With nothing much to do other than read old newspapers, I found this article in a copy of the local Brighouse News from exactly 140 years ago. It was a report by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Britton, on efforts being taken to combat the outbreak of scarlet fever (Scarlatina) in the town. Reading through the list of measures – social distancing, quarantining, closing schools, limiting funeral ceremonies, even gratuitous disinfectants – you are suddenly reminded that little is new in this world. Granted, we have yet to see the reintroduction of “Nuisance Inspectors”, but it is probably just a matter of time. All I need to do now is to find a copy of the newspaper from a year later to see whether things will ever return to normal.
Precautions Adopted: I now come to a very important part of this report, viz. – the precautions already adopted to put a stop to, and limit the spread of, the disease. I may say that everything has been done by your authority, and by your officers, with one exception, and that is “isolation”, to which I shall refer later on. Bills of “Precautions” have been twice distributed from house to house, and have also been posted in the district. The masters and mistresses of the various schools have been visited, and requested to exercise the greatest caution not to admit children from infected houses. All cases of which we have had any information, and also all suspected cases, have been regularly and systematically visited by your nuisance inspector, in many cases daily, and by myself at intervals of a few days. Not only have the cases been visited themselves, but careful inquiries have been made in the immediate neighbourhood of any cases, in order to ascertain if any more could be heard of. This has been done both at the inspector’s daily rounds, and also at my occasional visits. At these visits to infected houses, the occupants have been cautioned about admitting friends into their houses, and especially children; if they have had any children who remained well, they have been requested to keep them away from school, and not to allow them to mix with other children. They have been supplied with disinfectants gratuitously, and shown how to use them; they have been instructed to use every care in disposing of the slops and secreta from the houses; to observe thorough cleanliness, and to admit as much fresh air as possible into their houses. In cases of death, they have been requested to bury early, to avoid funeral teas, and not to allow children and friends in, to see the corpse; to make a thorough cleansing of house and contents afterwards, as well as after every case of recovery. This is a thing. I am happy to say, that the public generally do.
The Brighouse News of Saturday 2 July 1870 contains a lengthy report of the meeting of the Brighouse Local Board. Local Boards were the precursors to Urban District Councils, and were charged with supervising the provision of such services as water supply, drainage, sewers and gas lighting. Their remit was particularly concerned with public health: they had been established in an attempt to counter the growing threat from disease in the rapidly expanding urban areas of the country.
The June meeting of the Brighouse Local Board seems to have been a fairly dull affair: various sub-committees had been established; there were lengthy debates about people getting access to water stop taps who shouldn’t have access to them; the case of how much to charge someone who wanted water for his garden but not his house was debated at length; and complaints about water being supplied to Clifton without the express permission – and payment to – the Halifax Waterworks Committee were heard. The Local Board then met with a deputation from the Brighouse Temperance Society, and there was a lively debate about the evils of public houses and the dangers of drink being available to the working classes. The meeting didn’t end until a report from the Cemetery Committee had been heard, by which time most members of the Board and the officials attending the meeting were probably in great need of refreshments of one kind or another.
Directly under this report of the Board meeting there is a short item of correspondence which reads as follows:-
BRIGHOUSE LOCAL BOARD To the Editor of the Brighouse News SIR, Amid the innumerable demands for money for all sorts of things, can you spare me a corner in which to plead for funds for so small an object as paying the members of your Local Board by day; as I am sure the little business they have to do (if worth doing at all) will be better done in business hours, than at midnight, and the change would not only benefit them, but would give the reporters an opportunity of going home by DAYLIGHT
You have to admire the reporters who managed to sneak this item into the columns of the paper. Who says the Victorians didn’t have a sense of humour!
ALLEGED FRAUD ON A RAILWAY – On Saturday, at the West Riding Court, Halifax, Josh Matthewman, of Huddersfield, was charged with having travelled from the latter place to Brighouse, on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, in a second-class carriage, he having a third-class ticket. It appeared that defendant was put into the carriage by the officials at Huddersfield, and at Brighouse, when he was remonstrated with by a porter, he said he did not know that he was riding in a class superior to the one for which he had paid. He, however, offered to pay the difference, which was three half-pence, and the case was dismissed.
Bradford Observer 11 January 1875
It is never too late to correct a miscarriage of justice. 145 years after this report appeared in the Bradford Observer, I would like to protest on behalf of Josh Matthewson for the way in which he was dragged in front of the courts, like a common criminal, for “riding in a class superior to the one for which he had paid“. He was put in the wrong carriage when he boarded the train in Huddersfield, he explained his innocence when he was remonstrated with by a porter in Brighouse: and yet is name is paraded across the pages of the popular press and left on public view for almost a century and a half. During his life, Mr Matthewman may have rescued stray puppy dogs, raised children who changed the world, endowed homes for the poor and downtrodden: but all he is remembered for is his missing three half-pence ticket. What a perfect example of what was petty about the petty session courts.
As we enter the year 2020, everything in the news is far too depressing to dwell upon. I am therefore taking refuge in the news of the past – if for no other reason, than to confirm that things were just as depressing in the past.
Today I am returning 200 years to the 3 January 1820, and my newspaper of choice is the splendidly named Leeds Intelligencer And Yorkshire General Advertiser.
Let us start with a look at education (for the privileged classes) two hundred years ago; and an announcement from Mrs Wilks of Parsonage House, Thornhill, near Wakefield. Mrs Wilks “takes a limited number of young ladies into her house for the purpose of instruction”. Yorkshire parents will have been pleased to learn that they “may rely on every attention being paid to (their daughters) health, morals and general improvement”. The pricing structure looks a little complicated – there appears to be a flat rate for accommodation, extra for tuition, not to mention an additional fifteen shillings a quarter for washing (although whether that is for the child or their clothes isn’t stated). The most delightful sentence in the entire announcement is undoubtedly the penultimate one: – “The Young Ladies are accommodated with Cold and Warm Baths”!
Page two contains a piece that possibly deserves a three-year PhD thesis. It is a public announcement from the officers of the Halifax Regiment of the Local Militia which regrets that the Commanding Officer of Regiment has resigned his commission at a time when “sedition and disloyalty are so notoriously abroad”. Context is everything in understanding this somewhat strange announcement by the Halifax militia officers: the battle of Waterloo was less than five years in the past, and the massacre at Peterloo took place only the previous August. The officers proclaim in their statement that “until it is formally intimated to us, that our services, as a body, are no longer needed, we shall be found at our post, ready for such service, as we may consistently be called upon to perform”. Before we all give the Halifax officers a resounding cheer, it must be remembered that the perceived enemy at the gates was not a foreign army, but the impoverished and disenfranchised English working man and woman.
Let us finish on a more light-hearted note, with an advertisement from Richard Turner, the manufacturer of “Real Japan Blacking”. Japan blacking was a varnish used to coat iron and steel and was very popular in the early nineteenth century. At a time of the year when we have all had a surfeit of mindless television commercial jingles, it is worth remember that the genre is not all that new. All together now ….
“Turner, it is to thee we oweThis all resplendent beauteous glow”
HALIFAX BOARD OF GUARDIANS – Yesterday, an ordinary meeting of the Halifax Board of Guardians was held, presided over by Mr John Taylor, the chairman. The minutes and reports of the various committees were approved; and the number of paupers in the home was stated to be 391. The treasurer’s account showed a balance in the bank of £761 5s 10d. The number of outdoor recipients of relief was 2052, and their cost for the preceding week £163 6s 11d. In the corresponding week of last year the number was 2165, and the amount of relief £175 13s 1d. For the positions of master and matron of the Workhouse there have been fifty applications, and these had been reduced by a sub-committee to seven, who, it was resolved should be requested to attend before the Board at an adjourned meeting, to be held next Wednesday; second-class railway fare being allowed to those travelling. These seven are – Mr and Mrs Griffiths, Nantwich; Mr and Mrs Roach, Cheltenham; Mr and Mrs Hope, Kidderminster; Mr and Mrs Simmons, Truro; Mr and Mrs Glaister, North Aylesforth; Mr and Mrs Kirby, Loughborough; and Mr and Mrs Whelen, of Halifax.
Our random number generating time machine directs us this week to the year 1875, where we drop in on a meeting of the Halifax Board of Guardians. The workhouse was built in 1841 and occupied a site between Gibbet Street and Hanson Lane. 25 years after this report the workhouse changed its name to St John’s Hospital, but its main function of providing relief for the poor of the Borough continued right the way through until the introduction of the Welfare State in the 1940s. From 1948 until 1970 it was a hospital specialising in geriatric care, but I can still remember the reluctance of older people to be admitted to the building they still saw as the workhouse. Geriatric care was eventually moved to Northowram Hospital in 1970.
In addition to providing rudimentary shelter and work within the workhouse itself, the Board of Guardians were also responsible for what was known as “outdoor relief” – small weekly sums for families in need, living outside the workhouse. During the week in question, £163 had been spent of outdoor relief for the support of 2052 recipients; which works out at about 1/6d (8 pence) per person per week.
By searching the 1881 census records we can discover who was successful in being appointed as the master and matron of the workhouse: it was John and Annie Kirby of Loughborough.