Skip to main content

Sunderland and the Public Health Act

Following the establishment of the Central Board of Health in 1849, Sunderland wrote to urge the necessity of sending a Superintending Inspector to Sunderland to report on its sanitary state and make recommendations.

Robert Rawlinson was sent to Sunderland in February 1850.  The Sanitary Committee reported his visit, noting that he had visited areas throughout the borough and had received evidence from the Sanitary Committee and many inhabitants.

Rawlinson's report was published in 1851 and copies were distributed throughout the population.  His findings were shocking to some, and one of the major results was the middle and upper classes were no longer able to exist in ignorance of the living conditions of the working classes.

His report gives much detail about the sanitary state of Sunderland in the mid-nineteenth century, as demonstrated in the following excerpts:

     “There is a most filthy place between two walls from 4 to 5 feet wide, behind John Street...called the Stinking Ditch, and it is literally so. This nuisance has not been abated, for no one will own it.  A little from the Brandling inn is a cottage in a most unhealthy state; the water falling from a large building completely soaks through the walls, behind which is a stable in which sometimes pigs and rabbits are kept.  The manure is allowed to be deposited for weeks together, until there are two or three cartloads.  When I first visited this cottage I found it occupied by a very clean old woman and her husband; their bed-room was very offensive; they are both since dead of cholera....”

     “There are very few private drains communicating with the sewers.  The ordure and offensive matters from the houses are generally brought out and thrown into the streets, and perhaps principally near the gratings or gully-holes, where it remains giving forth unhealthy effluvia, until removed by the scavenger or a shower of rain.  Indeed it is difficult to say where the refuse water from some of even the better class of houses finds an outlet.

The want of cleanly habits in the people adds to the accumulation of filth.  Depositories for abominations of every kind are made in the most central places, and tend to the spread of all kinds of foul vapours and nuisances.”