Cleansing the Town - Trevor Bevis

APPALLED by events Doddington’s rector used his influence to alert Whitehall of the suffering of March.

The town had more than 1,000 houses, 553 with toilets. Water had to be carried a great distance. Only about 197 houses had private pumps, 829 were watered by devious unhealthy means from foul wells, the river and ditches.

Barley’s pump supplied 82 houses and the White pump 219. That near St Wendreda’s church provided water for half-a-dozen homes. 214 drew water from the heavily infested river, 52 from wells and 29 from dykes and pits. 851 houses were without pumps and wells and 495 had no toilet.

The length of public highways at March was 16 and a half miles. Carting of road materials was by contract, labourers receiving 1s 6d per day. Roads in the town were generally poor.

Planning permission did not exist, people building what they liked where they liked. Little London was a prime area for encroachments, many buildings airless insufferable and overcrowded.

The burial ground at St Wendreda’s was overcrowded and three fourths of an acre, unconsecrated, was added to it. There were two smaller burial grounds in the town, one in High Street.

Bell Metal Lane (Elwyn Road), Mill Yard, Jimby’s Yard, Little London and other places were frequently visited by Doddington’s rector. These were severely afflicted by fever and other diseases. The people were in a low moral condition and had lost the will to live.

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Opium, laudanum (tincture of opium) and other narcotics at March supplied the place of dram drinking in other towns. March was crammed with strangers employed on the land and lowering the river bed.

The enquiry into the insanitary state of the town introduced the official notification from Gwydyr House, Whitehall on February 28 1851:

“The General board of health hereby gives notice .... that on or before 24th day of April next ... written statements may be forwarded to the Board with respect to any matter contained in or omitted from the accompanying Report on the sewage, drainage and supply of water, and the insanitary condition of the inhabitants of the Township of March ....”

Alarmed by the Superintendent Minister’s report, the Board of Health correctly envisaged a very serious social evil at large in the town, the atmosphere severely affecting the vital energies of inhabitants exposing them to the ravages and mortality of low fever and ague. Leaflets were distributed to other places in the country advising vestries how to avoid such devastating circumstances being experienced at March.

A prolonged effort to cleanse March was about to begin.