BY the mid-1800s , living conditions in Haworth were grim. Cess pits were sometimes below dwellings and overflowed into the streets, and past the water pump. Drainage was generally an open channel or gutter, and effluent could ooze into houses through the walls and all over the floor.

In 1841, the population of Haworth was 2,434, and in 1851 it was 2,629. The total number of dwelling houses in 1850 was 517.

In Back Lane there was a dung heap against the wall of a house, just under the window of the property which had three rooms. One room measured 23ft 9 ins long, 6ft 4 ins wide, and 7ft high. In it were four beds in which eight quarrymen slept. A second smaller room slept six men and boys who were woolcombers. In the third room they worked with a fire constantly on. At the time of the survey, two of the quarrymen who’d been working all night were in bed with the windows shut.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Haworth's streets have remained largely unchangedHaworth's streets have remained largely unchanged

The yard of the Kings Arms was offensive with night soil, stable dung and offal from the slaughter house piling up. In the Fold, the privy was used by eight families. In a lodging house, 10 lodgers slept in a large room, with a handloom clattering away all day. In the backyard of the ginnel belonging to the White Lion was a large midden, and offal and garbage flowed down the street. In the Main Street opposite the Black Bull, the druggist’s house had a privy, midden and pigsty.

Night soil poured out into a heap below the larder window and the contents of the midden often came up to the window sill.

Twenty loads of waste had been removed three weeks before the investigation began. The pigsty was below the kitchen window. A woman living in this house said she was always poorly, and the stench was so bad, she was unable to eat her meals. In Newall Hill heavy rain would carry night soil down to the back door. In this damp, offensive environment, two people were ill with fever. On the Main Street between the Black Bull and the turnpike were 44 houses which were damp, and refuse from the open channel ran down the street. The putrid atmosphere in various parts of the town caused fevers and disease.

The water supply came from 11 pumps, nine of which were in use, and seven wells. There were complaints about the quality of water. One inhabitant had to fetch the water 800 yards, and it wasn’t always clear. In summer the supply was low and on Monday, wash day, some of the poorest people had to queue from 2am to fill buckets. The water was sometimes green and putrid; even the cattle refused to drink it.

In his health report of 1850, Benjamin Babbage was shocked by what he saw. This small industrial town which looked up to the moors suffered air pollution from the smoking chimneys. Excrement ran down the streets because of the lack of sewers. Human waste and offal from the slaughterhouse stood for months in the streets. The moors which play a significant part in the Bronte novels contained very few trees to act as a wind break, or slow down the surface water which ran off the hills and down the streets.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Poor health in Haworth was blamed on mists from the moorPoor health in Haworth was blamed on mists from the moor

A surveyor was appointed every year to see that the roads were repaired by local labourers, but this was inadequately done. The unemployed broke the stones.

Patrick Bronte was a driving force to make improvements. He often covered his mouth with a muffler as a protection against the noxious smells and disease. Cholera was carried through the water supply. There were outbreaks of small pox, measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever, typhus, dysentery, and consumption. In November 1848, Emily Bronte’s health was deteriorating. She had difficulty breathing and complained of pains in her chest. On December 19, 1848, she died and was laid to rest in the family vault in Haworth Church. She died as a result of tuberculosis, often referred to as consumption. Later in the 1850s, some improvements in the water and sewage system, reduced illnesses.

Many mill towns and villages in the West Riding experienced similar public health conditions. Engles in 1844 described Bradford as bad as Leeds: “In the lanes, alleys and courts lie filth and debris in heaps; the houses are ruinous, dirty and miserable.” William Ranger’s survey of Halifax (1850-51) commented on the lack of privies; Middle Street, Haley Hill, had only one privy used by 221 people. In Burley-in-Wharfedale the Revd. Robinson and mill-owners WE Forster and William Fison were part of the movement to bring about improvements, despite strong opposition from landowners. William Ranger, appointed by the Board of Health, carried out an investigation in January, 1854. He interviewed a variety of witnesses. Consumption accounted for most deaths, most marked among young women. Bad sewage and drainage were blamed. Even more recently built houses along West Terrace had problems. Joiner George Holmes gave evidence and said he’d lived in West Terrace for three years. There was a gutter at the back of his house, he remembered it had been a clear running stream, but new houses were built, all of which drained into the stream, which turned into a stinking gutter about 5ft from his back door. His wife was ill, he believed bad drainage was the cause. The gutter had become stagnant except in wet weather.

Opposition to reforms was often based on financial cost, but some blamed poor health on the mists which descended from the moors. The reformers successfully fought a bitter battle against ignorance, and the Local Board set about improving sewage, drainage, and reducing public nuisances; removing night soil, emptying cess pits and cleansing streets. Philanthropists and factory owners such as John Crossley in Halifax and Titus Salt in Saltaire pioneered improved housing and environments for the labouring classes during the 1850s.

l Dave’s full Haworth article will be in The Bradford Antiquary (No. 83) edited by Dave Pendleton, out August/September.