An adequate sewerage system was crucial to Sunderland's ability to tackle its public health problems, but it was not until the 1851 Borough of Sunderland Act that the Corporation acquired sufficient powers to construct it.
In 1847, James Hills, a local shopkeeper from Sunderland, gave evidence that sewerage in Sunderland was totally inadequate, stating that they had ‘nothing that can be called sewerage'. Part of the problem was that the corporation, formed under the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act, did not have the powers to build such a system.
In 1851, these powers were granted by the Sunderland Borough Act. Although the corporation was quick to begin work on a sewerage system, even in a town where there was little public opposition to the development of sewers, the process was lengthy.
William Crozier was appointed as Engineer Surveyor in October 1851, and immediately began work on surveying the borough. This was a necessary first step, and took a considerable length of time. Our group found repeated references to the survey throughout this period in the corporation minutes, as Crozier gave regular updates on his progress.
Once the borough had been surveyed, plans had to be drawn up for the system. A Sewerage Committee was established to consider his proposal and once approved it was submitted to the General Board of Health for their approval, which was required in order to raise the mortgage necessary to pay for the work. This was granted in May 1856, so despite the best efforts of all involved, it was nearly five years before work could commence. According to the evidence of Henry Yeld, the Medical Officer of Health, the work was completed by 1860, and in 1866 he could report that Sunderland had ‘a most complete system of drainage'.