A FEVER DEN IN CROOKESMOOR SHEFFIELD - JANUARY 1877.
Before reading the details of the case against a local property owner Mr John Smith, an explanation of the term "Ash Pit" is called for. Although water closets, had been in existence since the sixteenth century, their use was not widespread. In the towns of Victorian Britain, ash pit privies, usually three or four per yard for as many as 250 people, were the norm. If you were lucky you might even get them emptied every now and again. The principle was that you mixed the ashes in the pit with household effluent. Needless to say, the pits often overflowed, ran down the yards and into the living rooms of the houses. In some cases, intermingled with the houses were smallholdings, slaughter houses, and manure yards.
For a summons to be issued, the situation in the houses on Crookesmoor Road must have been one of sheer desperation. In fact for the Victorians to say that the houses in question were " unfit for inhabitation" was about as bad as it could get.
The report is from the Illustrated Police News dated 3rd February 1877
Reading the details of the case, you cannot help to be amazed by the lack of urgency and the indifference shown. The report makes it clear that this terrible state of affairs had been known for sometime
"last year the state of the properties was so bad that he (Dr. J. S. Roberts) should not have been surprised if half the people had been carried off"
Dr Roberts did suggest that the properties were now much better "sanitarily" but if that was the case, why was John Smith summoned when matters were in hand and not when people were dying as they were a year earlier. The inference is that Mr Smith was dragging his feet on the repairs and that the nuisance had not been effectively dealt with by the time he was summonsed. Mr Smith took the view that the walls of the properties MAY be thoroughly dried in three months but the magistrates were insistent that the "nuisance" must be abated within the month.
Illustrated Police News dated 3rd February 1877
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"To all those tourists, enterprising
and un-enterprising alike, who may be ever led at any future time to investigate
the beauties in which Yorkshire and Derbyshire abounds, there is one piece of
advice that, in a spirit of philanthropy and sincerity, I would give – avoid
Do anything rather than enter its grimy, smoky precincts.
Be circuitous when you might go straight ahead; take six hours where you might take three; put up with the countriest of country inns; endure to remain dinnerless and tobaccoless; submit, in fact, to anything rather than go to Sheffield.
A hideous conglomerate of tall, un-shapely chimneys, of stunted blackened houses, perpetually overhung by dense layers of smoke, which would seem almost to take solid form and substance in the heaven above; a collection of narrow, ill-arranged streets, whose atmosphere forcibly reminds you of that ascribed to the Black Hole at Calcutta; streets which literally teem with children of one uniform size – uniformly squalid, miserable and vicious in appearance; streets at whose corners may be seen knots of ill-conditioned-looking men, haggard, desperate, ill-fed, ill-clothed, up to murder, stratagem, or midnight plots of any kind, judging from their countenance; streets, near the doors of the beer-shops and pawnshops of which you meet with women the exact counterparts of the men, with faces from which all trace of feminine sentiment or shame has long since departed; engrained with misery and crime; women whom it makes one sick and sad to gaze at; whose faces tell you that they receive blows and bruises from their lords, and whose lips, every time they open, tell you that they have long since lost any thought of decency, any regard or God.
Imagine all this and you will have a very fair idea of Sheffield".