The modernisation of local administration
See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings
5. The Second Phase: needs recognised and Local Board formed.
The recognition that in an urban environment collective need demanded collective response dawned slowly in Preston. Collectively the Commissioners and councillors contrived to resist the persuasion of propaganda, pressure groups, Blue Books, an increasingly intolerable environment and of typhus and cholera, and when they finally submitted to parliamentary compulsion they did so protesting against ‘centralisation’. Under a mounting barrage of information and unpleasant experience, opinion shifted past the critical point in about 1848, and learning the lessons taught by trying to solve the sanitary problem with inadequate means, the town’s elected leaders began the huge task of equipping themselves as the Local Board of Health.
The extent of the change of public opinion is clear in a comparison of the Chronicle’s comments on two parliamentary bills. On Lord Normanby’s Building and Drainage in Towns bill in 1841 the Chronicle was concerned with the importance ‘of not interfering with the right of every man to manage his own property in his own way… let the general provisions… avoid to the utmost practicable extent anything that is meddling, expensive or vexatious’ (123). By the time of the 1848 Health of Towns bill this care for the immunity of private property had changed:
Experience has amply proved that wealth, as well as poverty, is inapt to fulfil more of its obligations to society than it is compelled to discharge… The only effective remedy, then, is to make sanatory improvement compulsory, and to remove the onus of deciding upon its principles and details from the shoulders of the local authorities by the establishment of a central board of supervision and direction. (124).
These are opposite opinions, but the transformation should not be surprising because only those who lacked the senses of sight, smell, and hearing could have remained indifferent to ‘the tendencies of the age’. Contrary to the belief of the surgeon Robert Brown ‘that Preston was remarkably free from the causes of complaint which applied to most other large towns’ (125), conditions here were not really distinguishable from those of most other places described in Chadwick’s Report (126), and mortality was very high indeed, averaging over 29 per thousand between 1838 and 1850 with peaks of 40.53 in 1840 and 36.36 in 1846 (127). What is of interest here is not so much the descriptive details but rather the means by which they were brought to public attention in the town. With John Clay’s Report on the Sanatory Condition of Preston, written for Chadwick in 1842 and printed in the Report of the Health of Tom’s Commission in 1844 (128), Clay’s lectures on the subject to the Literary and Philosophical society in December 1843, which were printed in full in the press (129), and supported by Lyon Playfair in the Commission’s second Report in 1845 (130), it was impossible to dissociate Preston from the worst of Chadwick’s report. To men who were becoming accustomed to making proud comparisons with other towns (131) such publicity must have been discomfiting. Playfair spared no blushes:
Preston, distinguished for the rural beauty of its town, and for the activity of its authorities, has been strangely negligent in its endeavours to procure a systematic sewerage … Mr Park… states that ‘There are no specific regulations for draining the town or its vicinity… A large extent of the town is entirely without under drains or sewers’… I observed several recently made excavations in the streets and on inquiring the cause I found that the Commissioners had been in search of the sewers… (132)
Other inadequacies exposed to national view included the fact that the nine Scavengers employed by the Commissioners ‘do not cleanse courts and alleys, or undedicated streets, and have only one place of deposit’; the absence of a local Building Act; a population of 2,460 dwelling in 600 cellars; and a gross want of privies in certain districts (133). Playfair erroneously commended Preston’s authorities on the results of their ‘laudable desire to secure proper places for the recreation of the working classes’ (134); and his findings on the water supply of Preston were-revealing while there was a ‘general and great deficiency in supplies of water to the poor’, Preston had a continuous rather than intermittent supply of water under pressure for extinguishing fires, especially in cotton mills (135).
In Clay’s arguments for sanitary improvement there was little resort to humanitarian persuasion. The mortality which carried off 55% of the children of the operative, 38% of the tradesman, and 18% of the gentry classes before the age of 5, was both preventable – as the large differences between ‘well-conditioned’ and ‘ill-conditioned’ streets proved – and expensive: ‘… the deaths prevented annually would be 496, and the money saved would amount to £1240.’ (136) An improved sanitary system would also save at least one third of the expenses of sickness. Reduction of the nuisance of smoke from factory chimneys would reduce the expenses of washing and painting. Thus his Report, by accumulation of statistical detail (much of it hypothetical) amounted to an account of the cost of improvements and the consequent savings to all interests in the town’s economy. To these arguments Clay added social persuasion:
Filthiness of person was accompanied by sordidness of mind. Remove squalor and they would remove ignorance…. the extreme classes of society were as far asunder as if separated by untrodden deserts… at present the great mass was chaotic, and unless breathed upon by the divine intelligence, it might one day be hurled upon the classes above it with an impetus as powerful as it was sudden (137).
Others were reluctant to believe in such simple equations.
There is a source of disease and death infinitely more copious than even a polluted atmosphere… The source is simply destitution, poverty, a want of the necessaries of life, of proper food and clothing… Destitution… is, if not the only, certainly by far the most copious source of epidemic disease. (138)
said the Chronicle in its comments on Clay’s lectures, casting doubt on the efficacy of ‘the broom and the bucket, the water cart and the sewer’. It was a point of view both radical and conservative, an excuse for not doing what ought to be done. Livesey’s Guardian seemed equally resistant to Clay’s idea of social priorities. In ‘Hints to the new Council’ it listed such matters as the need for economy, for improvements in the Corn Exchange, the markets, the farms and the Moor, the need for cheaper gas and water and the desirability of public baths and a cemetery, and last of all the suppression of nuisances by an efficient committee (139).
The effects of the controversy on the public mind were still not strong enough to collect more than thirty at a public meeting to form a Health of Towns Association in February 1847, though a second attempt, at the Theatre in April, with the attraction of a gratuitous lecture on the unhealthiness of towns by R.D. Grainger of St Thomas’s Hospital, London, and under the authoritative management of five aldermen, T. B. Addison the Recorder, John Clay and a number of leading councillors and commissioners did rather better: ‘the attendance was numerous in every part of the house’ (140). Mechanics and operatives who had been ‘particularly requested to attend’ this meeting were given a second chance in October, when a Working Man’s Health of Towns Association was formed at a ‘numerously attended’ meeting in the Corn Exchange to hear a lecture emphasising self-help rather than public action (141).
If the typhus of 1846, which led to fifteen funerals at St. Paul’s Church on one Sunday (142), had not been sufficiently eloquent, the cholera in the early autumn of 1849 clinched the issue: ‘Cholera is a health inspector that speaks in a language which nobody can misunderstand’ (143).
Although opinion out of doors moved slowly and relatively late, and the efforts of the Improvement Commission, Council, and Local Board in the Town Hall had little effect on the environment of the community in this phase, a small number of very active and determined leaders can be seen trying to pursue collective goals throughout it. The provisional order creating the Local Board of Health for the district of Preston and Fishwick in the summer of 1850 changed the circumstances within which they operated, mainly by bestowing on them the sanction of an ultimate authority above and beyond the municipal level, but it made little difference to the men or the measures. It made much greater demands on their time and attention, not only because their responsibilities were enlarged, but also because Local Board committees met much more frequently – weekly in the case of the General Purposes Committee. It enabled them to employ a full time Surveyor to take charge of their works, but it did not solve for them the problems of defining his relationship with them, or his duties, or of organising and equipping his department to do the work. These problems had been evident since 1844 and remained so well into the third phase, after 1853.
As a convenient way of identifying the most active leadership of this second phase I have extracted from the committee minute books of the Local Board up to May 1853, covering 204 meetings, the names of those who were most frequently present in this period, and from press reports and minute books of the meetings of the Commissioners and the Town Council in the six years up to 1850 the names of those who were taking a leading or innovatory part either on the Commission alone or on both. The combined list, which in any case does not take account of full Council or Board meetings, is not comprehensive, but, like a net with a large mesh, it catches all the bigger fish; the table below gives a reasonably accurate impression of the composition of the leading group in this crucial transitional phase. It also indicates those who were resident in Christ Church ward, ‘the Downing Street of Preston’; and membership of the Winckley Club (see Chapter III).
The group was composed almost entirely of textile employers and professional men (compared with the Council in which nearly a third of the seats were occupied by other groups). Two thirds of the group lived in Christ Church ward; but none of the top five Local Board committee men was a member of the Winckley Club. There was a large but far from total correspondence between leadership of the Commissioners before 1850 and of the Local Board after 1850. It was not an oligarchy: each tabular category represents (fairly obviously) only a fractional minority, whether of millowners, lawyers or members of the Winckley Club. It was divided politically. One characteristic alone distinguishes the group as a whole, and that is a belief, in variable form and degree, in the priority of the public interest over the private: collectivism.
To avoid the temptation of imagining these gentlemen in robes of white it is as well to remember that as lawyers, surveyors and, in some cases, millowners, they were both shearers and shorn: if not directly laying out the streets and building the houses, some of them were either handling the affairs of petty urban estates or interested to a degree in the levels of wages to which standards of building were directly related (144).
Resisting an attempt By John Hawkins to make case law of two successful appeals of millowners for reductions of rate assessment (145) the progressive leaders demonstrated their beliefs in a series of campaigns in the Improvement Commission before 1850, all of which anticipated the main concerns of the Local Board: for more extensive powers for drainage, sewerage and the removal of nuisances; for cheaper and better supplies of water and gas; for a full time officer to manage their affairs; and, when general legislation threatened, for those parts of the health bills which would add to their powers without submitting them to the annoyances of centralisation. As councillors they took the bold and expensive decision to build public baths and wash houses.
Stimulated perhaps by his interview with Lyon Playfair, in November 1844 Philip Park introduced a motion for the appointment of a committee to consider the propriety of an amended Improvement Act which would give ‘more extensive and better defined powers’ for drainage and sewerage. He was seconded by James German who referred specifically to the frustration of the Commissioners in their attempts to remove the nuisance caused by the slaughter houses in Bolton’s Court: ‘the place could not be improved without the consent of the owners’. An elderly lawyer and member of the old Corporation thought the present act gave the Commissioners already extensive powers and that they had ‘moved on’, to which George Smith replied that ‘they had undoubtedly moved on, and so did a man with one leg; but it was no less certain that they might have moved better with two’. (146). Park’s pragmatic collectivism could hardly have gone further than the conclusion he derived from the fact that all were vulnerable to contagion:
… it was the object of all to see that the town was improved… the health and comfort of all depended upon it. … Even if the welfare of the poor alone were concerned, it was just as much a duty to protect them, as if all other classes were necessarily to participate in their sufferings.’
The motion for a committee was approved 28 to 4 in a meeting attended by 50. But John Addison’s observation that ‘during the past year or so the state of the town had received the attention of men of enlarged views and scientific experience…’ suggests that the initiative came from elsewhere. Ten months later Robert Ascroft admitted that Mr Park’s committee ‘had certainly not met lately’ (147), and a special meeting on the committee’s report apparently judged that it ‘would seriously interfere with the rights of property’ (148).
The implications of legislation, whether local or general, were probably too broad to be both comprehended and accepted at this time. Progress of thought and action was more definite when focused on a specific issue, such as the prices of gas and water supplied by the respective companies, especially water. The nature of the problem was as clear at the beginning of this campaign as it was at the end, when the Local Board bought the water company. The meeting which agreed to the formation of Park’s committee in November 1844 had also instructed it to consider clauses in any new Act which would put the supply of water and gas under the control of the Commissioners. R.W. Hopkins put the case in these terms: ‘… the town was increasing at a very rapid rate, tall chimneys and loom-sheds rising as if by magic’ and ample funds were needed to enable them ‘to improve the town in proportion to its necessities’, but the Corporation being: ‘at present rather short of funds’ (heavily in deficit, see above, p.254) the responsibility devolved upon the Commission. To this he added a statement of the principles of political economy taken from an article in Chambers Edinburgh Journal; and a fact of social experience: ‘… in Preston poor people were continually brought before the magistrates on charges of stealing water…’ (149)
Presumably because Hopkin’s motion was seen to be sharing the fate of Park’s committee, the gas and water questions were reintroduced separately in May 1845, by Robert Ascroft, who had been asked to bring it forward ‘by some gentlemen who had taken a great interest in the matter’, including the Licensed Victuallers who objected to large differentials in the price of gas to large and small consumers. Ascroft added to this complaint the example of Manchester where the prices had been profitably reduced since the supply was in the hands of the public authorities. ‘But there was far greater complaint about the water (Hear; hear, hear)… The charge for water was extravagantly high in Preston’, in proof of which he quoted from both Chambers Journal and the Health of Towns Report, and pointed out that in Preston where ‘the water came down attended with little or no expense’, yet convictions of ‘the poorest people… for taking a small quantity of water’ occurred every week. Joseph Livesey and Peter Catterall explained that the matter was urgent because plans to establish a new water company were already in existence, and the Commissioners should prevent it (150).
A committee of five, including Catterall, German and Ascroft, laid a damning report on the Waterworks Company before the Commissioners in July 1845. Its charges were ‘extremely high… unequal and unfair’, compared with those for other towns quoted in the first report of the Health of Towns Commission; ‘a most ample supply’ could be brought to Preston for ‘less than £20,000’; to a table of proposed reductions in charges submitted to the Water Company (Chairman T.B. Addison) the Committee had received ‘an extremely vague and unsatisfactory answer’; and ‘despairing of any satisfactory reduction of their rates – either immediate or remote’, they recommended that ‘it is the duty of the Commissioners… to provide the best and cheapest supply of water for the town, and that this can only be done by taking the matter into their own hands.’ (151) Robert Ascroft moved the adoption of this report claiming that shareholders in the Water Company were receiving a dividend of 10% which would rise to 20%. ‘He was persuaded that the supply of water in every town should be in the hands of public bodies and not private companies.’ Despite the obstruction and opposition of Isaac Wilcockson and Thomas Clarke – ‘… we have no right to expend money in the way proposed… A meeting of the inhabitants of Preston should have been called…’ the report was adopted and a new committee appointed (152). This decided to call in ‘Mr Hawkesley, the celebrated engineer’ whose – arrival was imminent, and made an analysis of a proposed future source of supply in Haighton (153). Livesey’s Guardian was exultant that the ‘complete and exorbitant monopoly’ of (T.B. Addison’s) Water Company was ‘now doomed’. Unfortunately the Commissioners’ minute books are henceforth silent on the matter of water.
Probably the water question was held in abeyance because of the increasing likelihood of a public health act. This certainly complicated the efforts of the Commissioners’ general committee to appoint a competent full-time officer to manage their works, which lasted from March 1846 to November 1847.
The growth of strictly municipal local government, or at least the recognition of the necessity for it, begins in March 1846 with Thomas Clarke’s motion to appoint a full time surveyor:
The Commissioners must be aware that in a large and populous town like Preston it was desirable to have at the head of its affairs one who should be responsible, and to whom at all times they could refer… at present they had no efficient and responsible head. (154)
This was supported by George Smith – ‘he was convinced that some one at the head of affairs was required’ – and by Robert Parker – ‘a surveyor was needed almost constantly’ – but opposed by Wilcockson, and Haydock and by others who at that time did not see the necessity for a full time officer. The Local Board as well as the Commissioners would generally reach unanimity much more easily when dealing with decisions which affected only those outside their own body; questions of the utility of their own officers awakened more sensitive scruples, and suspicions of patronage and jobbery.
The Committee tried again in June 1847, in the same terns, Livesey speaking lengthily about the inefficiencies arising from the incompetence of the elderly Mr Stewart who seems to have been acting as Surveyor. Peter Catterall said firmly: ‘when they were told that they had incompetent servants they ought to suppress their sentiments… and do what was required,’ – a duty which he himself fulfilled for the Local Board ten years later in almost identical circumstances but on a much more serious scale (see below p.292). The attempt was defeated by loyalty to Stewart, Haydock’s doubt about the effects of ‘the sanatory bill which would take the whole management out of the hands of the commissioners, and vest it in the Corporation’ (155), and by suspicions that the committee were trying to appoint J.J. Myres in the place of all the existing officers except two; and above all by lack of resources:– ‘a good superintendent should cost £400 and they were in debt’. The Committee, grossly offended, resigned ‘en bloc’ in July, and reiterated their determination not to serve in the next month. Such expression of determination had the desired effect, and in September 1847 a compromise resolution was carried, for the appointment of a committee to consult with Mr Myres ‘as to the practicability of his engaging the situation… solely for the purpose of his carrying on the work till the Health of Towns Bill passed.’ (156) Two problems mentioned at this meeting characterised the whole of the rest of my period. Thomas Miller was quite certain that such an officer was required, ‘a man of ability and sound sense… for about £200 they might get such a person (but) Mr Myres position would lead him to expect a higher salary than £200’, and Thomas Leach believed that ‘no man having a private profession or business ought to be the manager of the affairs of the Commissioners.’ By October the committee of six (Miller, Livesey, Park, Parker, Gate and F. Armstrong) had agreed that Myres should be appointed surveyor at a salary of £75, Stewart continuing as superintendent of works for one guinea a week (157). But this minimal reform was unacceptable to the whole meeting of Commissioners in November, even though Livesey said that as it was absolutely necessary to have the work done well ‘it was not always best to pay low salaries’ and Parker demonstrated the false economy of cheap management – ‘a great deal of money… had been thrown away’; (158).
The problem was circular. Money was short, especially in 1847 when most of the mills were running short time, arid Improvement rates at 9d (4p) on the paving account were more than double the normal level of the previous five years; without enough money they could not afford adequate staff; without adequate staff they could not undertake works to justify adequate rates; and closing the circle was the alacrity with which the middling ratepayers attended meetings when expensive improvements were on the agenda.
Lord Morpeth’s Public Health bills of 1847 and 1848 promised to break this circle in three places: by transferring the initiative to a central Board of Health, by depriving local authorities of their ‘right to choose not to undertake some basic responsibilities, and by making the appointment of certain officers mandatory. As far as this town was concerned (and doubtless many others) it was the most important legislation of the century, enabling the innovatory leadership to begin the long and continuous growth of modern local government.
Not that they viewed the bills prospectively: if they had expected such growth, they would not have got into such a mess as they eventually did. But as a means of-cutting old knots, they ‘grasped at the Act’ (159). Preston’s leadership was ready for the principles of the Public Health Act at its first appearance as a bill in the spring of 1847. Dr Midwinter’s implication that the Council’s Sanitary Committee was either principally concerned with the bill of 1848, or hostile to it, is totally mistaken (160) as that committee was formed only in October 1848, to prepare defences against cholera (161): its greatest achievement, apart from recommending that the council should request the Board of Health to send down an Inspector, was to accept a certain Mr Vickers’ offer to ‘get out 80 tons of night soil per night and carry it away by canal each evening… free of charge’ (162).
Excepting certain details, such as compensation to owners of cellar dwellings and to officers, and Joseph Livesey’s unhappy association of ‘District’ with ‘Union’, the attitude of Preston’s leadership to the 1848 bill can be summarised in the words of Francis Armstrong at a Council meeting in March 1848: ‘there could be only one opinion’ (163). By then even Haydock thought a general board of health in London ‘absolutely necessary’ (164). The real work had been done in 1847, mainly by a committee of the Improvement Commissioners appointed on 5th April. At a meeting on 26 April, one Commissioner objected to transferring power from the Commissioners – ‘a body almost perfect’ – to the Corporation, and to the interference of government which ‘would eventually reduce them to a nation of children’. The commissioners laughed at him and approved a petition agreeing to the creation of a central Board with the power of appointing inspectors and of compelling localities to adopt the provisions of the Act. They objected not to the principle but to the degree of centralisation, especially to the ‘extraordinary powers’ of a central Board over local officers. Joseph Livesey, pointing out that the greatest work remaining to be done was that which gave rise to the bill, ‘the total want of sewerage in large towns’, thought that ‘with all its defects, it was the most important measure which had recently been brought before parliament’. Robert Parker went further: he wished to see ‘some controlling power’ (165), because of mismanagement by corporations, and believed the Commissioners ‘a great nuisance’ (166). In the Council’s discussion Thomas Miller, the man in Preston who above all understood the management of business on the largest scale, ‘confessed that he had no objection to that very unfashionable word centralisation… he was indeed very strongly in favour of… a controlling body to attend to the proper and uniform working of so great and important a measure’ (167). With trepidation at the magnitude of the step they were taking, in November 1848 the Council voted its approval of James German’s motion to call in a superintending inspector. The long and detailed speeches of Ascroft and German in support of this decision were really only a coda to the previous four years:- ‘we were within the second limits of the act, which provided that if the mortuary returns exceeded the limits, the Board of Health could, without any movement on the part of the inhabitants of Preston, send down a public inspector…’ (168). The subsequent report of G.T. Clarke, the Inspector, provided governmental confirmation of what had now become common knowledge (169).
The new sceptre and orb passed into the hands of a more competent Council than at any time since 1836. Probably in deliberate anticipation of the change, active and efficient reformers, most of them Liberals, had got themselves elected since 1845 (see Chapter 4.2) and begun trying to correct the errors caused by Haydock’s influence. Thomas Miller himself gratuitously offered a panegyric to the influence of ‘the young men in the council’, especially James German, one of the youngest, ‘who had had a dinner given in his honour for his liberal endeavours to promote the welfare of the town’. (170) German, referring explicitly to Grainger’s lecture, had initiated the building of public baths and wash houses in April 1847 (171), and overcome lingering opposition in immensely detailed speeches in 1848 on sanitary conditions and the Corporation’s responsibility for the benefit of the working classes and the comfort of the poor. He more than anyone else attuned the ears of the Council to the collectivist message: ‘How could they grumble at the government enforcing the power which it possessed, when they themselves would do nothing?’ (172)
German was also responsible for restoring the chronic ill-health of the Corporation accounts. His speech of November 1847 so neatly dissected their financial affairs and located the main source of the trouble, that it sent Peter Haydock panicking into retreat: ‘He never moved nor supported a proposal that the Corporation should take a greater number of shares…’ (173). The Finance Committee formed then, almost entirely in the hands of the economical Liberals James German, John Catterall and John Goodair, converted a bank debt of £8,511 to a credit of £430 between 1847 and 1850, mainly by sales of land (174). In passing it also spawned another committee to investigate the duties and salaries of Corporation officers.
Continuity of attention to public health between Commission, Council and Local Board is proved by the appearance on the Nuisance Removal Committee formed in February 1847 (175) and on the combined Council/Commission Sanitary Committee of October 1848, of these same men; they were willing at first to get their feet, if not their hands, dirty but in 1848 decided to employ a Sergeant of police as Inspector of Nuisances, the able-bodied poor, and the eager Mr Vickers (176). As early as February 1847 they had begun work which was continued by the Local Board in its first years. On one Tuesday alone the Committee visited sixty places, and in five weeks served notices on 180 properties. They lamented that
the work cannot be done effectually till large sewers are placed in every public street (and) that they have not… an unlimited supply of water. They find the courts and back buildings containing a dozen or twenty houses together without a single tap… The number of pigs kept in close back-yards and cellars is beyond what they could have conceived (and) they intend to out a stop to keeping pigs in such situations (177).
The Preston Local Board of Health was inaugurated in August 1850. ‘Very little is then heard of the Board of Health… until 1853′, wrote Dr Midwinter: a dreadful but excusable confession of ignorance. The manuscript minute books from August 1850 (178) show the Board’s committee simultaneously continuing the down to earth work begun in 1847 and building on the foundation of the of the general Act a local system for collective improvement (179).
On 2nd September, only four days after their appointment, they resolved to appoint five officers: a full time Surveyor to be responsible for all the duties of carrying the act into effect (except those of clerk, treasurer and collector) at a salary of £250 (reduced to £200 a week later); a full time Inspector of Nuisances at 21/- a week; a full time collector at £100; and the Town Clerk and Corporation Treasurer to serve the Board in the same capacities for £50 each. Significantly (and typically) they then decided to find out what the duties of these officers should be.
In October the committee was enlarged from 9 to 17 members, and itself formed subcommittees to superintend scavenging and paving. It advertised for a Surveyor in The Times and the leading Lancashire papers. The full Council appointed Henry Wrigg from a short list of six on 9th November, and the committee authorised him to obtain large scale Ordnance maps, and provided two rooms over the police office for him on the 14th; and empowered him to spend £50 fitting up his offices, and to employ additional scavengers, paviors and labourers, a clerk, a boy, and an office cleaner on the 21st. On this same day, and presumably because Wrigg was already at work, the committee decided on specifications for the submission of building plans, gave notice to persons about to build, under the 53rd Section, and issued further notices as to slaughter houses, lodging houses and the occupation of cellar dwellings under the 61st, 66th and 67th Sections of the Act. Before Christmas they reconsidered their Surveyor’s report on the necessity for a survey of the district and drew his attention to the condition of the highways, increasing the labourers for this purpose to ten. Most important of all they resolved ‘that the Surveyor be requested at his earliest convenience to present a report upon the General Water Supply of the Town’. Given that the ordinary routines of attention to making and mending streets, supervising scavengers and so on continued throughout, this was a lot of innovatory work in under four months.
Nevertheless the new establishment was unable to make any radical improvement in the town’s environment for at least another three years, because it still had to solve some of the basic problems which had frustrated the Commissioners. In the first place, there were no adequate large scale maps and plans of the district. Until at least February 1852 Wrigg was handicapped by J.J. Myres refusal to hand over ‘all the plans and documents of the late Improvement Commissioners’ (180). Although in March 1851 the Surveyor asked the Board to take steps to obtain a Survey which he said would take 12 to 15 months, the members were concerned at the cost of obtaining an Ordnance Survey (£600) and after repeated discussions in April finally decided that the overburdened Wrigg should make the Survey. After protracted correspondence with the General Board on this subject, Wrigg was authorised to procure the necessary instruments and assistants and in August he was instructed to ‘proceed immediately’ with a plan showing levels for a drainage system. (Myres was still being obstructive, refusing to serve on a subcommittee to scrutinise Wrigg’s bill for the instruments.) In September 1851 the Surveyor’s establishment was duly enlarged by the addition of eight, including four surveyors, at a total wage bill of £17 per week, and a sub- committee was appointed to find offices for them.
In default of the necessary Survey, work on new sewerage therefore had to be confined to a limited scheme for Ribbleton and New Hall Lane initiated-in September 1852. Not until the autumn of 1853, when Wrigg finally presented his ‘Report on the Principal Main Sewers…’ (181), did the Local Board vote to seek General Board sanction to borrow £52,000 for a comprehensive sewerage scheme (182). The members unanimously approved the scheme with little scrutiny or discussion, probably because for two years they had been a great deal more concerned with the problem of water. Both sewerage and water presented the Board with strictly technical problems in the third phase.
Because Dr Fraser has demonstrated in detail how the ‘water question’ caused municipal conflict in many of the larger towns at mid century (183) it is unnecessary to elaborate the point that Preston shared the general experience. Apart from the absence of rival schemes and hence of a local equivalent of the pro- and anti-Pikist conflict, the general characteristics of the problem in Preston were much the same as those in Liverpool. As Fraser says, it was ‘not the goals but the means and modes… which were at issue’ (184).
Underlying all was the fundamental contemporary predicament of elected local bodies faced with unprecedented tasks which were technically beyond their competence, and therefore reduced them to a confusing dependence on experts:- ‘Nothing… is more common in practical engineering than to find the same useful result worked out by two obviously differing processes’ as Thomas Hawksley explained to them in 1857 (185). This problem of the third phase was the direct outcome of two decisions in the second phase, each of which raised basic questions of principle. The first was the belief of some of the progressives, in 1845, that the water supply should be under public control; and the second the assumption, which led to a hasty decision, that the Surveyor should also act as engineer to the waterworks, as their servant, while Wrigg regarded himself as an independent engineer separately engaged as any outside engineer would have been. Parallel with this ran a ratepayer opposition to increasing his salary.
The essence of a long and complicated story is as follows. From January to August 1851 a water committee consisting of John Catterall (mayor), Goodair, J.J. Myres, German, Ascroft, Monk, John Livesey and the Surgeon Lawrence Spencer was negotiating with the Water Company ostensibly for the purpose of persuading the Company to alter its plans for new waterworks at Grimsargh so as to ensure a much larger and cheaper supply of better water. The sincerity of the committee in this respect is doubtful, because as early as April John Livesey told the Local Board that he thought it necessary for gas and water supplies to be under public management (186), and Thomas Miller, a member of the Company, later explained that he ‘did not like the original feeling with which the investigation was commenced’ (187). The Water Company fortified the conviction of those who wanted public control by being uncooperative: it would not agree to supply the 1,160,000 gallons per day which Wrigg declared essential to meet all requirements including flushing the sewers, saying it would not be answerable for more than 800,000 gallons a day.
The Local Board appealed to the General Board of Health and in September 1851 Mr Austin, Surveyor to the General Board, inspected the waterworks together with Henry Wrigg and the Company’s Secretary (188). The Board’s Water Committee meanwhile opposed the Company’s bill in parliament (189), and commissioned Crace Calvert; Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Medical School of Manchester, to analyse the proposed and alternative water supplies (190). Calvert reported in March 1852, and Austin in May, the General Board confirming the opinions of Calvert, of the ‘zealous and able’ Mr Wrigg, and of the committee, that the supply of water by the Company was ‘not ‘proper’ in the sense of the Public Health Act’. The inadequacies of the waterworks were made plain by a springtime drought, which caused the Company’s Secretary to write to the Surveyor ordering him to stop watering the streets, and the water committee to authorise him to obtain water for this purpose from the Canal Company (191). There was also a shortage of water for the baths and for fire fighting (192), so in May, when James German moved the adoption of the committee’s resolution that the water which the Company was willing and able to supply was not proper for the Local Board’s purposes, the members approved unanimously (193). The only opposition to the Board’s decision to purchase the Waterworks Company in August 1852 came from Thomas Miller, whose belief in the virtues of centralisation was undermined on this issue by the fact that he was a shareholder in the Company (194). Even the shareholders’ meeting under their Chairman T.B. Addison agreed unanimously – subject to the results of arbitration (195).
When the Board met to seal the agreement, John Goodair denied that the water committee had been influenced by a ‘mere desire’ to take the Waterworks from the owners: ‘they had acted solely from a desire to serve the interests of the town… this was not a matter of pounds shillings and pence’ (196). But I suspect that the long established millowners of Fishwick had been subscribers to the Water Company at its formation in 1832, and that some of the apostles of public ownership, especially the new millowners of St. Peter’s ward, were disposed to deprive them of their unfair advantage.
A threatened secession of Fishwick from the District in May 1851, easily identified by John Livesey as an attempt by ‘millowners in Fishwick’ to evade rates (197), was only the first of their underhand stratagems. During the final delicate stages of steering the. Preston Waterworks bill through parliament and agreeing the price, anonymous ‘Ratepayers’ mounted a shock-horror-rates campaign in the press, claiming that the cost of the Waterworks to the public would be £282,000 (198), presumably in support of Thomas Miller’s efforts in the Town Hall to persuade the Board to abandon the bill altogether after its second reading (199). By this time even the Company’s friend the Preston Pilot doubted not the right but the competence of the Council to manage the Waterworks. Defeated in open debate, the millowners of Fishwick resorted to the unkindest cuts of all when the bill was in committee, causing
the abandonment of one entire half of the scheme originally proposed… the original scheme embraced two sources of supply one on the south and the other on the north side of Longridge Fell… Acting upon Mr Hawksley’s advice to secure the entire scheme… and thus to anticipate the wants of the town for many years to come, the committee had previously resolved to maintain the project in its integrity…; and then suddenly, at the eleventh hour, when the bill was no longer opposed, and when, without any additional expense, all the powers… were within their grasp, the committee at one sweep resolved to abandon the northern section of the scheme, which had never been opposed, and which could have been held in reserve for the future wants of the town. (200)
Adding insult to injury they then tried (unsuccessfully) to insert into the bill several clauses ‘for the exemption of THEIR OWN PROPERTY as far as possible from any rates which might be required to carry the project into effect.’ And who were these municipal Brutuses’ They were members of the local Board’s water committee. John Livesey named one in debate ‘Mr (William) Birley actually attended in London while his name was on that committee’, and in his Guardian editorial implicated John Humber (Bushell -Street mills) and even John Goodair, who rather unconvincingly denied it (201).
The Preston Waterworks bill passed into law on 14th June 1853 (202). The purchase price was £135,000 (203), the cost of the new Waterworks would depend on the skill of the engineer who designed and built them: Henry Wrigg.
Much was expected of Mr Wrigg for his salary of £200. Almost every meeting of the committees (of which he had to take the draft minutes himself) (204) charged him with some important new duty, such as preparing plans for street improvements, writing letters to railway companies or the General Board, contracting for materials, negotiating the wages or ending the strikes of the flaggers and paviors, even estimating the water consumed by water closets. There was also a weekly sheaf of building plans to be scrutinised and sorted into three bundles for the approval, disapproval or ‘passing over’ of the committee, many of them for the new northern and eastern suburbs which were developing rapidly. Then there were the organisation of the night scavenging teams and the orders to clear cellar dwellings, middensteads, ashpits, stagnant water and pigstyes (205), which meant detailed consultations with the Inspector of Nuisances. All this, together with the annual estimates and rates to be calculated, was routine. On top of it was the attention required for the major projects: the Survey, which he had to supervise, and the plan for the whole sewerage scheme, which he had to design. As this depended on a continuous and ample supply of water, it was a matter of course that he should also share the labours of the committees negotiating with the gas and the water companies.
Justifiably he asked in November 1851 that his salary should be raised from £200 to £300. Livesey, Ascroft, Goodair and George Smith, all members of the committees with which Wrigg worked most closely, strongly supported his case at the Local Board meeting. Goodair ‘knew of no town that possessed a more efficient public servant – where the duties were so onerous, and… so poorly paid’, while Ascroft and Livesey pointed out how much money Wrigg had saved them, both on the Survey (£700 or £800) and ‘by his exertions on the gas and water questions’: ‘If they could afford £300 to the Superintendent of Police… then the Surveyor, whose work was as great, was entitled to the same… He liked Mr Wrigg’s independence of character.’ But Mr Henry Armstrong read a paper from the burgesses of St. John’s ward ‘who met last night’ calling on him not to support an increase of salary (206). Wrigg’s salary was not raised until March 1852, when a councillor having sent to protesting ratepayers of his ward a copy of the Surveyor’s duties, their protest was withdrawn: ‘they did not know that the duties were so extensive as they were’ (207).
Then, in September 1852, immediately after the agreement with the Water Company, Wrigg was instructed to prepare plans for the Waterworks. This he refused to do unless appointed Engineer to the waterworks. A hasty meeting of the water committee (German, Livesey, Watson and Goodair) on 17th September ‘Resolved that Mr Wrigg be appointed Engineer to the proposed water-Scheme’ (208). They had forgotten to define his contract. In January 1853 they were therefore taken aback at the sight of his bill for £541 ‘for work done up to the 30th November on account of Engineering on the Water Supply’ (209), and offended by his intemperate letter to the mayor suggesting that the water committee were trying to push him out in favour of Mr Park, as well as by the tone in which he declined further to be concerned in the prosecution of the works – ‘the same sd. yes I certainly do decline’ (210) – , and appalled that he had appended to the committee’s minutes his own observations on a proposed reduction in his bill: ‘Mem – Mr Wrigg intimated to the Mayor that he did not concur in the above resolution – HW’. (211) Although Ascroft, now Law Clerk, added to the minute of Wrigg’s resignation that he should hand over all his plans and documents, the quarrel was patched up by Wrigg’s agreement to accept £200 on account; but in the midst of negotiations for the parliamentary bill the committee’s offer of £491 in settlement caused Wrigg to resign again (212).
Preston’s elected Local Board, by trying to save themselves the expense of engaging an independent engineer such as Hawksley, were painfully exploring the frontier which distinguished a servant from a professional officer. In the case of a traditional mystery like the law they trod respectfully; but engineering was a new mystery, where the frontiers were very uncertain. The Board’s experience of Mr Wrigg’s independence of character lasted another four years, during which many of the members learned much more about civil engineering.