A disturbing view of Victorian Preston — 3


  • The dense, lengthy paragraphs of the original have been broken up for improved readability.
  • The map sections that illustrate the route are taken from the Ordnance Survey six-inch map first published in 1849, with some later additions such as, for example, St Walburge’s Church opened in 1854.
  • Spellings have not been corrected, except for proper names, to avoid sprinkling the text with the ‘sics’ beloved of pedantic scholars.
  • Words now rarely found are defined on their first appearance.
  • Images of the various places and streets mentioned can usually be found in either the Preston Digital Archive or the Red Rose Collection.
  • For detailed histories of any of the public houses mentioned see Preston’s Inns, Taverns and Beerhouses.

Another day we go in quest of the Ribble through FISHERGATE, in the opposite direction to that of our former route. After passing the railway station, and noting the general neatness of the entrance for departures to Carlisle and Lancaster, as opposed to the disorder of the entrance for departure to the more Midland towns, we observe that Fishergate becomes suburban, casts off its old-world name at FISHERGATE HILL, and assumes the names of WEST END, RIBBLE PLACE, and BROADGATE [this, I think, is not the present Broadgate but a stretch of the present Fishergate Hill] consecutively.

There are rows of suburban streets and terraces of a generally clean and healthy character; another sepulchral mansion behind a boundary-wall, bulged out by pressure of earth on the inner side, which a thaw after a frost may cause to fall out upon the pavement; and at the end of a regiment of neat little houses, facing each other and flanking the road, with pebble pavements in front, and close yards in the rear, a new church [CHRIST CHURCH]. This is in the Norman style, and is remarkable for two extremely colossal and massive octagon western towers, and for two large round gate-posts formed of Norman pillars, with caps—a confusion of parts that is certainly not common.

There is a noticeable feature in this district, in the large perforated coal-cellar plates in the pavement. These are in design like great traceried wheel-windows, about 1 foot 6 inches in diameter; and studded with iron knots to prevent passengers from slipping on them. These perforated coal-plates, or cellar ventilators, are used in other parts of Preston, and are on the same plan that writers in these columns have recommended for London cellars on the paved footways.

The mosaic-like arrangement of white headers to the dull red brickwork enlivens the street fronts here and there; and the different turnings branching off, give distant hazy views of factories bathed in steam, with their chimneys saluting—commerce, perhaps—in volleys of smoke. Yet a few minutes’ walk, past STANLEY TERRACE, very sunny with terrace gardens set out in a hollow before it, and GRAFTON STREET, where new villas are building, across SOUTH MEADOW LANE, fast developing into a street likewise, and we come upon the muddy WHARF SIDE of the river Ribble.

A vessel is moored close by, and men are busily unloading it—of pebbles for paving. And here we must say a word on the score of the properties of the different kinds of pavement. These pebble pavements as in use at Birmingham, Shrewsbury, and elsewhere, admit of rain and slops, and in shambles of blood, first lying in myriads of little pools, and then of soaking into the earth, and, after that, of being re-distributed in the air in the form of exhalations, according to the state of the temperature. The York paving-stones, used in London, are not very porous; but still they are so in some degree, and, as every one knows, are greasy with mud in bad weather. But the Caithness flaggings, used in the North, are not at all porous—rain runs off them immediately, and no mud ever adheres; they are dry and clean five minutes after a heavy rain-fall. In some towns, where Caithness paving has been but partially introduced, the appearance between this and the old sandstone flagging in this respect is remarkable. In a few minutes after a shower the Caithness flags will stand out a dry, pale, slatey blue colour, while the rain is still glistening upon, and gradually soaking into the darkened, greasy sandstone. So, as we stand looking at the vessel freighted with pebbles, moored to the wharf on the muddy banks of the Ribble, we think if she had brought non-porous flagging instead, it would have been so much the better for Preston.

Section of 1st edition six inch ordnance survey map of Preston, Lancashire UK

On one side of the river there is a morass; on the other a great flat plain between the wharfs and the town, covered with factories, which extend in both directions, and encompass the old town. A little variety is produced on the gaunt outlines of some of these buildings by tank towers, and in others by great hook-shaped ventilators rising out of the roofs, which, ugly enough in themselves, are palpable evidences of some attempt to better the condition of the operatives, and, therefore, shall pass scatheless from criticism.

Also in sight, close to a walled-in group of tenantless premises, which has a mistiness as of a chancery suit hanging about it, there is a great scavenage [street sweeping] heap, standing in a pool of the usual deposits, awaiting shipment; and a little beyond this there is the mouth of a sewer issuing forth hot sewage. An immense number of corks has, perhaps accidentally, got into the sewer, and, bobbing about in the sewage, they float out into the river, and Indicate its exact course as it intermixes with the stream. These last mentioned facts are, of course, evidences of the existence of some scavenage and sewerage; but they are also evidences of the imperfect manner in which both are carried out.

This, then, is the “pathway by the river,” the walk to which the lads and lasses of Preston may betake themselves of a summer’s evening for air and exercise, unless, indeed, they have a preference for the rough games in the muddy Orchard, or are careless enough to be able to enjoy a walk in the cemetery. The place opposite the sewer outlet, called the Marshes, is the only recreation ground. When will Preston think it good to make a people’s park?

From this we wend our way to get a nearer view of the houses of the factory-workers. To do this we cross the plain and pass rows of houses building, with old brick-bats taken out of rubbish-heaps, on the old unhealthy plan of digging a pit in the earth for the kitchens; others, in SPRING ROW, already built with pigsties, pits, and water-buts on higher ground behind them, so that all overflowing and percolations must filter through the houses the floors of which are below the level of the soil in the rear, common privies in front of the houses, muddy coal-ash roads, and clothes hanging out to dry.

Will this generation never learn the absurdity of placing floors below the level of the surrounding soil and then of placing water-butts, privies, and pigsties close to them with no drainage? How long will doctors come and go and cure fever, rheumatism, and other ills, and the causes of them not be removed?

Some flaming placards pasted under a railway-arch give the state of the local habits and feelings in an indirect manner; “Beware! beware! Have you the bowel complaint? remember that it may assume the form of incipient cholera if improperly or ignorantly treated. Do you want curing, speedily, safely, and pleasantly, without any disgusting medicine which are enough to make an horse sick, then go to Bell & Co., 95, Friargate, at once,” and so on. A little farther on others are being pasted up as we walk: they concern the ward elections. “Voters, go in for Ware.” “Ware, and no interference with the poor man’s pig.” Beware, Ware! we say, if he intend to let the pigs alone.

By the side of the AQUEDUCT INN is another of those unaccountable pieces of mismanagement we have noticed before: the end of a sewer discharges the whole of what drainage there is upon the face of the land. In this case the sewage is steaming with the waste steam from the cotton-mills of Messrs. J. Swinson and W. Tayler. A vacant piece of ground is here bounded on three sides by the rear out-buildings of houses, and on the fourth side this sewer forms a stream. The space within is used as a rough playground by children, who have riddled it into innumerable holes, but it is not of them we would say a word: a butcher, close by, makes use of this space in which to bury, a few inches beneath the surface, the blood and guts and offal from his slaughter-house!

Another similar space is left further on off the Fylde-road, where a sort of crater in the centre is full of stagnant slime; twenty-three colossal factories can be counted from this point of view, all shooting from their narrow, long-necked chimneys interminable wreaths of the densest smoke that could possibly be manufactured. LEYLAND STREET and DAWSON STREET, close to Mr. Hugh Dawson’s factories, are back to back with cruelly small yards, all of which have privies and pits; and there are two holes made in the wall at the end of the row, for the overflowings to be carried to the rest of the sewage streamlets, with which this neighbourhood is defiled.

Section of 1st edition six inch ordnance survey map of Preston, Lancashire UK

At one end of this second open space, thus laid out with volcanic scenery and sewage, there is a magnificent Roman Catholic establishment [ST WALBURGE’S], containing church, schools, and domestic buildings and immediately before the elaborate west end facade of the church of the aforesaid establishment, there is another crater-full of green foecal matter, which deponent has but little doubt represents the drainage of the schools and domestic buildings of the establishment aforesaid.

Who can wonder that sickness lurks in such neighbourhoods? Its general prevalence may have conduced to bring it under something like regulations, as a notice on the church-door declares “sick calls must be given to the priest of the district, and left at the presbytery before ten in the morning.” There are other notices affixed to the church—one giving word of an arch confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the conversion of sinners; others notifying a confraternity of the Bona Mors for a happy death, an Altar Society, a Purgatory Society, a Girls’ Holy Guild, a Men’s and Boys’ Holy Guild, a Young Women’s Holy Guild. When may we hope to hear of the formation of a confraternity to cleanse the houses and plant health at the hearths of the poor residents of this fearful district?

The architectural effect of this fine group of buildings is due to Mr. J. Hansom. The church, which is dedicated to St. Walbourg [Walburge], has a very large one-spanned nave as nearly as a man can count by pacing, 70 feet wide,—with a handsome timber roof with carved spandrils, and with a large, bold wheel window at the west end. The tower is still unfinished. The east end of the church overlooks a railway cutting and St. Walbourg’s-street [ST WALBURGES’ STREET]—a row of houses, with pebble pavement and a sloughy kennel [‘The surface drain of a street; the gutter’ (OED)] in front, and a row of privies and water-butts in the rear, the drainage from which percolates into a ditch by the side of the railway.

The next row of houses is called MAUDLAND BANK: their contracted yards and crowded ash- pits overhang the steep bank of a canal. The view from the canal bridge is ghastly. There are a few wretched, decayed trees on the banks, and the overhanging privies and dung middens have discharged their surplus filth over their boundary walls on to these banks below [where?] sewers empty themselves into the canal; and the water has the appearance of a stagnant sheet of fluid with a thick oleaginous brown crust on it.

There is a new showy, lofty red-brick school [ST PETER’S INFANTS SCHOOL?] close by, with stone facings of good Early Decorated Domestic details, that is as startling in its contrast to the unsanitary conditions around, as is the Roman Catholic establishment just passed. All over Preston this contrast is present. New churches and new schools, surrounded by the most unsanitary conditions, denote that cleanliness is farther from godliness in Preston than it is in the adage.

COLD BATH STREET, overlooking the said new schools, and BOLTON STREET, are more rows of poor houses. By this time we have approached the factories. In the neighbourhood of the celebrated Horrocks’s factory [Moss Factory?],—what housewife of discernment is there but prides herself upon the selection of Horrocks’s longcloth?—in the neighbourhood of this famous firm is KIRKHAM STREET, where families live in horrible cellars, a second family above them on the ground-floor, and a third over that, where the roads are made of coal-ash, the yards so confined that the people must hang out their clothes to dry in the street, at the doors, on the stairs, over the beds, or else over the terrible choked offal-pits that are within a pace of the back doors. Halfway down BACK BOLTON STREET is the rear of ST. PETER’S SCHOOL, a dirty old brick building, with a small playground for the boys that overlooks, in one corner, a cavernous pit of liquid filth, with a trap-door in front of it, next Bolton-street, for the use of the poor residents; and within a stone’s-throw is ST. PETER’S CHURCH, with a graveyard choking full and closed.

MOSS STREET is occupied on one side by a factory; on the other by a row of back-to-back houses for the operatives. These houses have no yards whatever, so the tenants dry their clothes in the street on lines fastened from the fronts of their houses to the factory-wall. As there are no yards, there are no privies; but for the accommodation of the whole colony of families who live in the cellars and first and second floors, there is a nest of privies built at the end of the street across from the factory wall to the wall of the houses. The occupants of the other end of the street must traverse the whole length of it, not only to use them, but to dispose of all their refuse.

BEDFORD STREET, BROOK STREET, ATHERTON STREET, VICTORIA STREET, and ASHMOOR STREET, have all the same characteristics—families living over families, and washing with poss-tubs in the upper rooms, &c. In the rear of MOSS ROSE STREET there are back-yards; but they are literally one yard wide, and the ash-pits, with their rotting contents, are within one yard of the backrooms of the dwellings.

This is near ST. PETER’S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS—a tasteless, neglected brick building, of the same type as those just mentioned for boys — where the girls’ privies are so disgusting that the children are reduced to the necessity of using the paved yard, which is accordingly defiled with pools of urine; further, a channel has been actually made to convey these away past the entrance-door. The state of the windows and of the whole of the establishment, too, would be a disgrace to a community of savages.

There is another open space, bounded by GORDON STREET, BROOK STREET, and VICTORIA STREET, which would be of inestimable value if laid out as a play-ground for the children of the crowded district; but half of this is now occupied by a nest of piggeries, and the remainder as a second-hand timber-yard.

Factories are thick upon the ground in this neighbourhood. We see ARKWRIGHT’S GREAT FACTORY here. There are, too, many more rows of houses built on the same type as those described—HAWKINS STREET, Springfold-street [SPRINGFIELD STREET], MURRAY STREET, and more—before we find another open space. But we see another, bounded by Hawkins-street and Emanuel-street [EMMANUEL STREET], which has been made a temporary playground by children. In the centre of it, however, a pig-jobber has been allowed to form a circular tank, or dung-basin, in the soil, by raising a mud bank and clay parapet, in which he preserves the pigsty manure. We can only conclude that the Board of Health is paralysed.

Cotton-mills and weaving-sheds have taken possession of a vast tract, or moor, originally quite out of the town. Here are Goodyear’s, Gardiner’s, and Adam Leigh’s factories. Many others are newly built, and still more are building; and the rows of factory dwellings keep pace with these erections. The latter are all built after the same model,—no drainage, the smallest possible yard, with a privy and ashpit and water-butt not 3 feet from the backs of the houses, or none at all.

Midway on the moor is a deep ravine [Moor Brook?], over which a road has been thrown, and millions of cart- loads of scavenage and rubbish are gradually filling it up. Upon this artificial foundation rows of factory dwellings are now being built, and some of them are furnished with cellars, or, more correctly speaking, pits, sunk in this foundation of scavenage. New mills are built without roads. The QUEEN’S MILL, newly built (1861) on this moor, has neither roads nor drains; and the rain and waste steam have formed lakes around it of coal-ash mud, which the operatives must ford to enter the mill. An exception to this state of things has been attempted by Mr. Tomlinson, a barrister-at- law and land-owner here. He provided his houses with drainage and water-closets; hut, unfortunately, the want of playgrounds obliges the children to play where they may, and the closets soon got out of order; and this pioneer movement was abandoned, and the reign of the cesspool system resumed. A second step has been taken in the right direction. There are ragged and industrial schools on MILL HILL, —another of these overcrowded streets; but to make them of efficient avail, the unsanitary conditions of the roads and dwellings should be reformed.

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