By James Phillips Kay, MD, Manchester, 1832.


James Phillips Kay qualified in Medicine at Edinburgh in 1827 when he was 23. He became Physician at the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, which opened in 1829. In 1831 the cholera pandemic was approaching across Europe and eventually entered England though Sunderland in October. A Manchester and District Board of Health was set up in November 1831. The Board of Health at this time was a voluntary organisation set up by doctors and business people; it was not an official body. Cholera did not reach Manchester until 17 May 1832. An account of the epidemic in the town was published by Dr. Gaultier at the end of 1832. The Board of Health attempted to clean up some of the worst residential districts in Manchester. Among these were the courts by the river near where Victoria Station now lies, Little Ireland on the Medlock near Oxford Road, and the banks of the Irwell behind where Kendal Milne's now stands. Dr. Kay had the task of summarising the work of the inspectors in the fourteen districts, which he visited personally. Dr. Kay later married the Shuttleworth heiress of Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham and took the name Kay Shuttleworth. He was made a baronet for his work in promoting education. The following extracts relate to his survey of housing in the poorest parts of Manchester. Page numbers refer to the edition reproduced by E. J. Morten of Didsbury in 1969. ( A sough was a drain.)

On the Inspection of The District Board of Health (pages 27-29)

The inspection conducted by the District Boards of Health, chiefly referred to the state of the streets and houses, inhabited by the labouring population - to local nuisances, and more general evils. The greatest portion of these districts, especially of those situated beyond Great Ancoats Street, are of very recent origin; and from the want of proper police regulations are untraversed by common sewers. The houses are ill soughed, often ill ventilated, unprovided with privies, and, in consequence, the streets which are narrow, unpaved, and worn into deep ruts, become the common receptacles of mud, refuse, and disgusting ordure. The Inspectors' reports do not comprise all the houses and streets of the respective districts, and are in some other respects imperfect. The returns concerning the various defects which they enumerate must be received, as the reports of evils, too positive to be overlooked. Frequently, when they existed in a slighter degree, the questions received no reply.

Predisposition to contagious disease is encouraged by everything which depresses the physical energies, amongst the principal of which agencies may be enumerated imperfect nutrition; exposure to cold and moisture, whether from inadequate shelter, or from want of clothing and fuel, or from dampness of the habitation; uncleanliness of the person, the street, and the abode; an atmosphere contaminated, whether from the want of ventilation, or from impure effluvia; extreme labour, and consequent physical exhaustion; intemperance; fear; anxiety; diarrhoea, and other diseases. The whole of these subjects could not be included in the investigation, though it originated in a desire to remove, as far as possible, those ills which depressed the health of the population.

The state of the streets powerfully affects the health of their inhabitants. Sporadic cases of typhus chiefly appear in those which are narrow, ill ventilated, unpaved, or which contain heaps of refuse, or stagnant pools. The confined air and noxious exhalations, which abound in such places, depress the health of the people, and on this account contagious diseases are also most rapidly propagated there. The houses, in such situations, are uncleanly, ill provided with furniture; an air of discomfort if not of squalid and loathsome wretchedness pervades them, they are often dilapidated, badly drained, damp: and the habits of their tenants are gross - they are ill-fed, ill-clothed, and uneconomical - at once spendthrifts and destitute - denying themselves the comforts of life, in order that they may wallow in the unrestrained licence of animal appetite.

Description of Some of the Least Healthy Parts of Manchester (page 36 to 40)

Near the centre of the town, a mass of buildings inhabited by prostitutes and thieves, is intersected by narrow and loathsome streets, and close courts defiled with refuse. These nuisances exist in No. 13 District, on the western side of Deansgate, and chiefly abound in Wood Street, Spinning Field, Cumberland Street, Parliament Passage, Parliament Street, and Thomson Street. In Parliament Street there is only one privy for three hundred and eighty inhabitants, which is placed in a narrow passage, whence its effluvia infest the adjacent houses, and must prove a most fertile source of disease. In this street also, cess pools with open grids have been made close to the doors of the houses, in which disgusting refuse accumulates, and whence its noxious effluvia constantly exhale. In Parliament Passage about thirty houses have been erected, merely separated by an extremely narrow passage (a yard and a half wide) from the wall and back door of other houses. These thirty houses have one privy. The state of the streets and houses in that part of No. 4, included between Store Street and Travis Street, and London Road, is exceedingly wretched - especially those built on some irregular and broken mounds of clay, on a steep declivity descending into Store Street. These narrow avenues are rough, irregular gullies, down which filthy streams percolate; and the inhabitants are crowded in dilapidated abodes, or obscure and damp cellars, in which it is impossible for the health to be preserved.

The Irk, black with the refuse of Dye-works erected on its banks, receives excrementitious matters from some sewers in this portion of the town - the drainage from the gas-works, and filth of the most pernicious character from bone-works, tanneries, size manufactories, &c. Immediately beneath Ducie Bridge, in a deep hollow between two high banks, it sweeps round a large cluster of some of the most wretched and dilapidated buildings of the town. The course of the river is here impeded by a weir, and a large tannery eight stories high (three of which stories are filled with skins exposed to the atmosphere, in some stage of the processes to which they are subjected) towers close to this crazy labyrinth of pauper dwellings. This group of habitations is called "Gibraltar," and no site can well be more insalubrious than that on which it is built. Pursuing the course of the river on the other side of Ducie Bridge, other tanneries, size manufactories, and tripe-houses occur. The parish burial ground occupies one side of the stream, and a series of courts of the most singular and unhealthy character, the other. Access is obtained to these courts through narrow covered entries from Long Millgate, whence the explorer descends by stone stairs, and in one instance by three successive flights of steps to a level with the bed of the river. In this last mentioned (Allen's) court he discovers himself to be surrounded, on one side by a wall of rock, on two others by houses three stories high, and on the fourth by the abrupt and high bank down which he descended, and by walls and houses erected on the summit. These houses were, a short time ago, chiefly inhabited by fringe, silk, and cotton weavers, and winders, and each house contained in general three or four families. An adjoining court (Barrett's,) on the summit of the bank, separated from Allen's court only by a low wall, contained, besides a pig-stye - a tripe manufactory in a low cottage, which was in a state of loathsome filth. Portions of animal matter were decaying in it, and one of the inner rooms was converted into a kennel, and contained a litter of puppies. In the court, on the opposite side, is a tan yard where skins are prepared without bark in open pits, and here is also a catgut manufactory. Many of the windows of the houses in Allen's court, open over the river Irk, whose stream (again impeded, at the distance of one hundred yards by a weir) separates it from another tannery, four stories high and filled with skins, exposed to the currents of air which pass through the building. On the other side of this tannery is the parish burial ground, chiefly used as a place of interment for paupers. A more unhealthy spot than this (Allen's) court it would be difficult to discover, and the physical depression consequent on living in such a situation, may be inferred from what ensued on the introduction of cholera here. A match seller, living in the first story of one of these houses, was seized with cholera, on Sunday, July 22nd: he died on Wednesday, July 25th; and owing to the wilful negligence of his friends, and because the Board of Health had no intimation of the occurrence, he was not buried until Friday afternoon, July 27th. On that day, five other cases of cholera occurred amongst the inhabitants of the court. On the 28th, seven, and on the 29th two. The cases were nearly all fatal. Those affected with cholera were on the 28th and 29th removed to the Hospital, the dead were buried, and on the 29th the majority of the inhabitants were taken to a house of reception, and the rest with one exception dispersed into the town, until their houses had been thoroughly fumigated, ventilated, whitewashed, and cleansed; notwithstanding which dispersion, other cases occurred amongst those who had left the court.

Kay's Comments on Child Care and Infant Mortality (page 69-70)

See also the comments in 1846 of the registrar. Before general registration, statistics on mortality and housing were gathered by the Manchester Statistical Society.

The early age at which girls are admitted into the factories, prevents their acquiring much knowledge of domestic economy; and even supposing them to have had accidental opportunities of making this acquisition, the extent to which women are employed in the mills, does not, even after marriage, permit the general application of its principles. The infant is the victim of the system; it has not lived long, ere it is abandoned to the care of a hireling or a neighbour, while its mother pursues her accustomed toil. Sometimes a little girl has the charge of the child, or even of two or three collected from neighbouring houses. Thus abandoned to one whose sympathies are not interested in its welfare, or whose time is too often also occupied in household drudgery, the child is ill-fed, dirty, ill-clothed, exposed to cold and neglect; and in consequence, more than one-half of the offspring of the poor (as may be proved by the bills of mortality of the town) die before they have completed their fifth year. The strongest survive; but the same causes which destroy the weakest, impair the vigour of the more robust; and hence the children of our manufacturing population are proverbially pale and sallow, though not generally emaciated, nor the subjects of disease.

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