the road which joins Doncaster Road and Pastures Road and travels in the direction of Denaby Main was given the name Denaby Road, and ceased at the River Don. This of course, was just one road and over the night Market Street, Church Street and others were officially named.

1874 seems to have been one in which a lot of building and planning was undertaken. Plans were passed for houses in the Hirstgate and Schofield Street areas. A piped water supply was needed for Mexborough and a Mr. Brunel was employed to solve this problem. The old Mexborough Market was moved to a site opposite the Montagu Arms, a new road was being laid and the building of a new market hall was discussed.

The following year the ‘George and Dragon Farm’ (now the George & Dragon Public House) on Church Street was sold by auction and members of the local board attended the sale in order to purchase equipment for the town. For the first time pavements were placed on Dolcliffe Road, Oxford Road, Cemetery Road and Market Street. Also for the first time, the delicate subject of public toilets was broached, naturally this did not include the provision of a Ladys’ Toilet, and the first public toilet was a “Gentlemans’ Iron Urinal” which was placed at Mr. Lockwood’s Corner, situated at the top of Doncaster Road. Another public toilet was planned to be sited in the Market Place. This was to be on Oxford Road to the rear of what is now ‘Whetherspoons’, the Local Board Book then states that “it was to be a ‘fourseater’”.

In 1877 fire hydrants were put into the streets and roads of Mexborough, and Mr. Brunel sent a bill to Mexborough Local Board for £460 18s 1d (£460 90), for the provision of an adequate water supply to the town of Mexborough. A meeting of the local board then took place, to discuss what Rate was to be paid by the residents of the town, for its provision.

On September 2nd 1879 an interesting entry can be found in the Local Board Book it states “After ****ing about in the dark adjourned to bed to dream of the laying of the foundation stone of the Market Hall”. The foundation stone of Mexborough Market Hall was laid (now Whetherspoons) laid the following day. Also Mexborough’s old Boundary Stone was unearthed close to the top of Swinton Road. The decision was also made that street lamps were now to be lit on Sunday Nights.

In 1882 a new Fire Engine House was constructed on the site of the Local Board Stables. This was on the banks of the canal to the rear of the fish market on Market Street and also to the rear of the Fire and Police Stations which were constructed in 1895.

February 1883 saw the first sewer pipe being laid in Mexborough, these being on Park Road. To avoid flooding the level of Pastures Road had to be lifted and cave ash was bought from Bull Green Glassworks, stone from Mr. Carr’s Quarry and pot shards from the Rock Pottery, were purchased for this purpose.

Also in 1883 we find a very interesting entry. While building a wall on Harlington Lane (now Harlington Road); close to the top of Herbert Street, an old road was discovered. This was 17ft 6in (approx 3.5 meters) wide and consisted of large sandstone flags. Over the years I have asked archaeologist about this and discovered that the width corresponds to that of a Roman Road and as Roman items, such as pottery, coins, and hobnails, have been found along the old road which leads from Harlington Road through the fields to Harlington it seems reasonable to suppose that the archaeologists could be correct.

Mexborough had, to this time, been an agricultural town and the old farm buildings were slowly been replaced by domestic and industrial buildings. It seems strange then to discover, in 1884, that plans were passed for cowsheds to be constructed on High Street.

1889 saw the preparation for the opening of Montagu Cottage Hospital, which once stood on Bank Street next to Oriental Chambers at the end of the Fly Over. Wooden Block Paving was specially purchased and laid down in the road in order that the sound of horses’ hooves should not disturb the patients.

It was also in 1889 that a Sanitary Committee was formed, which made plans to extend the Sewage Works. The new extension had to consist of a house, tanks, and screening machinery.

The last date mentioned, in the Local Board Book, is April 20th 1891, when further problems were encountered with flooding on Pastures Road and once again its level had to be lifted.

In the years since the formation of Mexborough Local Board: the streets of Mexborough had been paved, therefore enabling them to be easily cleaned; they were also well drained and well lit. We had a clean, adequate, piped water supply. The town also had a sewage works situated on Pastures Road, fed by a piped sewage disposal system. Also the new houses on Park Road had piped water fed straight into them, accessed on the sinks by taps, they also had W.C.s. and some even had bathrooms. Mexborough Local Board was disbanded in 1894, when our first elections were held for members of Mexborough Urban District Council. As a result of their hard work, in just twenty-five years, in 1895, the year our first urban district councils sat, Cholera had almost been eradicated.

Information Obtained From:
Mexborough Local Board Book
Work Out Social & Economic History.
British Economic & Social History by C.P. Hill
Common Place Book (Mexborough Parish Church Records)


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