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Bletchley historian John Taylor looks at why diseases such as typhoid were
so prevalent in the town and nearby Fenny Stratford in the late 19th century


Health Hazards 1886
Sanitary conditions in Fenny Stratford and Bletchley were far from ideal in the late 1800s.

Sunday Citizen April 8 2001

In July, 1886, the local vicar reported that the sanitary accommodation at the National schools was 'simply abominable' and elsewhere in the town conditions were little better.

In fact at Bletchley one learned doctor repeatedly complained of the stench, from sewage discharged into the stream passing the front of his house and he was not best impressed when, possibly as a consequence, he fell victim to typhoid.

Some of the locals hardly helped matters, for one had been using the parish sanitary cart to convey water for his own purposes! Defending his action, he said that his was because the cart had been standing on his premises for so long, with no rent paid, that he thought he was entitled to use it.

Common sense on the part of the authorities also seemed lacking, when they rejected an offer by Rowland Brothers to allow a drain to be laid across their properly, on Bletchley Road, to a brook, for the better drainage of the neighbourhood. Even the surveyor said it would have been the best scheme!

Disease became rife in the town and of three cases of diphtheria in Oxford Street, one tragically proved fatal. Thereafter it was decreed that the closets of certain cottages in the street were to be immediately reconstructed.

Soon afterwards the parochial sanitary committee then decided that the oval sewer along Bletchley Road should be opened and a new one laid in its place, a distance of some 510 feet.

The work, to be completed in four weeks, or else the contractor would be fined 10 shillings for each additional day, proved unique, for this was the first time cemented joinlsweretobeused.

Yet only one tender was received and with little choice this was accepted, at £6910s.

Measures were also now in hand to improve the local water supply and a trial well, sunk on Ihe property of Sir Philip Duncombe, proved promising. A copious yield of water prompted the waterworks committee to investigate the possibility of supplying water to the parish from the Brickhill Hills, to be supplied by gravity feed.


The sewage problem however, had not received such a beneficial view and one irate parishioner was moved to write: "I think the members of the Fenny Stratford sanitary committee must have gone abroad and taken the sanitary Inspector, the contractor for removing the night soil, and the night soil men with them."

It had been a month since the closets had been emptied and the stench was awful! For the main sewage at Fenny, the brook in Mrs Hammonds field was relied upon to carry away the effluent, not only from Fenny but also from Bletchley and with the smell again being dreadful an added hazard was children playing nearby.

Mrs Hammond had threatened to take action against the sanitary authority if this went on but the only solution the Board could think of was to clean out the ditch.

In the longer term the provision of a sewage works was being considered but having been left to a sub committee, urgency seemed lacking. Meanwhile typhoid continued to plague the town and three cases were reported in Aylesbury Street, three in Victoria Road and one each in Park Street and Oxford Street.

Something had to be done and the committee decided to lay a sewer of two feet diameter from the outfall ditch, complete with the necessary junctions and manholes with an advert for tenders to be placed in the local papers.

Not that the process went smoothly for due to a printers error the date appeared as the 13th, not the 3rd, incurring another two weeks delay. Still disease was prevalent -11 more cases of typhoid were reported - two fatal - and among the worst affected areas was Woodbine Terrace, where eight cases were reported.

Matters were not helped by there being a broken spoke on the water cart and immediate repairs were ordered. Yet some progress was being made and the surveyor reported that the clearing out of the Water Eaton brook had been done, with the holes filled up at an additional cost of £812s 12s 2½d.

On the down side he also reported that a water sample, taken from a well at The Three Tuns Inn, which supplied the whole of Woodbine Terrace, was largely contaminated with sewage.

As for the tenders for the Bletchley Road sewer, the lowest cost was from Mr H Welsh, of Fenny Stratford at £119.10s and this was duly accepted. A further delay occurred when it was realised the pipes hadn't been ordered!

The story of an eventual water supply for the town belongs to another article but due to the shortage of manpower, during the First World War, the quality again began to suffer and a man from the Royal Engineers depot at Staple Hall had to be appointed as engineer.

At the end of the war, remedial measures were then put in hand and tenders for the supply of an eight inch water main between Fenny and Little Brickhill were invited.

The Stanton Iron Co would only supply 1,000 yards of pipe and so The remainder was ordered from the Stavely Iron Co, at £14 4s per ton.

The inadequacy of the existing six inch main meant a depleted supply only was available to Far Bletchley and until the new main could be laid, as a temporary measure the auxiliary pumping station at Bletchley Railway Junction was to be used, for an hour a day.

This would reduce the supply to Duncombe Street and the residents were duly warned. Yet by December the new main had been laid and tested and the problems, for the moment, had been resolved.