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A Sanitary Survey of Glamorganshire

By the County Medical Officer, William Williams, published in 1895.

Here are some extracts relating to Merthyr Tydfil by Brian Comley, 2000

No reliable account of Sanitation in Glamorganshire is given before the year 1844. Malkin, however, published two volumes in 1807 on the "Scenery and Antiquities of South Wales".

Of Merthyr, he, [Malkin] speaks:-

"It remained a very inconsiderable village till 1755, when its iron and coal mines exited more attention. . . Its population in 1802 was found to be upwards of 10,000. The first houses that were built were very small and simple cottages -- for furnacemen, forgemen, and miners. They were mostly built in scattered confusion, without order or plan. The streets were many in number -- close and confined -- having no proper outlets behind the houses. They are consequently very filthy for the most part, and doubtless very unhealthy."

The first official reference to sanitation in Glamorganshire is heard of in 1844 in connection with the "Health of Towns Commission," in the Reports made by Sir Henry De La Beche, on the sanitary conditions of Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil.
Sir Henry De La Beche, reporting on Merthyr Tydfil in the same year [1844], says:-

"There was no water supply -- there were some privies at the few decent houses, but none at the cottages. Slops and refuse were thrown on the unmetalled highways and streets, and on mounds of coal-ashes at every turn. There was a great number of poor as indicated by the fact that between 6,000 and 7,000 persons, out of a population of 37,000 (one out of six), were relieved from the poor-rates annually."

The Report concludes thus:-

"MerthyrTydfil, with Penydarren and Dowlais, may be regarded as chiefly a large cottage town without public care for supply of water, drainage, or cleansing; the open character and small height of its straggling buildings, and consequent exposure to sun and air, saving its population from still greater evils than those to which they are now exposed from the filth so abundant in it."

In 1850, Inspector Rammell, in his Report to the General Board of Health on Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff, says:-

"The town of Merthyr Tydfil was entirely destitute of drainage, no provision for supplying the town with water; in the few wells which existed the water was bad in quality from natural hardness or from impurities which had permeated through the soils into the wells. There were 21 burial grounds in various parts of the town."

In 1852 Dr. William Kay was temporarily elected Health Officer for Merthyr Tydfil. In 1854 he presented a full report on the conditions of the town. It concludes thus:-

"The unhealthiness of Merthyr Tydfil is attributed to local and self-created conditions, the vicious construction of houses, the inadequate water supply, the absence of drainage, and the necessary consequence -- accumulations of filth, atmospheric impurity, the excessive and fatal prevalence of disease,"

During 1849 Cholera prevailed in almost every town and village of any size through the county, and the loss of life was extremely excessive.

(1859) Dr. Greenhow, in the Second Report of the Medical Officer to the Privy Council, reporting on Cholera at Merthyr Tydfil, says;-

"Cholera occasioned 1,683 deaths in Merthyr Tydfil in 1849, and 455 in 1854. With the exception of Hull, this town suffered more severely in the former of these years, in proportion to its population, than any other place in the Kingdom"

Dr. Greenhow summarises thus:-

"The disease appears to be attributable in Merthyr Tydfil to causes analogous to those in other places, such as defilement of courts and lanes, caused by rarity of privies, and numerous collections of offensive refuse."

(1866) Mr. Simon, then Medical Officer to the Privy Council, in his Ninth Annual Report, writing of Merthyr Tydfil, says;

"In our statistics it showed every possible evidence of sanitary neglect; in Fever, in Diarrhoea, in Cholera, in Small Pox; in Phthisis, and other lung diseases, and in mortality of children, it always was conspicuously bad, and the water supply was cruelly scant and disgustingly foul."

(1870) Dr. Buchanan reported on an epidemic of fever at Merthyr Tydfil:-

"Epidemic found to be true Typhus Fever, and referred to overcrowding and want of ventilation in the houses of the poorest people. Further hospital accommodation wanted."

Brian Comley 27 Sept 2000 

See also Disease in Glamorgan


Sanitary Survey of Glamorganshire, extracts re Merthyr Tydfil [Last Updated : 29 Sept 2002 - Gareth Hicks]