Epsom Local Board of Health

1850 - 1894
providing the town with lighting, sewerage and drinking water

In a report of the case of Dorling v Epsom Local Board of Health (5 E & B 195, page 471)*, we are told that:
"Before the application of The Public Health Act, 1848, to the parish, the square mile containing the town and the immediate suburbs were in want of works for sewerage, drainage and water supply. There were no public sewers worthy of that name. Most of the houses had drains leading into cesspools upon the premises and some houses had not even a cesspool. There was no public water supply except two public pumps in the High Street, within a short distance of each other, and a pond in the middle of the High Street. Many of the houses had no wells; and the occupants thereof had therefore to fetch water to their premises or purchase the same [at a halfpenny per pail of about 3 gallons]. And at times, after a storm, the rainfall from the higher lands surrounding the town ran over the streets in a flood, and occasionally entered the houses."
Trevor White and Jeremy Harte, in Epsom, A pictorial history, remark: - "Because of the high water table, it was easy for cesspits to pollute the pumps: at the back of the Albion there were six privies and three wells within a dozen yards of each other." One of the cottages in Woodcote Lane, rented out by James Chandler, of the brewery in New Inn Lane/South Street, consisted of only two rooms with a pigsty and cowshed built against it and in close proximity to the living quarters was a heap of pig manure covering an area of about 20 by 11 feet.

Edwin Chadwick, Secretary of the Poor Law Commission, had undertaken a survey which was published during 1842 as a "Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population" and Epsom was the first Surrey parish to apply the provisions of the ensuing Public Health Act of 1848. A preliminary enquiry into local sanitary conditions was conducted during 18491 before the Local Board of Health was imposed by Order in Council on 9 March 1850. [Minutes of the Board are preserved at the Surrey History Centre under references 3554/1/1-2 & 3527/1/1-8.] Consideration of drainage works took place during 1853 & 1854 and plans were produced by Messrs Lee and Stevenson, Civil Engineers. [SHC 6158/1.] A charge of £163:12:6 had been made for the preliminary enquiry and a further £340:4:6 for subsequent general plans and surveys: a design for drinking water to be brought down from Epsom Common cost another £215:5:2 but was not adopted. The town pond, reportedly fed by a waste drain from the pump 'at the top of the town' and designed to overflow just below the road, tended to become stagnant and contaminated. It was, therefore, destined 'to be filled up'- as it was in 1854.

Six square miles of the parish, beyond the town centre, had not been considered in need of new works for sewerage, drainage or water supply. 945 acres consisted of down and common, principally open down land, with a thin light covering of mould and grass, over chalk and used only for sheep. The farm houses and gentlemen's seats and cultivated lands, forming the remainder of that part of the parish, did not require any such provision whilst parts of this area lay so low that to drain them into the proposed sewers of the Board would have been impracticable. The farm houses and gentlemen's seats had wells, and had no deficiency of water, or difficulty in obtaining it: their sewerage, being conducted into holes made in the porous chalk, was carried off readily by filtration without giving rise to any inconvenience or complaint.

The permanent works actually undertaken have been described as consisting of a brick main sewer, and certain branch pipe sewers, with an outfall to a stream leading to the Hog's Mill River; a deep well sunk into the chalk, which afforded a plentiful supply of good water; an engine house, and engines over the well; a covered reservoir about a mile from the well, and at an elevation higher than the tops of all the houses in the town, though below the race-stand as well as some other buildings in the outlying district; and water and service pipes to supply the reservoir, and distribute the water to the houses in the town; and, lastly, the lamp posts and other equipment for lighting portions of the district with gas. From the reservoir was an overflow drain for the purpose of carrying off surplus water through the sewers to the outfall.

Water Works shown on an extract from the 1913 OS Map
Water Works shown on an extract from the 1913 OS Map
(Click to enlarge)

A cost in excess of £13,581 had been defrayed in part by money borrowed on mortgage of the special district rate which came to be applied from 21 May 1855. Henry Dorling, who had leased the Grand Stand from 1845, immediately appealed against his charge on the grounds that the rate, which had been applied to the whole of the parish, ought only to have extended to the parts which would benefit from the undertaking. He, however, lost the Queen's Bench case of *Dorling v Board of Health.

In 1891 the sanitary body had sought new by-laws to regulate cesspools and drainage where development was taking place in areas without sewers, particularly in Ashtead. A proper drainage plan was not produced until the new Epsom Urban District Council was established in 1895 and eventually arrangements could be agreed for a connection to Leatherhead's sewage outfall.

Meanwhile, Epsom depended upon its "Sewage Farm" off Kingston Lane (later Hook Road), on land taken from Epsom Court Farm. Although, in 1860, a further acre or so had been acquired "near the end of the outfall sewer, formerly part of a meadow near to the Epsom to Wimbledon Railway line, ...abutting on Ware otherwise Water Lane.." for tanks and filter beds in order to intercept, collect, deodorise and purify sewage discharged from the public sewers, no structures appear on the 1896 OS map. Originally effluent would have been allowed simply to percolate through narrow channels across an open field to separate out solid matter - sometimes described as providing a liquid manure. In a Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, published during 1870, it was observed: - "At most places the application of the sewage to land has been found to exercise a most beneficial influence on the condition of the streams and rivers receiving the drainage of the district. At Epsom there was some damage done to the Hog's Mill River, but no complaint is now made. Even where only the solid portion of the sewage is separated by nitration or precipitation, the state of rivers receiving the discharge is to some extent improved." According to the Victoria History of the Counties of England: The County of Surrey (Vol. 3) which was published in 1911, "The sewage of the town is disposed of by an irrigation system on part of the Epsom Court farm lands, the purified effluent is discharged into the Hogsmill River". The arrangement of septic tanks and rectangular filter beds were depicted on the Ordnance Survey revision published during 1913.

Sewage Farm shown on an extract from the 1913 OS Map
Sewage Farm shown on an extract from the 1913 OS Map
(Click to enlarge)

After later changes, including the establishment of a Joint Sewerage Board for the Hogsmill Valley, rendered the first Sewage Farm redundant the land was re-developed as the Longmead Industrial Estate.

The first Chairman of the Local Board of Health appears to have been Jacob George Cope of West Hill Lodge, Epsom, and City of London (Director of The General Fire and Life Co. etc.) but during 1855 his place had been taken by Henry Dorling (,on the principal that 'if you can't beat them, join them',) who then retained the position until 1871, dying two years later. In 1878 the Chairman had become George Ratcliffe Keeling, Dentist at Ormonde House [Buried Epsom Cemetery , aged 69, 3 November 1891] and, by 1887, the last incumbent was James Andrews.

Writing in his Reminiscences of Epsom, published in 1903, the latter mentions that the engine house and reservoir for the water works had both been built by his father (Henry Andrews,2 surveyor). A portion of the land belonging to Epsom Court Farm was initially only rented for use as sewerage works.

Board of Heath Caricatures
Caricatures of Members of The Board of Health 1887
Image Source Reminiscences of Epsom by James Andrews 1903

A description of the town's Earth Bourne [considered elsewhere on this website] had been given by William Lee, C. E., when he produced the preliminary enquiry into the sewerage, drainage, and supply of drinking water, and the sanitary conditions of the inhabitants of Epsom for his report to the General Board of Health in 1849. Mr Lee observed that "In the bottom of the valley, extending westwards from the church to the Dorking Road, there is a stratum of the greensand mixed with fragments of chalk. This immediately overlies the chalk, and is the locality of a singular phenomenon called the 'Earth Bourne', which will require to be provided for in any arrangements for draining the town. The Earth Bourne is an intermittent spring, permeating the whole of this bed of sand and gravel, usually rising within a foot or two of the surface over a considerable area, and sometimes oozing out above the ground. Its duration and the time of its recurrence are alike irregular, although it seldom fails to succeed a wet summer. Sometimes it does not appear for three or four years, and then flows for two or three years successively. Its duration varies from four to eight months. It generally commences running soon after Christmas, and disappears about May or June. The wells gradually rise, and frequently overflow, and the water is beautifully clear and sweet. The Earth Bourne is produced by the simple laws of hydraulic pressure...." After drainage work had been completed the earthbourne largely disappeared.

Little is known about the men who actually ran the public utilities under consideration: the Water Works were managed in 1867 by George Williams and the Engineer at East Street has been named as Charles Saunders for 1887 & 1890, the year in which he died aged 56. During 1891, Saunders was succeeded by Charles Penrose King (born Islington 1864) who remained in the position until 1901. The 1891 Census enumerated him as a 26 year old boarder, Mechanical Engineer, resident in Ely Cottage, East Street. He had served an apprenticeship with Messrs Robert Warner & Co, Bell Founders, Walton on the Naze, Essex, to work in their drawing office and subsequently held a similar position with Messrs Davey Paxman & Co, Standard Iron Works, Colchester. Since he was not obviously well qualified for the job at Epsom one needed to look for other connections. An explanation appears to lie with the marriage of his widowed mother, Henrietta Anne King, on 4 July 1883, to Edward Dorling, widower, 'only surviving son of the late William Dorling of Epsom' - which brought King into the extended family of James Andrews, who happened to be Chairman of the local Board of Health at the time of Charles Penrose's appointment.

On 16 January 1869, George White, Secretary, is found advertising the vacancy for a Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances. Joseph Rake Harding, born in Clapham circa 1836, had been appointed Engineer and Surveyor to Epsom Board of Health before he became an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1871. He lived at Glenthome in Worple Road and also became Inspector of Nuisances otherwise Sanitary Inspector. Apparently he had trained as an architect, being responsible for the design of the Victoria Cottage Hospital, Alexander Road (as town surveyor) opened in 1889 [Epsom, its history and surroundings]. He is also credited with work on the Royal Medical Benevolent College, 1897-1901 and 1-7 Lynwood Road in the Burgh Heath Road Conservation Area, 1896-1903 ["a single development in a rumbustious version of Surrey vernacular; a riot of tile hanging, projecting bays and chimneys"].

Gas lighting had been installed in the town centre by 1840, supplied by Epsom Gas Company, and pre-dated the Board of Health. Pressure was low leading to repeated complaints from the police and George White about the inadequacy of illumination. An illustration of the lamps lining the High Street c1875 may be found in Charles Abdy's Epsom Past at page 39.

Epsom's Local Board of Health became responsible for the maintenance of roads but this aspect of its work is outside the scope of the present article.

An Epsom & Ewell Road Roller
An Epsom & Ewell Road Roller - date not known.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

1 Discussed by Charles Abdy in The Unhealthy State of Epsom in 1849 - Nonsuch Antiquarian Society Occasional Paper No. 31, published in October 1996

2 Henry Andrews, architect and builder, had given evidence to the Enquiry by William Lee, Superintending Inspector, conducted in the Assembly Rooms 1-3 August 1849. He criticised the smaller, poorly built, wooden houses observing that they were '... universally untrapped, and with cesspools, most of which are unsteined [Lacking a stone lining?]. The closeness of these places to the houses coops up the air in them, and the foul stench finds its way into the buildings'

Brian Bouchard © 2011

Webmasters Note: You may like to see an alternative account of the Epsom Local Board of Health by Jeremy Harte.

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