The Health of Brownhills.

Taken from the Lichfield Mercury, Friday 15th July 1910. Thanks to reader Peter Pedro Cutler, who found the clipping. This has taken me weeks to transcribe. Please read it through, a better description of the times we couldn’t hope to find. What we see is a medical officer, fighting disease with limited resources and against grinding poverty. Very, very sobering.

Central Ward – that is, central Brownhills, as Maddever would have known it. From ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.


Dr. J. C. Maddcver, Medical Officer of Health to the Brownhills Urban District Council, in the course of his report on the health of the district during the year ended Deccmber last, states:-—

The extent of the district under your control is 6,285 acres, with a population of 2.8 to the acre. The country lies at an average height of 400 feet above sea level. The soil is very light, lying on a gravel sub-soil in most parts, and on beds of sandstone in others. The consequence of this formation is that rain is rapidly drained array from us, and so leads to a dry atmosphere and country generally.

Our area may be described as forming three fair-sized villages, separated by large open commons. These open spaces would lend themselves admirably to reafforestation, and I think with benefit to the health of the inhabitants, and certainly add greatly to the physical beauties of the surroundings, and I should think with an ultimate pecuniary return.

The chief occupation of the inhabitants is mining in the large coal pits in the immediate neighbourhood. I may say that in my opinion the Central Ward is more or less in decadent condition owing to the exhaustion of the coal beds in the immediate surroundings and the opening up of mines in more distant areas. I do not see that mining has any great danger to the health of the workers other than a tendency to produce afflictions of the heart, due, I think, to the lifting of great weights in their occupation. Of course we have to reckon with the very numerous accidents occurring in the mines, many of them immediately fatal, others leading to permanent disablement and much suffering. In this connection, I may say that the Compensation Act has had a curiously curative eiiect on lumbago, at one time in my experience very prevalent among miners.

I think with a few exceptions the housing accommodation is very good. From the nature of the district already referred to there are ample open spaces about the houses, and the cleanliness of the surroundings is good. The supervision of the erection of new houses is under the control of the Surveyor, and the plains have in all cases to be passed by your Council prior to any building being erected. In former reports I have condemned the houses known as Ten Row and Five Row. I again call your attention to tihe insauitary state in which, they are, and ask if this be not remedied, that they should be at once closed. In some of them I see the people have left them of their own accord. The number of houses in the district aie as follows:-—Central Ward, 864; Walsall Wood Ward, 1,427; Norton Ward, 1,064; total, 3,355.

The water supply of the district is as a whole very good, being almost entirely derived from the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company’s mains. This supply is entirely from wells sunk in areas beyond suspicion of contamination, and forced by pumping stations throughout the district. There is no possibility of lead contamination unless in the house connections, and I have never seen any symptoms of lead poising that could not be traced to the occupation o the sufferer – house-painters. In addition to the public water supply there are a number of wells in the district, 90 in all – in the Central Ward 39, Walsall Wood Ward 20, and Norton Ward 31. These are all sunk rather deep, and their purity is good. The only health drawback I see in them is that the labour involved in drawing the water is apt to make the user use less than is desirable. I would be glad to see, however, that your Council would encourage the disuse of the wells and urge the landlords to lay on the public supply- I am glad to hear that Woodbine Terrace is now to have the public service, and this will lead to others in that neighbourhood getting a supp]y they have long wanted. But of the 90 wells mentioned it is fair to say that 28 of them are supplying houses located in portions of the district in which the mains of the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company are not yet laid down.

The inspection of meat in the district can never be efficiently carried out in the now existing conditions. I have before asked for the setting up of public slaughter houses, seeing that in this is the only safeguard against the danger of tuberculous meat. At the present time there are 16 small slaughter-houses in the area,-—Central Ward 6, Walsall Ward 5. Norton Ward 4. These are all in ihe rear of the shops selling the meat. and though to my my personal knowledge kept scrupulously clean, it is impossible for an inspector to at all times see that the meat is free from disease. All that he can see is the dressed meat ready for sale, and in that state it would not be easy for the most expert to see evidence of the prevalent disease, tuberculosis, in cattle. There has therefore been no condemnation of diseased meat during the year. There is also in the district a fairly large sale of imported chilled meat and mutton, which to the best of my judgement is of good quality.

I find that I have misled some in my former reports on the sewerage question. I have led outsiders to think that water closets were in general use here. I had no intention in my statement that most of the houses were connected with the sewers should lead to this idea. I only meant that the slop water and house refuse were taken into the sewers. The district is essentially a privy-miidden one, and very little human excreta is dealt with in the sewage farm. There are only 105 water closets in the whole area, and I did not think there were so many, but a number of them have been put in very recently. The Central Ward has 74, the WalsallWood ward 26, and the Norton Ward 5.

The sewage is dealt with, so far as the Central and Walsall Wards are concerned, on the Sewage Farm at Walsall Wood, both by treatment in bacterial beds and filtration on the land. In Norton there is no sewage scheme proper, and it is a district that should be dealt with in the future. As it at present stands, it is a public nuisance, especially in the summer season, in front of my own house lere, the sewage of Watling Street is frequently stagnant and very visible to sight and horrible to the sense of smell. This is only a small portion of the Norton area. There are in the Walsall Wood Ward 5 cesspits, in the Central Ward 5, and in the Norton Ward, where no proper system of sewerage prevails, there are 43. The contents of these are removed by the people themselves, and in most cases used in the garden plots attached to the houses. The pollution of rivers has been reduced to a minimum in the Central and Walsall Wood Wards by the treatment on the sewage farm, the effluent from which I consider satisfactory.

The sanitary condition of the public elementary schools is good. In one case the school was built over what had been the site of a refuse heap. At the time of building I called your Council’s notice to this. I must admit, however, that I have lnot been able to trace any disease due to this. The children im this suliool seem to have as good health as those in the others where no siic condition exists. The water supply of the schools is the South Staffordshire Water Company’s mains. There has been little need during the past year to take action for the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases other than the isolation of cases as they arose. Complete isolation in your district is impossible, as the people themselves will insist on going in each others’ houses during illness, many thinking themselves injured if their neighbours do not come to see them in their trouble. I have rcmonstzrated over and over again, and forcibly, but with little effect. One is reluctant to take legal steps in these cases, but it would possibly the best method of stopping this danger. The arrangements for the medical inspection of the children is in the hands of the medical oflicers specially appointed by the County Council. ‘l’heir recommendations as regards the eyes, throat, nose, and ears, and also skin are no doubt admirable, but the point lacking is the means to carry them out. The people themselves are in too many eases too poor to pay the  fees to have the needful treatinient. We have no methods for the control of tuberculosis. There no system of notification. of pulmonary phthisis, either compulsory or voluntary, in operation. I may say that pulmonary consumption is comparatively rare. We have no hospital for such eases, either in their early or later stages. Some of the clubs in the district contribute to homes at the seaside, and cases in the early stages occasionally get sent to them.

During the year there have occurred nine cases of diphtheria, of which number one proved fatal under five years of age. In these cases diphtheria serum was used, and vith good effect. This is supplied by the Council free of charge. It is possible that some cases may not have been true diphtheria, but it was considered better to gave the patients the benefit of the doubt. All these cases were isolated to the best of my power, and I think successful, as the people stand in considerable awe of the disease. Twenty seven cases of erysipelas were reported, but in no case was there a fatal result. There were 38 cases of scarlatina reported, seven in the Central Ward, seven in the Walsall Wood Ward, and twenty four in the Norton Ward, and I am glad to say that in no case was there a fatal result. Isolation to the best of our power was carried out, and disinfection of the premises afterwards by the sanitary officer. We had two cases of puerperal fever, one proving fatal. These were duly visited by the medical ofllcer of the county, and the midwife in the fatal case has since been compelled to cease practice on own account. The Notification of Births Act 1907, has not been adopted. We have no health visitors employed. It is impossible to separate the mortality of the legitimate from the the illegitimate, though I should judge in our district the diflerence will be but slight I should say that the great factor in the infantile mortality here has been, and is, improper feeding, I had some handbills of instruction printed at the Council’s cost, which have been distributed to the best of my power, but I am afraid with but little good. In this connection I may mention the universal use of the dumb comforter. This I believe to exercise a most baneful influence on infantile health and I have carried on an active crusade against its use. I am afraid the total results of this crusade is that one is laughed at as a man with a fad.

The medical inspection of the children attending the elementary schools is done bv the medical officer appointed by the County Council. As yet it is too soon to judge of the benefits to be derived from it. I feel sure that it will only be by prosecution of some of the parents that any particular care will be taken – in the verminous oases more particularly. As iegnrds the suggestions made by the visiting school medical officer, re. the throat and nose cases requiring operative treatment, it seems to me that in many cases the parents are too poor to be able to meet the expenses the necessary treatment would entail. The local medical men cannot be expected to undertake the responsibility and expend the time necessary for proper treatment without fee or reward. They have plenty of gratuitous work already. It seems to me that tlie public must meet the expenses incurred by the order of the public servant. During the rear I have systematically visited and examined the various areas under your control, in some cases in company with the sanitary officer, in others alone. I may put it that I am continually inspecting in the ordinary course of my practice  This takes me daily to every nook and corer of your area. As regards proper isolation of infectious diseases, I should urge that the smallpox hospital, which has never once been used, should be prepared and used for the treatment of scarlatina, diphtheria, etc., those cases it is impossible to isolate in their own homes, and I feel sure that prompt removal and disinfection of the house and clothing would often arrest the spread of the disease. I would suggest to the Council the provision of proper means of removing bedding, clothing etc., from the infected houses, to be stored at the Board Rooms at the Council’s expense. In the meantime this is done by the people themselves, and often in a way well calculated to n read disease.

l find the vaccination laws carried out satisfactorily in those cases where it is allowed. Owing, however, to the new conditions of getting exemption having become so easy, many of the parents, even those put in authority over others, are neglecting this great preventative of disease. I am certain that but few years will elapse, if things go on as they have, before we have smallpox more or less always with us. Let all who have influence and power urge upon the peoiple the benefits of vaccination, and also the reedom from the dangers of disease transmission due to the lymph sent out under guarantee of the Local Improvement Board.

The total number of deaths registered throughout the area was 260, equal to a rate of 14.4 per 1,000; in addition to these 12 deaths occurred in public institutions outside the district among people belonging to the district, making the net total deaths among residents 272. giving c corrected area of 15.1, a rise of that of last year. The rates for ‘the various areas are :— Central Ward 58, 12.5 per 1,000; Norton Ward 76, 13.3 per 1,000: Walsall Wood Ward. 138, 17.9 per 1 000. It is difficult to understand the larger rate of Walsall W00d. seeing that it is a much newer village than the others. The only eiuse I can give is its close proximity to Walsall and the great amount of trafllc betwcn the two places. I notice that disease in Walsall always attacks Walsall Wood prior to the other two areas. The deaths from the seven principal zygotic diseases numbered 38. equal to a rate of 2.11 per 1.000. Measles and whooping cough were largely responsible for this  increase I had in the Central Ward 15 notifications of infectious diseases, in the Walsall Wood Waid 29 and in the Norton Ward 36. The ages of the cases notified cannot properly be given, as it is seldom applied to the notification paper. ‘ The number of deaths under one year was 92, equal to a death rate of 160 per 1 000 registered births.

The Total number of births registered was 572, equal to a rate over the whole urea of 31.7 per thousand. This is considerably lower than that of last year, and I think the lowest recorded in history of the Council. 1 have no idea that can account for this; one thing I can be sure of is that our people have not risen as yet to the practice of race suicide [Dry humour? – Bob]. That, I fancy, lies in a. higher social scale. The rates for the various areas are: Central Ward 127, 27.5 per 1.000; Norton Ward, 183, 32 per 1.000; Walsall Wood Ward, 262, 34.1per 1,000. I am sorry to note again the number ‘of deaths in this part from cancer. I know of no cause, but beyond a doubt the disease is increasing in frequency.

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36 Responses to The Health of Brownhills.

  1. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    where was the “smallpox hospital..never used”..the one in Barracks Lane..?

    • Pedro says:

      25 April 1902 at the Council meeting?..

      Maddever brings the attention to an outbreak of small pox in Wallsall, and warns that they have no conveyance if one should occur. Dr Wolverson said he believed that the were in possession of an isolation hospital in Barrack Lane, and had it on good authority that a case could be conveyed there and an injunction taken out and obtained.

      Mr Reid said that there would be other places as well as B’hills who would not be provided with a hospital, Cannock would be in the same position. He did not think it wise to spend a lot of money in building a hospital, and within months have to join other districts.

      The clerk said that one was needed as soon as possible as there were 9 cases already in Walsall. He thought small pox would not wait for a committee….Mr Roberts said they had a tempory place already in Barrack Lane…Mr Shaw said it would not comply with the regulations which called for it to be 40 yards from the road.

      After further discussion it was decided to put the present building into repair…

    • Pedro says:

      This debate seem still to be going on in 1916, where te Surveyor submits reports About the costs of putting it into proper condition for Council use!

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for transcribing the report and for publishing it on your blog. The figures are frightening…appaling, even…. and a huge thanks to Pedro for finding this clear obective picture for us to consider and contemplate.
    Kind regards

  3. Pedro says:

    Dr. Maddever appears in numerous articles of the Papers of the time, and if ever someone was qualified to comment on the state of the district’s health, it would be his good self. However, like several of these reports, they all seem to try to slip a few pleasant things in at the start, before getting to the real state of affairs!

    “I do not see that mining has any great danger to the health of the workers other than a tendency to produce afflictions of the heart, due, I think, to the lifting of great weights in their occupation.

    I think with a few exceptions the housing accommodation is very good. From the nature of the district already referred to there are ample open spaces about the houses, and the cleanliness of the surroundings is good.

    The water supply of the district is as a whole very good, being almost entirely derived from the South Staffordshire Waterworks Company’s mains.”

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  5. Pedro says:

    An interesting observation was pointed out by a friend of mine, namely Maddever’s concern about Bovine Tuberculosis, still a concern today…

    “I have before asked for the setting up of public slaughter houses, seeing that in this is the only safeguard against the danger of tuberculous meat.”

  6. Pedro says:

    And the state of affairs of one of the major pit owners hereabouts around 1910.

    Captain WB Harrison (74) was in possession of Norton Hall, which he had offered for use by the TA in 1909, and Aldershawe. For Bob’s trip to Aldershawe see here…

    In 1912 WB Harrison died and his granddaughter was married at Wall, close to Aldershawe. The wedding present list can be seen on Bob’s post…A not so private function…

    His son, Colonel WE Harrison (35) was changing his residence at Orgreave Hall (seen here)…

    to the Wychnor Hall.

    1910 was an General Election year, and back in 1901 the Captain had himself stood as a Tory in the Lichfield seat, against the incumbent Courtney Warner (Liberal). He failed to win.

    Courtney was again standing in 1910 and spoke at Wall. He later said that Sir Richard Cooper’s agent and another from his office, and he believed Captain Harrison’s agent, and the Vicar of the Parish, and he thought at the outside three other people, persisted in making interruptions. This had led to a scuffle.

    (Sorce The Lichfield Mercury)

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    many thanks !!! Of particular interest to me are the details for Walsall Wood..for reasons which may become clear in a while..and I noticed the number of wells for the whole of the population here..and the infant mortility rates, too circa 1910. Good grief! Two worlds, indeed!
    I am interested to learn more of the post WW1 Mining Unions’ local health initiatives..believe there were Miners’ seaside sanatoriums..perhaps at Prestatyn, in the 1920s and 30s..The intiative came from where?
    Your onging revelations are fascinating, Pedro.
    kind regards

    • Pedro says:

      At first glance I cannot see anything about a Sanatorium in Prestatyn, seems the place to send boys to Prep School!

      Could not resist this one from Walsall Wood…

      John Watson, a miner, was alleged to have stolen 36lbs of coal from a boat at the canal at Walsall Wood. When charged he admitted stealing the coal, and in tears he told the Court of domestic troubles and caused much amusement when he told the Court he had been burned to death twice, near enough. He added he had worked in the pits for 50 years.

      He was bound over for good behaviour for three months.

      (Feb 1914 Lichfield Mercury)

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    many thanks. This may have been a John Watson who was, I think, 61 years old and so may well have worked 50 years underground, in fact. The Coppy Pit in Walsall Wood was well-known to have dangerous measures of gas..I know of at least one worker who suffered tremendous facial injuries in one of the gas explosions. I think this Mr Watson lived in a two bedroomed terrace cottage in Hall lane with seven other people. His wife had given birth to 8 children, 3 of whom were no longer alive when the census was taken in 1911.. The court’s reaction at Lichfield is disappointing…Two worlds? The Traveller’s Rest canalside pub saw quite a few instances of coal loss (“shrinkage”), I understand! At that time colliers were paid by the day’s work, and had not guarantee of work the next day..especially older miners whose poor health meant they were often simply not employed at all! .
    kind regards

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  10. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    I understand that at one time..perhaps 1880s, though perhaps not in Walsall Wood, the men received their pay via the shift ” foreman.”.so it was not a reliable system..known to be the case in another coalfield at that time. I wonder what system existed to record and reward each individual hewer for his work…
    kind regards

    • Pedro says:

      Hi David

      I don’t know whether you have picked this document up previously, but it makes a fascinating read, especially for someone like myself who has no mining background. The Children’s Commission Report of 1842 relating to South Staffs. It is before the 1880’s but for me gives an insight as to the situation just before the Harisson family came riding into town.

      On your first point the “butty” or contractor makes the Account normally every other Saturday and pays the men and boys under him.

      Secondly on the hewers, or holers as they calls them….a day’s work for a pickman is one yard and six inches in front and two yards inward, and two feet in height.

      The link is below. One thing that struck me was that South Staffs were one of the few areas left that went out of the Parish to obtain young boys from the Workhouse and apprentice them for up to 11years. Even at the time, and in the report, it is compared and considered worse than the slavery in the West Indies that had been abolished!

      Regards Peter

  11. David Evans says:

    HI Pedro
    many thanks for this link…on the health point, the icidence of infant mortality in Walsall Wood stands out in the census returns. I understand that midwife support and help had to be paid for….or, more usually, just not employed..
    Another horrible facet of life for miners and their families.
    Something else to read ;Emile Zola’s novel “Germinal”, which tells of life at that time in the coal mines of North France , in very graphic terms.

    kind regards

  12. Andy Dennis says:

    I suspect Germinal is a reasonal depiction of the butty system at the time and may be a fair reflection of what some of our ancestors went through.

    It is surprising that the good doctor did not make the connection between mining and respiratory diseases and even cancer, though medical science might not have been sufficiently advanced for him to stake his reputation on it.

    Anyway, I thought I would add a little family history, intrigued by the census entry that says his wife was born in Ogley Hay.

    John Coombe Maddever was born in 1850 in Glasgow, the son of John Coombe Maddever, a GP, and Isabella MacPherson. They lived at at Mercer’s Cottage, Kilmun, Dunoon, Argyll, JCM snr having qualified as a GP at Glasgow University. Kilmun is a straggle of houses on the east shore of Holy Loch.
    JCM’s mother, Isabella died in his childhood and his father married Margaret Bell Duncan in 1859.
    JCM studied at Glasgow University and emerged a Doctor of Medicine in 1874 and, it appears, partnered his father in general medical practice at 19 Battery Street, Rothesay, where they were living in 1881; JCM was unmarried.
    On 18 October 1883 JCM delivered his own first born, a daughter, christened Mary Coombe, at Ogley Hay House, Ogley Hay in Brownhills Urban District. Mother’s name is given as Mary Helen Maddever formerly Brindley. (Registered 4 Dec 1883!)
    Kelly’s Directory 1884 (thanks to Sue Lote) lists JCM as “physician & surgeon & medical officer of health Brownhills Urban Sanitary district, Ogley Hay House”.
    By 1891 the family was at Coombe House, Brownhills with a futher addition, William J C Maddever age 4. JCM was still there in 1901, but was a widower – his wife had died in 1892 (ref 1892 J Cannock 6b 291 if anyone fancies looking it up) – and son Son William was at the Grammar School, Wolverley, Kidderminster.
    As we know from Pedro’s newshouding he presented a report on the health of Brownhills in 1910. Soon afterwards he died. The Probate Calendar records: MADDEVER John Coombe of Coombe House Brownhills Walsall esquire M.D. died 9 January 1911 at Lichfield Probate Lichfield 20 March to Agnes Girdwood and Mary Coombe Maddever spinsters. Effects £4334 6s. 11d.

    Where was Ogley Hay House?
    I can find no record of a marriage. It is reasonable to suppose the wedding took place between his leaving Rothesay and arriving at Ogley Hay between 1881 Census Scotland and birth of Mary C in October 1883. I can find no record of Mary Helen Brindley – censuses record her as Mary E and Mary C and born Tansley and Ogley Hay, both Staffordshire. Odder still, is that there seems to be no record of John Coombe Maddever, a far from commonplace name, ever having married.
    I have sent a message to the one person with a public tree on Ancestry for this family as I thought the health report would interest him, but, although this community seems generally gregarious, it seems I have been ignored.
    The family originates in Cornwall – JCM senior was born in 1824 at Linkinhorne, south west of Launceston – and can be traced back to at least 1640 in that area (though I am relying purely on secondary research).
    JCM’s children Mary Coombe and William J C both emigrated to New Zealand. William married a Fanny Girdwood in NZ in 1909, but she turns up in the 1911 census at Coombe House, where Mary C was head.
    I wonder if the name is derived from Madderer – imagine handwritten -, a dyer (red madder, which I think was used to dye soldiers’ uniforms).
    It appears the Coombe name survives to this day.

    • Hi
      I stumbled onto this blog some months ago and have been wandering through it exploring the old stories, particularly relating to Dr Maddever and Coombe House. My husband is a great grandson of Dr Maddever and has, in his possession, a writing box that was gifted to Dr Maddever by the 1892/93 Brownshill Ambulance Class. It has been much appreciated finding out missing bits of family history.

      Kind regards
      Judi Maddever

    • judi Maddever says:

      Andy, Dr Maddever and Mary Brindley were married in Ireland in 1882

      Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958

      Name: Mary Helen Brindley

      Date of




      Volume: 1

      Page Number: 321

      FHL Film


      Records on

      Jan-Feb-Mar 1882



    • Shona maddever says:

      Thanks Andy, are you still using this site and wonder where you reside

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  15. gabriel says:

    There is just too much information packed into one place hehe I commented about Doc Maddever elsewhere here this morning before stumbling across this comment from Andy Dennis.

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  29. Shona Tony Maddever says:

    We have just been sent this link and finding this article very interesting, as Tony and his family all knew of the wonderful work Dr Maddever did for his patients in those challenging times.
    Shona Maddever

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