Discovering Local History 



Health in Stoke-on-Trent


Public Health in the Potteries

We begin by looking at public health in the Potteries as a whole.


In 1856 a Report to the General Board of Health, looked at Health in Stoke-upon-Trent. The report found that there were periodic outbreaks of infectious and other illnesses in the Potteries.

"In the year 1846 we had awful mortality,… Prior to the winter of 1846 there was great destitution; the winter being extremely cold, nature could not sustain the shock; and this was supposed by many to be the principal cause of great mortality. In this year we had, 1846, we had no less than 1,746 deaths, being 510 more than the preceding year."



Like most other towns at this time, the Potteries were susceptible to most infectious diseases and deaths occurred from measles, small pox, whooping cough, diarrhoea and typhoid. The town also had a high infant mortality rate.

"The only strictly endemic we have is bronchocele (goître or thick neck), which exists both in the Potteries, and in the surrounding district. It prevails, indeed, wherever there is a damp soil, or air rendered very damp by the geographical or geological character of the county combined with low temperature. Although perhaps, not strictly endemic, there are two other diseases so frequent in their occurrence as to point to some very generally diffused cause. These are scrofula and bronchitis. The first of these diseases is, I believe, greatly dependent on the moral and social condition of the people; at the same time, there are many cases which clearly owe their origin to purely physical causes, and those which originate in a different way are greatly aggravated by the same circumstances."



The returns of the Registrar General allow us to comment on the prevalence of disease in the Potteries in the Potteries in the decade 1851 to 1860. During these ten years death rates in the two registration districts covering the Potteries were amongst the highest in England and Wales.




Interesting the two registration districts in the Potteries experiences only average death rates from zymotic or infectious diseases. Deaths from Phythis (or TB) were high in Stoke and deaths from disorders of the lung were high in Wolstanton.

The infant mortality rate was higher than the national average.


1) Poor sewers particularly in Stoke

"I think the sewerage throughout the Pottery districts very insufficient; but the surface drainage good owing to our naturally elevated situation, except Stoke."

Thomas Simpson (One of the Board of Guardians of Stoke-upon-Trent) (p. 49)



"Although no towns could be more favourably situated for the effectual removal of the sewerage, none could possibly be in a worse condition than Hanley and Shelton, which might be represented as surrounded by a moat filled with decomposing liquid filth, which was constantly sending forth noisome exhalations. The liquid from the house drainage was frequently mixed, in its course along the ditches, with that from the privies to form a liquid manure, with which to irrigate the adjoining fields. He need scarcely observe that the public health was seriously injured by these means; that fevers were almost constantly prevalent in the vicinage of these open ditches, and that the simplest disorders were rendered more intractable, the consequent debility increased, and the constitution left in an enfeebled and dangerous condition.

From the returns of mortality in the township of Shelton, he found no less than one-fourth of the whole deaths to be due to consumption; and along the banks of the canal he had seen jaundice prevail epidemically Hence, also, consumption among persons of middle life and the endless varieties of scrofulous diseases in childhood. From the operation of these and other unfavourable influences, the loss of wages to the operatives, from sickness, was a frequent cause of impoverishment and in not a few instances pauperism and ruin were the painful results."

Dr. Head (p. 56)



"The parts of Shelton in which zymotic diseases were most prevalent, were the eight rows of streets passing off at right angles on the north side of High-street, wittily designated, from their high-sounding names the Royal Family of Streets. Next in order come Tinker’s Clough, Mill's Bank Etruria Marsh Street, Joiners' Square and Hope Street.

In these parts zymotic diseases prevails most, and were least amenable to medical treatment. To exhibit the excessive mortality of this first district, Mr. Davis referred to a report prepared by himself: and published in the second Report of the Health of Towns Commissioners.

From this it was seen that the general mortality for a period of six years of this badly drained dirty district was very nearly double that of a better drained and more cleanly district of about the same population - a striking circumstance which had been considered the most distinct and impressive evidence of this nature contained in the Health of Towns Commissioners Reports. The parts of the town first referred to were the chief seats of disease. They, were badly drained, sometimes entirely without any artificial drainage, very filthy, moist, and putiescent vegetable and animal matters being always exposed about the dwellings; very much crowded, sometimes without any back doors; and generally inhabited by a squalid and wretched population. These latter circumstances should always be taken into account when estimating the mortality of any locality. Such subjects, poor, dirty, ill-clothed, ill-fed, weak in body, and above all, depressed; inelastic and uninteresting in mind are not only most liable to the attacks of disease, but were always least able to support or overcome its ravages."

Dr. Head (p. 57)



2) Insufficient and Poor Burial Grounds (p. 46).

The burial-ground in Hanley is very bad; has been too full for interments many years; is still used; is a public thoroughfare; and in dark nights, particularly, is a receptacle of filth.

Thomas Simpson (One of the Board of Guardians of Stoke-upon-Trent) (p. 49)


"The churchyard, in its present state, is a disgrace to the place; in the day it is a receptacle for all manner of nuisances. The houses in the district, called Chapel Field, adjoining, are principally small, and many of them without the necessary conveniences, such as privies, &c. The children mostly resort to the churchyard, and not uncommonly grown-up people, who commit acts of the greatest indecency. In the night the churchyard is a resort of all manner of bad characters, such as prostitutes, and the like, when acts of desecration are commonly committed."

Mr Samuel Keeling (churchwarden) (p. 49-50).


Also see a walk around the Municipal cemetery in Hartshill 



3) Poor Water Supply

"From June 29th, 1847, to the end of the same year, I attended 17 severe cases of fever, and 23 of a less grave, but decidedly of a typhoid character. The severe cases almost wholly confined to a few localities, viz., Davis Street, in the lower part of Shelton, the lower part of Mill Street, about Bell's Mill, the lower part of Northwood, and King's Street Shelton, with one or two adjacent streets. As an example, two severe cases and one of a slighter character occurred in a house situated in one of the most healthy parts of the town, and no other case occurred in the neighbourhood; on examination however, I found that a cellar and a well had been dug considerably below the level at which drainage could take place; the well overflowed, the water formed a stagnant pool on the cellar floor, some vegetable matter was scattered about, and precisely the circumstances which exist in the worst parts of the town produced precisely the same effect - a liability in the inhabitants to fever.

There were other cases of a similar kind, and in that of the whole 40 cases there were not more than 3 or 4 in which the very circumstances which rendered the patient liable to the disease could not be pointed out; and without which circumstances it is more than probable the epidemic cause of fever would never have manifest itself. Since the period referred to, I have not seen more than 3 or 4 cases of fever, and these but slight, so that the hygienic condition the town generally is evidently not such as of itself to produce fever, but only to speak as a circumstance favourable to its development from some other cause."

Mr John Scott, Surgeon (pp. 51-2)


4) Poor Housing.

see section on Housing


5) Illness connected with the manufacture of pottery.

6) Accidents in the mining industry.





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