The coming of sewers to Hoole, during the crisis in sanitation of the mid-19th century

Population

Hoole, in common with many towns and cities in Britain, from the 1830s onwards experienced an unprecedented rise in both the size and density of its population. In many cases the increase was owing to intensified industrialisation, followed by natural growth of population. London had grown from one million people in 1800 to two million by 1850 (100%). Liverpool’s population was 77,000 in 1800; by 1846 it was 376,000 (258%), boosted even further after 128,000 Irish people settled there, fleeing the famine in Ireland. In Hoole’s case, the coming of the railways from 1840, and the opening of the General Station were significant factors. Although much smaller in scale, Hoole’s growth was even more remarkable in percentages terms:

   Year     
  Population  

   1841
294
 
   1851  427  (45%)
   1861  1,596  (442%)
   1881  3,062  (941%)
 

The hamlet of Flookersbrook was built around the “Old King’s Highway” of the Roman road leading to Newton Hollows. During the 1850s and 60s, a separate settlement, on the opposite side of the Chester to Frodsham Turnpike Road (Hoole Road), grew rapidly in the area known as Bishopsfield. The streets created were Bishop Street (lost), Law Street (lost), Griffiths Terrace (lost), Faulkner Street, Charles Street, Peploe Street (now Westminster Road).

Housing conditions

 

 

Peploe Street (now Westminster Road)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the country people were living in appalling circumstances, without running water or effective drainage. Ways of disposing of the contents of privies ranged from allowing effluent to run into ditches or along natural watercourses or by storage in cess pits, which frequently overflowed, or by transportation in carts by “night-soil men”. In London in the heat of July 1858, the Thames became, in Benjamin Disraeli’s words, “a Stygian pool reeking with ineffable and unbearable horror”. This episode became known as the “Great Stink”. The stench was so bad at Westminster, that curtains, soaked in chloride of lime, were hung at the windows of the Houses of Parliament. In the case of Bishopsfield, the situation was so extreme that a report about the area cited that “Mr Clarke had to wade ankle-deep to get to his back door”. The Inspector of Nuisance reported a case of 15 people living in two rooms in Peploe Street, in a house owned by Thomas Faulkner. Law Street and Bishop Street were “almost impassable for their filthiness”.

Epidemics

One of the many consequences of overcrowding and inadequate, or non-existent, drainage were epidemics of the much-feared, and frequently fatal, disease of cholera

   Year
   Deaths   
 
   1832         
   55,000  
UK
       1,600
Liverpool  
   1848
   52,000
UK
            93
 Chester
   1853
   20,097
 UK
     10,739  London
   1865
   14,378
 UK
       2,122
     Liverpool (worst in the provinces)       

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     “The Silent Highwayman” Cartoon from “Punch” magazine, July 1858

During this period, knowledge of the existence of micro-organisms was almost non-existent. The prevailing theory of disease transmission was the so-called “miasmic” theory – that it was bad smells, and bad air that communicated disease. It wasn’t until the late 1860s that the theory of water-borne diseases, of which cholera was one, stemming from infected drinking water, became current - with obvious consequences for sanitation.

Public Health Acts

Failing any effective medical means to combat epidemics and having a flawed perception of the means by which diseases spread, successive governments of the day passed a series of Public Health Acts which attempted to combat diseases and their spread by largely social means. For example, the 1846 Public Health Act set up “Nuisance Removal Committees” with “Nuisance Removal Inspectors” who had quasi-police powers. The 1848 Public Health Act set up Local Boards of Health, but these were voluntary, requiring that ten percent of the voting population demanded one, or if the death-rate of an area exceeded twenty-three per thousand in a given year. The 1858 Public Health Act renamed Local Boards of Health as simply “Local Boards” and strengthened their powers.

Sewers

In spite of the wrongheadedness of the “miasmic” theory of disease transmission, the desire to remove effluent from towns and cities was great. Liverpool was the first city in Britain to appoint a City Engineer, James Newlands, and also the first city in the world to have an integrated sewer system constructed, overseen by Newlands. Starting in 1847, 86 miles of sewers were laid in Liverpool. London’s equivalent was ten years later, when Joseph Bazalgeate, Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board, supervised the construction of 450 mile of main sewers.

Samuel Brodhurst Hill and the Courts

Hoole’s scale was again much smaller than London’s or Liverpool’s, but the urgent need for sewers was as acute. This can be illustrated by two court cases that took place in the early 1860s. Both cases involved Flookersbrook (the actual brook) and Samuel Brodhurst Hill owner of Bache Hall, consequently Lord of the Manor of Bache, and also the half-owner of a rice-milling business in Edmund Street, Liverpool.

    

                                            Bache Hall in the early 1900s                                                                       Bache Hall today

It is widely, but mistakenly, believed that the brook called Flookersbrook is the watercourse that runs down the middle of the Flookersbrook plantation parallel to the Hoole Road. That watercourse is in fact a tributary to Flookersbrook and joins it near Hoole Bridge. The course of Flookersbrook begins in Little Heath near Christleton, and meanders its way through Vicars Cross and Boughton, until it arrives at a point under the junction of Westminster Road and Lightfoot Street (though Lightfoot Street did not exist in the 1860s). Its natural course, prior to 1840 and the coming of the railway, then zigzagged across what is now Thomas Brassey Close, the railway lines and part of the station building itself.

The course of Flookersbrook, Bache Brook and Finchetts’s Gutter

  As a consequence of the construction work connected with the station, the course of the brook was straightened to a line parallel to the future Lightfoot Street. It was also culverted, so became invisible to a passer-by. The original course continued to be shown on maps because it retained its status as both the city boundary and the parliamentary boundary. The brook then made its way north-west under Brook Lane and to an ancient glacial pool called Bache Pool (now filled-in, the current site of Morrison’s Supermarket and petrol station). The water left the pool and entered Bache Brook, which flowed in a line almost identical to Countess Way from the Morrison’s roundabout. In doing so, it passed within 50 yards of Bache Hall. This building, now a student hall of residence, can be seen on a knoll on the right as one passes down Countess Way towards Sealand.

The first court case, heard on August 5th and 6th 1861 at the court of Nisi Prius in front of Judge Mr Baron Bramwell, involved Hill v. The North Western Railway Company.

Mr Grove, Q.C. opened the case by stating that the action was “brought against the London and North Western Railway Company for polluting a stream which flowed through plaintiff’s property, by allowing offensive matter to flow into it from the gas works at the railway station”.

James Dickson, seedsman, gave evidence that ‘he had a nursery close to Flookersbrook, and that before 1839 the water in it had been quite pure, before the station and houses were built in the locality. The water was now very filthy. It smelled very bad. He had cleared the whole length past his nurseries several years before. He had had to give the workmen brandy and whisky to make them stop in the ditch when clearing it. Knew that Bishop’s Fields and Moor Park had become very populous; should think that there were 170 houses there.’

John Heap, paviour and contractor, gave evidence that ‘the depth of the “mud” was about three or four feet. The mud was of a very offensive kind, like refuse from gasworks, privies and “such like places”. Several men went through the culvert, and they were in a “putty mess”, being covered to knees with “filthy” mud, and one of the men had told witnesses that when his trousers were washed, one of the legs came away, having been “rotted off”. (Laughter). The privies of houses close to the engine-shed emptied themselves into the brook.’

After hearing evidence from chemists on the second day about the composition of the water, the jury retired to consider its verdict. A quarter of an hour later, the jury returned to find for the plaintiff, with damages of £100.

The second case also involved Samuel Brodhurst Hill, Bache Hall and Flookersbrook. This time Hill took the Hoole Nuisance Removal Committee to court in Chancery in Hereford. This case was heard two years later than the first one, on 20th July 1863.

The accusation was that the Committee, whose duty it was to have the collection tanks, fed by three rudimentary brick-built “barrel drains”, emptied at regular intervals, had failed to do so. The result was that sewage had overflowed into Flookersbrook. The water in Bache Pool had previously been used by Bache Hall for brewing and other domestic purposes. There had also been fish in the pool. The outcome of the case is unclear from the record.

However, Hoole subsequently decided to adopt the provisions of the 1858 Local Government Act by setting up a Local Board through elections. Even this process was not without its problems as there were allegations of illegality of the vote taken at a public meeting. Disputes arose as to the boundaries of districts to be included or excluded. The result was a Public Enquiry, answerable to Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary. 

The first sewer project in Hoole

On 12th May 1864, under the terms of the 1848 and 1858 Public Health Acts, the results of the election to the first Hoole Local Board, were announced. The Board consisted of twenty-three members, all men, ranging from land Surveyors, to self-styled “Gentlemen”, to Grocers. At its first meeting on 28th May, William Titherington, Gentleman, of Boughton, was elected Chairman, and Joseph Bridgman, Solicitor, was elected Secretary.

One of the first pronouncements at that meeting by the Chairman was “Whilst many were labouring for the spiritual good of their locality, their business must be to make the air and water as pure as possible, and thus conduce to the comfort and happiness of the inhabitants”.

The Board lost no time in pursuing its plans for sewers in Hoole. The following month it appointed its own Board Surveyor, George Angelo Bell, a Chester-based independent engineer and surveyor, with his own offices in Crypt Buildings, Eastgate Street. Several options were brought forward by Bell:

  • To take an outfall sewer through the Bache Hall land to the river
  • To have the sewage outfall onto Hill’s land at Bache Hall
  • To take the sewer down Garden Lane to the river
  • To connect to the Chester city sewer in Francis Street where houses were being built
  • To construct filter beds at the rear of The Ermine Hotel and return the filtered water to Flookersbrook.

Chester Town Council turned down the Board’s request to connect to their sewer, on the grounds that a Parliamentary Commission was in session, investigating the pollution of rivers. The Council did not want to enter into any arrangement which could be contrary to the Commission’s findings. Bell favoured irrigating Hill’s land with the outfall sewer. Whichever route was chosen, there was a sense of urgency to construct a sewer to avoid litigation by Hill against the Board. One member of the Board, Charles Meakin, Contractor, of the Elms on Hoole Road, gave the view that the sewage from Hoole could “irrigate thirty acres of land”.

By late summer, 1864, the route was provisionally decided upon and reported in “The Cheshire Observer”:

“The line of the sewer which is proposed to adopt may be described in general terms as commencing at the Western end of the Lower pool near the Ermine Hotel, and thence running pretty nearly parallel with Flookersbrook to the Bache Pool, where it will cross the Liverpool Road, and be taken through Mr Hill’s property for about a couple of hundred yards, finally opening upon some low-lying meadow land, about thirty acres of which it is calculated it will irrigate.”

The final route of the sewer actually began at the railway end of New Peploe Street (Westminster Road) and ran under railway land, and indeed under later-constructed railway lines to the point near the Ermine Hotel, and then on to Bache. At first Hill wanted £1000 compensation for the disturbance to his land, but when agreement was finally reached at a later date over the “irrigation” of his land, he only demanded £432. All told, the estimated cost of the outfall sewer was £2080 5s 6d: it would be 1.25 miles long: it would be 10 feet deep at the Ermine (“good for scouring”- Bell) and would take up to eight months to construct once the landowners had been informed. At the July meeting of the Board, the hope was voiced that “navvies may then set to work with pick and shovel to cut an outlet for the filth of Bishopsfield, and convert what has hitherto been a fruitful creator of epidemics into a valuable fertiliser of the soil”.

Route of the outfall sewer – superimposed on today’s aerial view

The Board’s plans, however, were thrown into disarray in August, when a letter from Robert Roberts, Hill’s engineer, arrived at George Bell’s office. In the letter the engineer complained about the following:

Dear Sir

“Bache Brook”

“Mr Hill has been complaining very severely to Mr Parker of the very bad stench arising from the water coming down this brook, and Mr Parker has urged me to get you to make some temporary arrangements to prevent the drainage from Bishopsfield getting into the brook through Lightfoot’s land, as it does now. I examined the brook carefully from Brook Lane and upwards on Wednesday night last, and found a very foul stream running from Lightfoot’s drain into the brook.”

 Bache Brook to the front of Bache Hall – early 1900s

 

The Board was forced to take emergency action to avoid being sued by Hill. George Bell put forward a plan, which was accepted, to construct temporary filter beds in a field near the Railway Gas Works at the end of New Peploe Street “where the nuisance was greatest”, and then return the filtered water to the brook. Total cost £120.

 

Finally, in November 1864, the first formal announcement, about the proposed outfall sewer, appeared in the local press, giving three months’ notice before beginning construction. The announcement detailed all the land and landowners affected but omitted Hill and his Bache Hall land. Instead, the sewer ran under a Mr Wood’s land, and ended on land owned by the River Dee Company. It seems that the Hoole Board were trying to avoid giving any offence to Hill and were very wary of him.

Surprisingly, on 31st March 1865, following the first announcement, a second, almost identical, notice appeared, but this time Hill and his land were detailed, the outfall was now on Bache Hall land, and we know, though it wasn’t in the notice, that Hill extracted a £432 fee from the Board.

Whilst the construction of the outfall sewer continued, an advertisement appeared in the “Cheshire Observer” of 5th June 1866, placed by the Hoole Board inviting tenders: “for excavating and laying a Pipe sewer, about eleven hundred yards in length, by the side of the Chester and Frodsham Turnpike Road”.

This second sewer was later described by Bell as the “District Main” and was planned to connect with the outfall sewer near the Ermine Hotel. Its route was from the outfall sewer at an angle across the Hoole Road, round the back of the “The Elms”, now the site of the new Co-op on Hoole Road, under number 43 Faulkner Street (the Bromfield Arms), up Charles Street, left into Hamilton Street, right onto the Hoole Road, and then to run alongside the south side of the road as far as Hoole Hall. The Hoole Road stretch, from Hamilton Street to Hoole Hall, would serve only five or six houses, including what are now the Dene Hotel, St Martin’s Academy and The Oaklands. No evidence has been found, but it seems plausible that the “Gentlemen’s” residences were given very special treatment. Branch, and Street, sewers were also planned.

At the meeting of the Board in September 1866, George Bell presented his final report on the completion of the sewage work; he also presented his resignation, as the project had been the reason for his being engaged by the Board. The report is printed in full, to provide a readily available historical record. It can be found in its original form in the Minute Book of the Hoole Local Board in Cheshire Record Office and in the archives of the “Cheshire Observer”

District and Outfall sewers superimposed on today’s aerial view.

George Bell’s narrative starts at the Bache end of the sewer. It reads:

“Chester, September, 1866”

“To the Chairman and Members of the Hoole Local Board

“Gentlemen – Your sewerage works now being completed, I beg to lay before you a description of their character and extent. The chief difficulty which the present Board, and the former committee had to resolve, was the finding of a line of outfall sewer which should be sufficient for the purpose of the district, and at the same time, be satisfactory to the owners of property and others. After submitting a number of schemes to all the parties interested, the present line of the outfall sewer was agreed upon. It commences upon the lands of Bache Hall, at such a level as will admit a large extent of surface to be irrigated by the sewage discharged. It continues through these lands by a brick sewer, which it was necessary to put in, principally by tunnelling: - The form is oval, and the size inside is 4 feet by 2 feet 8 inches. Where the tunnelling was in rock, a single ring of brickwork was used. A double ring has been built in the open cutting length, in every shaft length, and where the ground was not considered good enough for a single ring. The tunnel has a gradient of 1 in 330 throughout, and ends opposite the Bache Inn. From this point, to its termination at the end of new Peploe-street, the outfall sewer consists of a fireclay pipe 18 inches in diameter, except at the crossings of the brook, and other points, which will be described in detail. Passing under the Liverpool road, the sewer enters Bache Lane, and intersects a culvert from the Railway Bridge. The sewer passes over the culvert, and at such an acute angle that it was necessary to put in a length of iron tube, to get a proper bearing at each end of the crossing. The sewer continues through two small gardens, and into Messrs. Francis Dickson and Sons’ Nurseries, around the northern margin of Bache Pool.

“The brook is crossed by an iron tube fixed in masonry; and the sewer at this point enters the borough of Chester. The line continues a short distance from the brook, as far as the large culvert under the railway. It continues alongside the railway for a distance of ten chains, and is then carried under it at an angle of 45⁰. Passes through the willow plantation, and along the private road to Mr Potts’ houses: under the embankment approach to Brook Lane Bridge, into Messrs James Dickson and Sons’ nursery. Thence onto ground belonging to the railway companies in front of the engine sheds. The brook is again crossed by an iron tube fixed in masonry, which brings the sewer to the front of the railway stables. The culvert which brings the overflow from Flookersbrook pits, is crossed by another iron tube. The line is tunnelled under the approach to the railway bridge, and enters the garden of Flookersbrook Cottage. Its course forward is parallel to the brook, and at a short distance from it, through the land of Messrs. Lightfoot and the Blue School Trustees to its present termination at the end of New Peploe-street, being a length of 1 mile and 48 chains, or 2816 yards.

“At the most convenient intervals along its course, man-holes and lamp-holes have been built, for the purposes of inspection and cleansing, and a ventilation grating has been inserted at nearly every man-hole. The positions of all these are shown upon the plan and section which accompanies this report. Junctions have also been left for the Liverpool road, the township of Newton, and the railway companies, to meet any future arrangements with the Board.

“The gradients are as follows: - 484 yards of 1 in 330: 132 yards of 1 in 99: 770 yards of 1 in 330: 88 yards of 1 in 132: 308 yards of 1 in 726: 220 yards of 1 in 805: 55 yards of 1 in 88: 77 yards of 1 in 624: 11 yards of 1 in 55: 671 yards of 1 in 660. Total 2816 yards. The total fall is 24 feet 9 inches”

“DISTRICT MAIN.

“From the line of outfall sewer, opposite the railway goods shed, commences the principal main sewer of the district. It runs through Messrs. Lightfoots’ land, and passes under a house in Faulkner-street, belonging to Mr. Balshaw: along Charles-street and Hamilton-street, in the Hoole road, and continues along the south side of this road to the eastern boundary of the district near Hoole Hall.

“It consists of a pipe sewer of the lengths and dimensions following: - 1012 yards of 15 inch diameter: 880 yards of 12 inch diameter: 300 yards of 9 inch diameter: 63 yards of 6 inch diameter. Total length 2255 yards: 110 yards of 1 in 82

“The gradients are as follow, beginning at the lower end: - 88 yards of 1 in 88: 220 yards of 1 in 330: 176 yards of 1 in 105: 198 yards of 1 in in 138: 330 yards of 1 in 110: 187 yards of 1 in 93: 187 yards of 1 in 56: 253 yards of 1 in 58: 143 yards of 1 in 70: 110 yards of 1 in 82: 363 yards of 1 in 198. Total, 2255 yards.

“The general depth of the invert of the principal district main below the surface is 8 feet, and the total fall from its summit to the outfall at the Bache is 92 feet.

“BRANCH SEWERS

“The branch sewers consist of nine and six inch pipes. The lengths of nine inch are: - 294 yards along the line of the old watercourse from the outfall sewer to “The Elms”: 143 yards, Moor Park, No 1: 215 yards, Faulkner-street: 176 yards, Peploe-street: 259 yards, New Peploe-street: 91 yards, Moor park no 3: 96 yards, Hamilton-street S. of Charles-street: 92 yards, back of ditto, N. and S. of Charles-street. Total 1614 yards.

“The lengths of six inch are: - 42 yards, Law-street: 122 yards, back of Peploe-street, S. of Charles-street: 22 yards, back of Peploe-street, N. of Charles-street: 72 yards back road between Moor Park and Hamilton-street: 48 yards, back road Alexandra Terrace: 132 yards, Upton Road (sic). Total 438 yards.

“The gradients of the branches are shown upon the sections. The depth from surface to invert in the streets averages 8 feet, and in the back roads 5 to 6 feet. The total length is 2052 yards

“There are man-holes, lamp-holes, ventilating gratings, and street gratings and trapped gullies at the most convenient intervals on the district main and on the branch sewers; and junctions have been left for the sewers of proposed new streets upon Messrs. Lightfoot’s land.

 There are:
 Man holes
L. holes
 V. gratings
S. gratings
 On the line of outfall sewer  
 15  6  15  0
 On the district main
 11  4  12  18
 Branches  7  4  10  25
   33  14  37  43

“The total length of sewers laid by the Board, is 4 miles and 83 yards. There are also 264 yards of storm water and other pipes laid at the outfall. Of these lengths 2431 yards are outside of the district of the Board, and 4956 yards within the district.

“PRIVATE DRAINAGE

“Nearly the whole of the private drainage has been completed, and will work properly, providing ordinary attention is given to the cleaning out of traps at regular intervals, and solid matters are not allowed to enter the pipe.

“It is important in every system of sewerage to prevent a stoppage, that as good a flow of water as possible shall be passed through it: and in the lines which I have described, connection has been made to obtain water at every available point along their course. The numerous ventilation gratings which have been introduced will prevent the accumulation of noxious gases in the sewers. But should it hereafter be found necessary at any particular points, charcoal air-filters may be put in underneath the gratings.

“One of the collateral effects of the completed sewers has been the lowering of the water level of the district about 4 feet: which, while it has increased the dryness and salubrity of the district, necessitates the sinking lower of many of the wells to obtain a sufficient supply of water.

“DISPOSAL OF THE SEWAGE

“At the outfall on the Bache Hall lands, two main carriers have been formed to distribute the sewage by irrigation over the sloping land below. This has been in operation from the beginning of the year, and good crops of hay and grass have been produced: - the quantity being about double of what was previously yielded. There is no offensive smell arising from the irrigated land, and Mr. Hill intends to extend the distribution to the meadow lands below. A tank has been formed to receive and filter the sewage, at such short periods of time as it is not needed for irrigation. To provide against the effects of a heavy rainfall a storm water pipe has been laid to the brook. It well be easy to attend the irrigation further when necessary, as there is a large surface of land below the level of the outfall

“I remain, gentlemen,

“Your very obedient servant

“G.A. BELL”

 

Bell’s original drawing of the “irrigation” of Bache Hall land

 

 

It is significant, and ironic, that the item on the Board’s agenda at this same meeting, before George Bell’s report of the completion of the sewers, was a discussion about the threat of an outbreak of cholera in Bishopsfield, and the steps to be taken to help mitigate its potential effects. An exchange of letters had occurred between the Secretary of the Board, Joseph Bridgman, and the Chairman of the Poor Law Guardians for Great Boughton. The letters were rather recriminatory in tone; each party accusing the other of not cooperating over the provision of a joint inspector and the setting-up of a central depot where the poor of both districts could seek medical help and medicines.

 

However, the sewer system was constructed and working, and however unwise the discharge of raw sewage onto open land may seem to be to the modern observer, the outcome promised to be better than previously. For several years, until the mid-1870s, all would have seemed to be well, but problems lay ahead, which would need radical solutions.

 

Original Plan of Outfall Sewer

under Brook Lane Bridge to Ermine Hotel                                                       from Ermine Hotel to New Peploe Street.

A Newspaper Report

In November 1873, an event was reported in “The Liverpool Mercury” which had no direct bearing on the question of the sewers of Hoole, but which involved one of its main characters up to that point. It was reported that Samuel Brodhurst Hill, of Bache Hall, Lord of the Manor of Bache, respected part-owner of a rice-milling business in Liverpool, had been declared bankrupt four months previously. More dramatically it was reported that he had recently absconded with £10000 (almost £1 million in today’s values) of his creditors’ money, and that a warrant had been issued for his apprehension, with a reward of £100, and 5% of all moneys recovered beyond £2000. It was believed he had left the country; his description had therefore been translated into various languages and circulated to all the principal cities of Europe. It was believed he was in Spain. His household had been broken up and “put under the hammer”

 

 

Note: enquiries undertaken in the course of the research for this project revealed that Hill settled in Domaso, a beautiful lakeside town at the northern end of Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy. His house was the Villa Camilla, a striking 17th Century building, which now serves as Domaso Municipio (Town Hall). He died there in 1888, aged 61, seemingly never having been apprehended by the police. His wife, Emma Grylls who must have joined him there, lived on in the villa until her death in 1902) 
 

Villa Camilla, Domaso, Lake Como

 

The Second Sewer Project

The need for change 1876 –

Between 1871 and 1881, the population of Hoole grew from 1704 to 3062, a staggering 79 percent. The surge in population during the period is partly explained by the opening of the Chester Union Workhouse in Hoole Lane in 1878. In August 1877 an advertisement had appeared in the local press, inviting tenders for an extension of the sewers in Hoole “to carry the sewer up to the new Workhouse”. By 1881 it had 624 inmates. The consequences for the existing sewers and the outfall became obvious. Additionally, The County Asylum, on the site of the present Countess of Chester Hospital had 537 inmates, with its own outfall sewer, discharging onto the same land and sometimes into the same watercourse.

This time the complainants were the residents of Liverpool Road. In April - June 1876, they complained that the contents of the Hoole sewer and those of the asylum, were emptying into Finchett’s Gutter, linked to Bache Brook. They further said that there was a “midden” on the outfall land measuring 124 feet by 24 feet, by 7 feet high. This land was now owned by Robert Spear Hudson, a soap powder manufacturer, who had bought Bache Hall in 1874 after Brodhurst Hill’s hasty departure and the auctioning-off of the household effects.

The Chester Rural Sanitary Authority were scathing of “the condition of Bache Brook.” Dr Kenyon, as the Authority’s Medical Officer of Health, suggested at this point that Hoole should be merged into Chester’s Rural Sanitary District. On his part, Robert Hudson refused to have land he owned used for installing more plant to process sewage from Hoole.

There were clear signs of neglect by the Hoole Local Board. An Inspector’s report of July 1879 stated that the Asylum’s arrangements were satisfactory, but the outfall sewer from Bishopsfield revealed that the top of the filtering bed was broken and sewage was running into the brook and then into the river without filtration. Notice was given to the Hoole Board, and immediate attention was promised.

Later in the same year, in December, an outbreak of fever at the Asylum was blamed on Hoole sewage. In the same month a Memorial (Petition) was presented to Chester Town Council from the residents of Liverpool Road, stating:

“There are large open stagnant tanks. When the wind blows from the North West all windows must be closed and disinfectant used. The nuisance had existed between three and four years.”

Following this protest an attempt was made by the Board to have a plan for improving matters. It considered a new outfall beyond the canal. It was also suggested that Hoole and the Asylum should be taken within the district of the city.

The Chester Rural Sanitary Committee considered Hoole’s plan to “irrigate” a further forty-two acres at Abbots Meade where the new outfall would be placed but rejected it because the land was very low and was too close to the canal and a bridle road. The Committee recommended for the first time that a junction be made from the Hoole sewer with the two Chester sewers.

This recommendation bore fruit much later when it was announced that a Local Government Inquiry would be held for a loan to be applied for to connect the two areas’ sewers. However, this only took place in 1881, on 7th January. Its terms of reference being: -

“To consider the propriety of the new connecting sewer between the board’s outfall & city sewer, and also a loan to carry out the work.”

It was estimated that the work would cost £1000 and would involve constructing 550 yards of sewer. Hudson objected (he would be losing free fertiliser).

In spite of this unprecedented intention to cooperate on the part of Hoole and Chester, no agreement could be arrived at, and the Inquiry was adjourned sine die. However, a breakthrough occurred a month later when Mr Wharton, Inspector of Nuisance to the Public Health Committee “waited upon” Hudson, following an inspection of the brook receiving Hoole’s sewage. Mr Hudson restated his objection to the city’s scheme but reported that “The people of Hoole had another idea – conveying the sewage down Lumley Street (sic) at less cost”. Hudson would support them in this

At a meeting of Chester Town Council on 10th March 1881, “The Hoole Sewage Question” was discussed focussing on a plan submitted by Hoole Local Board as a substitute for the plan for further land irrigation submitted in 1880.

This new plan incorporated the Lumley Road route for the sewer, joining the existing Hoole outfall sewer to the city sewer in Liverpool Road, which ran under land belonging to Sir Thomas Frost. Hoole Local Board would have to carry out the work and consult the people on Lumley Road

Chester Town Council passed the resolution unanimously, subject to a deed of arrangement being created.

During April and May complaints continued about sewage going onto land, and now Boughton’s sewage become a cause of complaint as well, it being asserted that this was going straight into the river!

However, the wheels of bureaucracy continued to turn. On 17th May Dr Kenyon, Medical officer of Health for Chester, reported: -

“…………….at a meeting of the Public Health Committee of 16th May, sanction was given to a deed of arrangement, by which Hoole Local Board would be allowed to connect their sewers with those of the city, and when the deed was approved by the Local Government Board in Whitehall, the nuisance now complained of would be entirely obviated.”

This deed was not settled and sent to London for approval until July. However, Whitehall must have replied quickly, as the Clerk to Hoole Local Board was given the following instruction by the Board, at their meeting on 2nd August: -

“……….The deed of arrangement was sealed for taking sewage and Clerk was instructed to process tenders for the construction of the new connecting sewer along Lumley Road at once.”

Events moved quickly after that, in spite of the untimely death of the Clerk, Joseph Bridgman, on 27th September. He had injured himself in May, moving a heavy bookcase at his house, “Oaklands” on the Hoole Road. He had taken to his bed on 22nd August and stayed there till his death a month later, at the age of 55.

The Board’s surveyor, W.H. Grice, was made temporary Clerk. At its August meeting of 1881, the Hoole Local Board applied for a loan of £1200 from the Local Government Board, and then opened the tenders for the sewer extension work. There were eleven, from contractors as far afield as Birmingham and Southport, with Tender figures ranging from £859 to £1321. The successful applicant was John Roberts of Chester who tendered the sum of £912 to do the work. He was chosen because he had built some of the city’s sewers, as well as because of the relatively low bid price. Within three months this choice of contractor was to be to the Board’s disadvantage.

It is worth noting that at the same meeting the Board unanimously rejected a move to incorporate Hoole within Chester. This rejection suggests that the linking of the sewers of the two authorities might have been part of a greater agenda for amalgamation on the part of the city. The Board’s quoted reaction was to tell Chester to “mind their own business”. It wasn’t until 1954 that Hoole was incorporated into Chester, when Hoole Urban District Council ceased to exist.

By November, the Board were reported in the press in the following terms: - “The Hoole Local Board were fast progressing with their connection with the city sewer”.

 

Lumley Road connection to city sewer, superimposed on modern aerial view

An unexpected expense of £60 was incurred when, in December, the contractor had to re-lay 120 pipes in the city’s existing intercepting sewer which were cracked and broken. The irony was that he, John Roberts, was the original contractor employed by Chester to lay the pipes when constructing the sewer. “The way the pipes were laid was disgraceful” said one of the members of the Board.

Notwithstanding the delay, it was minuted at the meeting of the Board on 5th January 1882, that the connection between the two systems at Hoole and Chester had been made the previous month, on 23rd December 1881. The Mortgage of Public Works Committee had granted a loan for £1200 at “£3: 15 shillings percent”, repayable over 30 years. In addition, Hoole was to pay a “moderate fee” out of the rates, to Chester for the use of the city’s sewer, and for the carrying of the sewage to the Chester Corporation Outfall Works by the river on the Sealand Road (where the works is today).

A letter was read out at the meeting, from the residents of Lumley Road, where the connecting sewer had been laid. They were claiming compensation from Hoole Local Board for the disruption caused by the work. The Board rejected the claim out of hand, adding the residents “should be grateful they had got a sewer”.

In subsequent years Chester and Hoole continued to integrate their sewer systems, but this first notable example is where the current study ends, with the suggestion that we now may know a little more about the origins of the “Sealand Stink”.

[Article researched and written by Monty Mercer, April 2019, Hoole History and Heritage Society, based on his presentation to the Society on 20th February 2019]