A Sanitary Survey of Glamorganshire

County Medical Officer, William Williams

Published in 1895

Porthcawl Library

The following are from the postings on Cholera deaths in Merthyr I quote some extracts from the book:

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:- "Merthyr Tydfil, 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." I have not touched on the findings of William Williams’ survey of 1895 which covers the various USDs and RSDs in Glamorgan. Perhaps I may type some out and Gareth could include them in his "Not Everyone Knows This . . . " series where he already has a piece on Cholera in Merthyr Tydfil. The book is due back in the Library on Thursday but I could borrow it again.

Brian B Comley

Porthcawl, Glamorgan (South Wales - U.K.)

e-mail - Brian@bcomley.freeserve.co.uk

Merthyr Tydfil Cholera Epidemic 1849

According to the Return of Cases issued by Frank James, Clerk to the Guardians, on Saturday 22nd. September 1849, 3,612 people had been attacked by cholera and 1,520 had died from it in the Merthyr Tydfil area during the preceding months.

These figures refer specifically to Merthyr, Penydarran, Dowlais and Aberdare.

In Merthyr, the total number attacked, from the commencement on 25th. May, was 1,779 up to 10 a.m on Friday 21st. September with one new case up to 10 a.m. on Saturday 22nd. September. The number of dead totalled 745 on the Friday up to 10 a.m. and there was one more death on the Saturday up to 10 a.m.

The commencement of cholera in Penydarran was on 5th. June 1849. Out of the

272 who were attacked, 170 died during the period up to Friday 21st. September.

The date of commencement of the cholera in Dowlais was given as 10th. June 1849. There were 1,196 people attacked by it up to 10 a.m. on Friday 21st. September and 499 people died from it up to the same date, with an extra death recorded on Saturday 22nd. September up to 10 a.m.

In Aberdare, the outbreak commenced on 24th. June 1849. The number of people attacked was 364 up to 10 a.m. on Friday 21st. Sepember, of whom 104 died.

In Merthyr Tydfil, particularly hard hit was Caedraw with 57 deaths from cholera, the peak being in June with 29 deaths. Twynyrodyn had 34 deaths, while both Plymouth Street and Ynysgau had 32 deaths. In Glebeland 31 people succumbed to the cholera and the figure was 29 in Pontmorlais. There were 21 deaths in Market Field, 18 in eorgetown, 17 in Pentrebach, 16 in Pedwranfach and 10 in Bridge Street.

These figures have been taken from original documents, copies of which are included in 'Merthyr Boat Boy' by Clive Thomas, Gill Foley and Josephine Jeremiah and 'Merthyr Tydfil in the 1840s' by Keith Strange. Both were published by Mid Glamorgan County Council Education Department, some years ago, and are likely to be out of print now, though may possibly be available in local libraries.


Researching Charlotte and Jenkin HARRIS of 11 Church Street, Pentrebach late 1880s. Jenkin died on 23rd. June 1889 and was buried in the Cholera Cemetery at Thomastown, Merthyr Tydfil.

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