Sanitary Report 1842: Bradford Woolcombers

Sanitary Report 1842
Source 1

Mr. Smith of Deanston, in a sanitary report made about 1837, describes Bradford as being the dirtiest town in England. Mills abound in great plenty, and their number is daily increasing, while the town itself extends in like proportion. Bradford is essentially a new town. Half a century ago it was a mere cluster of huts: now the district of which it is the heart contains upwards of 132,000 inhabitants. The value of life is about 1 in 40. Fortunes have been made in Bradford with a rapidity almost unequalled even in the manufacturing districts.

Source 2

… As I have stated, the greatest part of the labour of male adults through the worsted districts consists in combing wool. In Bradford I was told, on good authority, that there are about 15,000 woolcombers. These men sometimes work singly, but more often three, four, or five, club together and labour in what is called a shop, generally consisting of the upper room or “chamber” over the lower room or “house”. Their wives and children assist them to a certain extent in the first and almost unskilled portions of the operation, but the whole process is rude and easily acquired. It consists of forcibly pulling the wool through metal combs or spikes, of different lengths, and set five or six deep. These combs must be, kept at a high temperature, and consequently the central apparatus in a combing room is always a “fire-pot”, burning either coke, coals, or charcoal, and constructed so as to allow three, four, or five combs to be heated at it; the vessel being in these cases respectively called a “pot o’ three”, a “pot o’ four”, or a “pot o’ five”. When coals are burned, the pot is a fixed apparatus, like a small stove, with a regular funnel to carry away the smoke. When charcoal is used, the pot is a movable vessel, without a funnel, the noxious fumes too often spreading freely in the room. Scattered through the chamber are frequently two or more poles or masts, to which the combs, after being heated, are firmly attached, while the, workman drags the wool through them until he has reduced it to a soft mass of filament-when he educes the substance as it were, draws it by skilful manipulation out of the compact lump into long semi-transparent “slivers”, which, after certain minor operations, are returned to the factory to be subjected to the “drawing machines”. The general aspect of a combing-room may therefore be described as that of a bare chamber, heated to nearly 85 degrees. A round fire-pot stands in the centre; masses of wool are heaped about; and four or five men, in their shirtsleeves, are working busily.

Supplement to the Morning Chronicle, 22 Jan 1850

Source 3

The Babbage Report into conditions in Haworth found:

  • That 41.6 per cent of the people born die before attaining the age of six years.
  • That the average age at death is 25.8 years,which corresponds with that of some of the most unhealthy of the London districts.
  • That 21.7% of the population die without receiving any medical assistance, and that this fact offers great facilities for the commission of crime.
  • That the number of privies [lavatories with no drainage] is unusually small, averaging only one to every four-and-a-half-houses.
  • That no sewerage exists to carry off the refuse and decomposing matter, and that the exposed cesspools are very offensive and injurious to health.
  • That the present water supply is extremely limited in quantity, and that in the summer,much of it is deleterious in quality.
  • That the parish churchyard is so full of graves that no more interments be allowed.

Source 4

“Truly horrifying. There are two privies within six feet of the dwellings from whence the excrement overflows. Ashes, refuse and filthy water accumulates with this and sends forth an intolerable stench.… Various diseases have afflicted (the) parties….”

1845 Report of the bradford Sanitation Committee