Attitudes to water supply (continued)

 
Water supplies that were adequate for the small Welsh towns were not suitable for the vast numbers of new arrivals that came to work in the new industries of copper, iron and coal. New houses were often built in areas where land was cheap and this was often because drainage and water supply were bad. This new phase of house building started a new phase of well digging. 
Whilst older wells and springs would still supply clean clear sparkling water, the wells dug in the new housing areas were often very shallow and the water would inevitably end up being contaminated by the toilet waste and sewage that often flowed into them.  Overcrowding meant that the few wells that existed in urban areas were constantly used day and night which added to the pollution problem as constant use tended to draw polluted water into the well from the surrounding subsoil. Greenhill in Swansea is typical of the way in which local water supplies were contaminated by rubbish and dung heaps.
In Cardiff, the overcrowded Irish and immigrant area of Stanley Street, Love Lane and Mary Anne Street were found to be particularly bad in 1849, as the subsoil was waterlogged with the contents of the numerous cesspools that littered the area. Not surprisingly, the few wells of the district were quickly contaminated with sewage but this did not prevent local people using the water. Even attempts to avoid dirty water came to nothing as beer in local taverns or milk from street vendors would be frequently watered down by unscrupulous traders. The problem of watered milk was a national problem throughout the nineteenth century and often explains why so many children and toddlers died in cholera outbreaks. Problems in the poorer part of Cardiff were made even worse because the water supply for large parts of the town was taken from the Glamorganshire Canal, the Bute Dock and even the River Taff, all of which were the final destinations of many of the drains and cesspits from the town. 

Above: The cholera hotspot of Cardiff in 1849. No clean water supply and toilet waste thrown into the streets. Houses coloured red

I

Above: A typical early nineteenth century town pump with a trough.

In Merthyr the high density of ironworkers housing brought similar problems. The years 1835 to 1845 saw large numbers of houses built in small cramped streets. Water supply or sewage were not taken into account. The expectation was that water would be brought in by traders and toilet waste would be taken out on carts by 'night soil' men or scavengers. The limited number of hillside springs that were nearby were heavily used. Very often people would queue for hours to fill a jug of water. The situation was made worse as the main streams were diverted and culverted for use in the ironworks making them unusable for the local people. In many towns across England and Wales the filth and dung that accumulated in industrial areas was frequently stockpiled and sold for fertiliser and sadly this expectation was used to replace provision for proper facilities. Such delivery or collection never developed and people were left to make their own arrangements. The arrangements usually depended on the River Taff. 

As the privies and cesspits of the Merthyr streets around Pont y Storehouse became unusable, people would use the banks of the river as toilets, further adding to the burden of waste and filth carried by the river. The tragedy here was that the Taff was the usual source of water for drinking and brewing for many communities between Merthyr and Cardiff. 

Swansea History Web subscription details are here

SHW Microhistory: 3. The No.10 Lantern, Union Street

Probably the most enigmatic survival of early twentieth century Swansea.

It never ceases to amaze me that this lantern still hangs outside the No.10 pub in Union Street. When you consider the years of road traffic, the redevelopments, the Blitz, the refurbishments of the pub and its eventual conversion into a health food shop and this lantern still hangs there with the original glass. The No.10 imp seems to have been a Bert Thomas invention and was probably Swansea's most distinctive trademark in the years before the First World War. The lantern was part of the elaborate design of the front of the building and was certainly well known by 1906 as the cartoon on the right shows.

The lantern was a clever idea. In the early 1900s, Union Street was a mass of signs of all shapes and sizes, far more than would ever be allowed today. Finding something to make the No. 10 stand out in the street for customers to spot would have been quite a task. The lantern and the imp became a much loved and easily recognised symbol of an enjoyable Christmas.

More SHW Microhistory

Edition Date August 2004 (Next Edition September 2004)

All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2004

Citation information: www.swanseahistoryweb.org.uk/[page title].htm

Free copy of Eye of the Eagle: The Luftwaffe Aerial Photographs of Swansea 1939-40

Teacher's and Student's Guide (Sitemap) Sample pages

About Swansea History Web   If you want to navigate the site come to the Home Page or the Contents/Sitemap

If you subscribe you will receive a user name and password for the restricted pages

CD ROM and subscription information

 Contact us (Subscribers only) www.merthyrhistoryweb.org www.dylanthomas.org.uk