Nuisances were a huge problem, not just in Sunderland but throughout the country. The term covered a wide range of issues and was used to describe anything that could potentially be hazardous to health.
The importance of nuisances to social reformers stemmed from the prevailing belief amongst the medical profession that disease was spread by miasma, or bad air. This meant that it was important that decomposing material, the source of foul smells, was removed from towns and cities. In 1846 and 1848 two Nuisances Removal and Diseases Prevention Acts were passed. These gave local authorities powers to deal with nuisances.
The term nuisances covered a wide range of issues.
• dwelling houses or buildings that were so filthy and unwholesome as to be injurious to health
• any foul or offensive ditch, gutter, privy, cesspool or ashpit
• the keeping of animals, including pigs and cows, in a way that could endanger health
• accumulations of dung, manure, offal, filth or refuse.
Although the miasma theory was discredited when germs were discovered later in the century, it remained important to public health that nuisances such as the above were dealt with appropriately.