Friday, 2nd April, 1852
The Public Health Act
Inquiry At Seacombe
On Wednesday last an inquiry was held at the Seacombe Hotel, before Robert Rawlinson, Esq., in reference to the application of the Public Health Act to the district of Wallasey. The inquiry was held in compliance with a petition from some of the inhabitants of Seacombe, Poulton, etc., praying that the Health Act might be applied to those townships. It will be recollected that, a short time ago, the commissioners of Wallasey proposed to go to parliament for an act, but being opposed by the inhabitants, the attempt was abandoned. Amongst the gentlemen present were Mr. Hill. Mr. Hassall, Mr. Lewin, Mr. Penny, Mr. Odell, and a number of other gentlemen resident in the neighbourhood.
Mr. Rawlinson explained that his first inquiry was originated in consequence of a petition from the ratepayers and landowners of Poulton-cum-Seacombe. The second one arose out of a recommendation contained in his report on the first inquiry, that the Public Health Act, if applied, should be applied, should be extended to those parishes, or such portions of them, as were within the government of the present body of commissioners. His object on the present occasion was to receive information and hear further evidence as to extending the Public Health Act to the districts which had already been named.
Mr. Penny explained the proceedings which had been taken in reference to the commissioners' bill, and added that there could be no doubt but sanatory improvement was desirable and necessary - the question was in what shape they were to have it. A strong feeling existed against the introduction of the Health Act, principally on the ground that it would materially interfere with self-government, and he hoped Mr. Rawlinson would inform them as to how far that self-government would be interfered with. He then referred to the power exercised by the general board in the borrowing of the money, the appointment and dismissal of the surveyor and medical officer, and the auditing of the accounts, to none of which there could be any serious objection. Another advantage would be that under the operation of the Health Act the taxes or rates levied for improvements would be charged only on those townships benefited. The Health Act would place them in a better position than any other act they could obtain, and would give them much greater facilities, besides being much less expensive in its application. It was hoped that the commissioners would have taken the initiative, but as they had not done so, he had drawn up a document to be sent to the board, seeing forth the portions of the existing Wallasey Improvement Act proposed to remain unrepealed; the principal of these related to the power to lease or purchase ferries, provide steamboats, etc., and to erect a market; also portions of the Town Improvement Act, the Police Clauses Act, the Market and Ferries Clauses Act, and the Wallasey Improvement Bill, to be incorporated; these related to by-laws for dealing with nuisances, and promoting the government of the township. It is also proposed to introduce clauses for providing baths, places for public recreation, etc., if their application by special order be dispensed with. Mr. Penny made some observations on the more important clauses, and showed their advantages, after which he handed the document to Mr. Rawlinson, to be included in his report.
Mr. Rawlinson expressed his thanks to Mr. Penny for the trouble he had taken in furnishing the information contained in the document just read. They would be embodied in his printed report, and the ratepayers would then have an opportunity of perusing them.
Mr. Hill said he had been instructed to present a petition from a number of ratepayers, who protested against being brought under the operation of the board of health, and at the proper time they would take the necessary proceedings. The petition was signed by 323 persons of the highest respectability.
Mr. Rawlinson - Are they all ratepayers?
Mr. Hill - I believe so; but I have nothing to do but present the petition. He believed the object of the petition was not so much to oppose the introduction of the Health Act as ascertain whether, by a communication between the commissioners and the board of health, they could not introduce a local amended act.
In reply to a question by Mr. Rawlinson,
Mr. Hassall, the law clerk, said the commissioners took no part in the inquiry. They left it an open question; at all events he had received no instructions on their behalf.
Mr. Rawlinson wished it to be understood, in order that there might be no mistake afterwards, that he should send his report to the board during the present week, and if the commissioners intended to take any steps, they must do so after the report was published.
Mr. Odell observed, in reference to the petition presented by Mr. Hill, that it had emanated from two of the commissioners, and two persons had been employed to go from house to house to procure signatures, and many persons had been induced to sign it under the impression that it was against the commissioners : they were in utter ignorance of its prayer.
Mr. Hill replied that the petition would speak for itself.
Mr. Mullen, who said he was one of the persons that went round with the petition, denied Mr. Odell's statement, and said there was no improper representation made to procure signatures. He added that notice was given where the petition might be signed.
Several gentlemen remarked that they were altogether ignorant of where the petition lay for signature, while others said they saw it at Egremont and Seacombe.
Mr. Rawlinson saw nothing wrong in a petition being taken round for signature; though if any signatures were obtained under false impression, it would invalidate the petition altogether.
Mr. Odell would be able to prove that several persons had signed it under a wrong impression.
Mr. Rawlinson explained the difference between the two bills. The bill at first proposed gave no control with respect to borrowing money for public works, but that control was given to the public Health Act; in fact, no bill would pass the house of commons without such control being included in it. All private improvement bills had that clause, and they must make up their minds that they could not get as act without it. He further stated that the Health Act would not interfere with the power of the ratepayers to conduct their own public question. The board merely directed what kind of works should be carried out, and ensured that the inhabitants should be charged at a fair rate for what they received. As to the dismissal of the surveyor, the power relating to that officer would be inserted in any improvement bill; and the appointment of a medical officer rested with the ratepayers, and not with the general board. A control as to the appointment and dismissal of officers was necessary to secure them on independent position in the discharge of their duties.
Mr. Hill called attention to the rating clauses (Nos. 86,87,88) when Mr. Rawlinson expressed an opinion that, unless a good reason were shown, Lord Redesdale would not allow the clauses in question to be altered.
Mr. Hill thought the old clause as to the payment of rates for the construction of sewers, etc., was better than the new one.
In reply to that suggestion from Mr. Rawlinson, Mr. Hill agreed to furnish a written statement as to the operation of the clauses referred to.
Mr. Rawlinson said the rating clauses had been in operation in nearly 200 towns, with large and small populations, and he never heard any objection to it in the way pointed out by Mr. Hill.
Mr. Penny thought it would be desirable that, in the election of commissioners, they should be distributed in some agree according to the proportion of the population.
Mr. Rawlinson replied that that could be arranged at the proper time. They might reduce the number if they thought fit, giving six to Liscard, six to Seacombe, and three to Wallasey.
Mr. Hill objected to the number.
Mt. R. Parry contended, with regard to the petition, that many people had signed it under a false impression with regard to the nature of the Health Act; they had been told they would have increased rates. He wished Mt. Rawlinson to give them some idea of the expense of the new bill, in order to set the minds of the inhabitants at rest.
In explanation. Mr. Rawlinson stated that all the clauses not contrary to the spirit of the Health Act might be introduced. As regarded the introduction of the bill in places where highways boards and other public bodies existed, it must be understood that in those places such bodies became the local board when the act was applied. By the same rule the commissioners of Wallasey would be included under the Health Act. The qualification was £30 per annum, or £1000 in property.
Mr. Nesbitt called attention to the desirability of some clause being introduced in the bill to regulate cellar residences and small houses; and also to give them the advantage of drainage, he submitted a written statement of views.
Some desultory conversation followed on the question raised by Mr. Nesbitt, and also the mode in which the expense of sewers was charged under the Health Act. These questions called forth explanations from Mr. Rawlinson, who added that many of those matters would receive due attention at the proper rates, the tenant of the present year would pay no more than the tenant 30 years hence, when the whole rate would be liquidated.
Mr. Parry wished the expense of getting the act to be stated, as many people were under an impression that the rate would be 5s. in the pound.
Mr. Rawlinson stated that where the act had been in operation for a sufficient length of time the result had been most satisfactory. In Ormskirk, where a furious opposition raged against the act, and it was said that when it was applied that the rates would go up to 5s. in the pound, they formerly paid 6d. for highway rates, and they had no proper sewage; now they had proper sewers and other advantages, while the rate had not been increased beyond the original amount of 6d. In other places the result had been the same, and in no instances had there ever been an increase such as that alluded to. As to the money, the government did not supply it, but the general board gave their sanction to it, and that rendered it easily obtainable. It might generally be had at a rate of 4¼ or 4½ per cent. In Rusholme and Watford, where they had not the Health Act, the inhabitants had repudiated the control of the board, and were carrying out works on their own account. By so doing they had rendered themselves liable to a prosecution. In some instances a contractor agreed to supply the amount necessary, and under such circumstances the expense would be considerably greater.
Mr. Nesbitt asked why the board did not interfere at the places mentioned.
Mr. Rawlinson said that unless the inhabitants appealed the board had no power.
Mr. R. Parry made some remarks on the importance of sanatory regulations, and the deficiency of such regulations in the township of Seacombe, and the neighbourhood.
At the suggestion of Mr. Hughes, a resolution was adopted, that it was expedient to provide that the rates to be levied for the purpose of improvement be made upon the respective townships; and that in the future elections of commissioners a specific number be elected for each township, in proportion to its population, or as nearly as may be.
Some desultory conversation followed as to the population of the various townships, and some other matters of detail, during which Mr. Rawlinson explained his views.
Several of the gentlemen present called attention to the existence of certain nuisances in Seacombe, and the unhealthiness of certain localities from these causes. To all those matters Mr. Rawlinson said he would give his best attention. A pamphlet by Mr. Nesbitt, on the sanatory state of Seacombe, etc., was brought under notice, and an argument was subsequently raised as to the origin of cholera. Mr. Rawlinson expressing a decided opinion, from the attention he had given to the subject, that the disease arose from a neglect of the laws of health, and was of man's own creation.
Mr. Nesbitt referred to Mr. Rawlinson's report, in which he had spoken of the unhealthiness of Seacombe; such a statement was calculated to injure the township.
Mr. Rawlinson read an extract from his report, and added that, in speaking of the unhealthiness of Seacombe he referred to it as the result of improper sanatory regulations in certain localities. His report stated that, in the midst of a district naturally most salubrious, the inhabitants were surrounded by the seeds of disease and death, the result, not of natural causes, but of bad arrangements.
Mr. Odell again called attention to the petition against the Sanatory Act, contending that signatures had been obtained under a false impression. Mullen had stated it was a petition against the commissioners.
Mr. J. Gaugh stated that he asked Mullen if it was a petition in favour of the commissioners, and he replied
"No; it is a petition against them".
Mr. J. Clarke also said that a female named Ellen Jones had been told, after she said the petition, that it was against the commissioners.
Mr. Rawlinson said it was important to take cognisance of such statements; and he would not fail to lay them before the board.
Mr. Hill denied that any unfair means had been intentionally resorted to in getting up the petition, and such assertions as those which had been made ought not to be taken as conclusive.
Mr. Penny expressed, on behalf of the meeting, their thanks for the patience Mr. Rawlinson had shown during the inquiry, and the attention he had given to the suggestions made to him by the gentlemen present. He concluded with a resolution of thanks, which was seconded by the Rev. Mr. Roberts.
Mr. Rawlinson thanked the meeting for the expressions of good will shown to him, and added that it was only his duty to give the fullest amount of information in his power for the benefit of the ratepayers. In reference to the remarks in his report relating to the unhealthiness of Seacombe, he begged to state that the evils he referred to arose from local causes. If his remarks were to be considered general, the impression formed would be erroneous. There was a portion of Seacombe as healthy as any spot in England, and that might be inferred even from his report, - and if not inferred he begged distinctly to state that he knew no more healthy district than between Black Rock Point and Wallasey Pool existed in any part of England. (Hear, hear).
This terminated the inquiry, and the meeting separated.