Sewerage (19th century)


Dealing with sewerage in 19th century Yeovil


A government report of 1849 commented that Yeovil was "a very filthy, a very dirty and a very stinking place". In 1852 in his Report to the General Board of Health concerning, among other items, Yeovil's sewerage, Thomas Rammell wrote the following which I include here almost in its entirety as it gives such a good account of a 19th century problem.


Twenty years ago, before the passing of the Improvement Act, Yeovil was destitute of sewerage, there being scarcely a street without an open ditch or drain along the whole or part, which were, in some places, five feet deep. Of the sewers laid down under the Improvement Act, Mr Henry Etheridge, formerly and for eighteen years surveyor to the Commissioners, gives the following particulars.

"There is a system of public sewers throughout the town: I believe there is not a street without a sewer. The whole of the sewage falls ultimately into the River Yeo, which skirts the town at about a quarter of a mile below the south-eastern boundary. There is a small stream along the Turnpike Road from Hendford Park, the western extremity, passing near the gasworks, and another from Kiddle's Town, the north-eastern extremity, to the same point. Several drains fall into the streams from different parts of the town, and there are principal ones through Horsey's Lane and through Hendford. These drains have been principally made within the last twenty years, since the Act was obtained.

The outlets drains have lately been made upon a different principle to what they were formally. The section now used as a square of 24 inches, with segments of 4 inches below, and 8 inches above. The old form was a square. The material formerly used was quarry stone, found in the parish, which was set dry. Some of this stone was very porous, some very hard. This has been the practice up till two years ago, when mortar began to be used. Bricks and mortar are now the materials employed.

The fall is everywhere very good. I know of no instance where it is found insufficient for the discharge of the sewage. The depth of the drains varies very much. The average would probably be 3 feet or 3'6" from the surface of the ground to the bottom of the drain. Some are six or 7 feet deep. They are not, in all cases, below the cellars. I have heard of cellars being flooded, as was alleged, from the insufficient depth of the drain; but, on examination, this did not turn out to be the case. The ground being in parts porous, and the sides of the drains being set dry, they are no doubt liable to allow of an escape of fluids."

It would seem almost superfluous to observe upon the above statement, that the system of drains existing in Yeovil is of a very inefficient kind; vicious in the form of construction, made of bad materials which do not answer the purpose of retaining the liquid they are intended to convey; and lastly, being placed at such levels as, in a great multitude of cases, prevents their being used to carry off the surface drainage from the houses. Mr Etheridge states further "I never knew of any public drain being stopped up from the accumulation of deposit in it. They are so occasionally, through the tops breaking in.

Mr Etheridge continued "There is still one open drain remaining, that running from the almshouse down to the gasworks. This drain, or rather, common sewer, I inspected myself at the almshouse. It passes underneath the building and through the little garden at the back of it, close to the door of the house, and the exhalations from it, added to the low and confined situation, cannot fail to be highly injurious to the health of the inmates.

There was formerly a catch pond at the bottom of Horsey's Lane, which was used for securing the deposit from the sewage. About two years ago some gentlemen speculated, and enclosed this catch pond with a wall so as to save the whole of the sewage, liquid as well a solid, and he erected a pump to raise it into carts, in order to sell it to any parties desirous of purchasing it. The speculation did not answer, however, and the catch pond was covered up as a nuisance, and abolished by agreement. We have constructed catch pits at most of the principal drains to prevent the stench. When the trap is dry, of course, it does not act. "