Living Well

I am indebted once again to Chris Pattison, historian and researcher of The South Staffordshire Waterworks archives. He came by the following report whilst looking through the archives, and kindly scanned it and passed it on – I’ve transcribed it below.

A PDF of the original can be viewed here.

Chris, you’ll remember, together with Dave Moore and others, turned up so much great history of the Surge Stack and Shire Oak Reservoir.

There are a few questions here in this report for the eagle eyed: not least Ho’ Robin’s Row. Where was it, for starters? The surname Horrobin is common in The Wood, is there a connection? Is the Ho’ a contraction of Howard or similar? If so, what’s the nomenclative history here?

Further, the addresses in Shire Oak – would they be the Lichfield or Chester Roads?

I’ sure this will fascinate all interested in the sanitation history of the area, and it sits well with Dr. Maddaver’s later report into The Health of Brownhills. Note how these folk were suffering in a time of huge industrial and commercial expansion for the want of basic human necessities – sewers and clean water.

It’s interesting to consider the Water Company in terms of both a commercial entity and as a reforming great Victorian social enterprise.

Comments welcome, either here or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

My thanks to Chris, a more dedicated and generous historian couldn’t be wished for – he is a credit to the company he researches.

CMOOH 15 Jul 1891

A fascinating archive document.

PRIVATE:   For the use of the Committee only.




Presented to the Sanitary Committee, July 15th, 1891.

Brownhills Urban District. Water Supply of Ho’Robin’s Row, Walsall Wood.

On December 20th, 1890, I presented a Report to the Committee upon the water supply of Ho’ Robin’s Row, in the Brownhills District, in which I called attention to its dangerous character, and pointed out that, owing to the existence of scarlet fever in the cottages in question, the matter was one of great urgency. I stated that the condition of the cottages as regards water supply had more than once been reported to the local authority by the Medical Officer of Health, and that the continuance of the fever, which had rarely been absent from the cottages for years, was, in all probability, in no small measure owing to the fact, that the families, even of infected houses, were in the habit of drawing water from the well in question—a shallow and open one—by means of their own buckets. I pointed out, that, previous to my visit, an attempt had been made to obtain a pure water supply within a short distance of the old well and adjoining foul privies, and I ventured to suggest that it was hopeless to expect that pure water could be obtained in the immediate locality of the cottages.

The substance of my Report was communicated to the authority in question, and this led to the construction of a new well about 40 yards away from the cottages. On hearing from the District Medical Officer that this well was in process of of being sunk, I wrote to him, pointing out that unless a departure were made from the usual method of well construction in the district the result would not be satisfactory. This advice has been disregarded, although I am told the new well—which is built in loose brick work, open, and without a pump—has been puddled with clay to a distance of about three feet from the surface.

On May 2nd, I again visited Ho’ Robin’s Row, and took a sample of water for analysis from the new well, and, in accordance with the instructions of the committee at their last meeting, I paid another visit to the district on July 2nd, with the view of reporting upon the present position of the cottages in question as regards water supply.

I am informed that the owner of the property has in the mean-time (since my previous visit) had an independent analysis made of the water, with the result that its use has been dis­continued, a supply having been arranged for from a well belonging to another house iu return for a payment of £3. a year. This well, which is situated at a distance of 143 yards from the nearest cottage in Ho’ Robin’s Row, and 185 yards from the farthest, is constructed on the same objectionable and dangerous plan as is general throughout the district, and the water is within less than three feet of the surface. Supposing this supply were satisfactory, it is hardly reasonable to expect that people will take the trouble to go so far for it, unless their own well is permanently closed, but, as a matter of fact, the analysis of the water shows it to be slightly inferior to that from the new well at Ho’ Robin’s Row. The following table shows the result of the analyses on this and on previous occasions.

Untitled 6

WordPress is useless for tables, so here’s the table from the original.


The new water supply at Ho’ Robin’s Row compares very favourably with the old, but, considering the surroundings, and the probable source of the organic matter which it contains, it certainly cannot yet be considered safe for domestic purposes, and as the well has now been in use for about four months there is no likelihood of the quality improving with time. Apart from this, unless the well is properly constructed, with a fixed pump attached, danger of increased pollution will always exist.

On the occasion of my recent visit I made careful enquiry with regard to the feasibleness of obtaining a good general water supply for the village of Walsall Wood in which Ho’ Robin’s Row is situated, and I was given to understand, that, within one mile on three sides of the village, there is a water main belonging to the South Staffordshire Water Works Company. Now, as the houses in the village, on the lowest estimate, number 400, and as new houses are constantly being built, there can be but little doubt, that, if the authority applied to that company for a water supply it would be granted on reasonable terms.

In the annual report of the Medical Officer of Health for last year the general question of a water supply for the district is referred to in strong terms, and I took occasion when visiting the district to verify his remarks for myself, so far as they relate to Shire Oak, a part of Walsall Wood. I cannot do better than quote from the Report in question as follows:—

‘ I must again urge upon the Board the great need of a more plentiful and purer supply of water to the district. This I have clone before in my Annual Reports; but my attention has been more directly called to the matter by the Newspaper Reports of one of your recent meetings, in which one of your members is reported to have stated that he knew of numbers of houses which had no water supply at all. This has the negative advantage of being better than an impure and contaminated-by-sewage supply. Acting on that Report, I have made more full enquiries in the district, and I find that the reported statement is in the main correct. In some cases there is no supply at all; in others, it is very far from what it should be. I will give you only one example. Take them in the order in which they were inspected by Mr. Shaw and myself. Nos. 13 and 14, Shire Oak, there are no cesspits and the well water contaminated; Nos. 9, 10, 11, and 12, Shire Oak, the well is situated only 2½ft. from four piggeries and water-closets, and the drainage empties into a hole in the ground only 8ft. from the nearest house; Nos. 5, 6, 7, and 8, Shire Oak, has the water supply 3ft. from the piggeries, and a broad stream of surface drainage running into the well; No. 5 house receives all the drainage of the others, being lowest of all; Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the same row the water supply is only 18in. from the piggeries &c., and the drainage is as in the others. Another property adjoining has no water supply at all, and the sewage disposal is dreadful.’


Pigs and water supplies: not easy bedfellows.

Strong as these remarks are, they fail to convey an idea of the truly deplorable condition of the houses in question, and yet I am told that this is a sample of other parts of the district.

In order to ascertain the extent to which the authority is responsible for the conditions above described, I have obtained from the Sanitary Inspector a statement of the recorded transactions in both cases, and, judging from past experience, it would appear that unless strong pressure is brought to bear upon the authority, little or no result will be attained.    The statement is as follows :—

Ho’  Robin’s  Row.

  • 1888 May 23rd.—Drains stopped, full cesspit, bad water, and foul ashpits.
  • 1888 September 15th.—Notice to obtain a proper  supply  of water.
  • 1889 May 10th.—Letter to owner of property re water supply.
  • 1889 July 22nd.—Sample of water taken for analysis.
  • 1889 August   1st.—Copy    of    County   Analyst’s   Certificate, condemning the water, sent to Agent of property.
  • 1889 August   14th.—Analyst’s   Certificate   submitted  to  the Board.
  • 1889 October   28th.—Letter to Agent  of property  re  water supply.
  • 1890 December 31st.—Drains stopped,bad cesspit cover.
  • 1891 February 14th.—Letter to Agent of property, re water supply, containing abstract of letter from County Medical Officer as to construction of new well.

Water  Supply &c.  at  Shire  Oak.

  • 1890 November 5th.—Report to Board—Delapidated privies, foul drainage, and bad water.
  • 1891 March 25th.—Report to Board—Foul drainage and bad water.
  • 1891 June 17th.—Report to Board that notices were not complied with; received instructions to give seven days final notice, and if woi’k not done to take proceedings.
  • 1891 June 23rd.—Wrote to Agent of property, calling attention to fact that nothing had been done, and informing him of the decision of the Board.
  • 1891 July 3rd___ Met Agent of property, when he promised to have drains laid into a cesspool, and to have two new wells sunk.

It will be seen from the above statement, that, for over three years, the authority has been aware of the condition of the cottages in Ho’ Robin’s Row. Also, that, for over nine months, the foul state of the drainage, and the defective water supply at Shire Oak, has remained in the disgraceful condition described by the Medical Officer of Health, with this result only, that the Agent has promised to carry out certain work which probably will do little towards remedying the evil.

Pollution  of Clayhanger  Brook.

The nuisance arising from the drainage of a portion of Brownhills—including a brewery, two slaughter-houses, and from 40 to 50 dwelling-houses—being discharged into the Clayhanger Brook, remains the same as when reported to the committee on December 20th, 1890. It has been pointed out to the authority by the Surveyor that these houses may without difficulty be con­nected with the sewer—as indeed other houses in the same street have been connected—but no order has been made to that effect.

In my opinion, the committee might well consider the advisableness of making a representation to the Local Government Board—under section 19 of the ‘Local Government Act’—with regard to the dilatory manner in which the members of the authority in question are performing their duties. Theie is ample evidence to justify this course being taken at once, although, perhaps, it may be thought advisable, that I should first make a systematic inspection of the entire district, and report fully as to its condition.

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13 Responses to Living Well

  1. Andy Dennis says:

    In the 1871 census (Shenstone District 29) is an intriguing sequence of records. Sandhills (p5) including one Joseph Batham – derives livelihood brewhouse proprietor – then Shire Oak (p7) where Samuel Johnson was Innkeeper and Farmer 26 acres. On pages 7-10 one more house, then Gilpin’s Houses, starting with No. 14 and ending with No. 1, before Arblaster’s 1 & 2 (latter unoccupied) and one more household before Friezland. At No. 13 was George Horobin, but no occupant named Gilpin. However, Nos 1-14 Shire Oak could fit the addresses in the report. In 1881 the address is simply shire Oak Hill and in 1891 and 1901 Shire Oak. Not very conclusive!

    Joseph Batham appears unrelated to the famous Black Country brewers; perhaps he just ran The Leopard? In 1861 he was a publican and grocer at The Beehive, a beerhouse in Station St, Darlaston and in 1881 retired publican at Foster St, Darlaston.

  2. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    1891 census, Staffordshire-Shentone-District 29, page 4 on gives the details which seem to locate the “Horobins” referred to.and their Row. One family of 10 Horobins lived four doors away from another family of 7 “Horobins”, each in a four roomed house.
    The address Shire Oak , Walsall Wood was used for this part of the road, from the junction with Chester Road, to the centre of Walsall Wood, at the junction with Coppice Road, in the 1891 census. The enumerator was the local vicar’s wife, I believe.
    Did the Scottish medical officer use his own spelling of the surname?

    • Andy Dennis says:

      I read this as progressing from the Shire Oak Inn towards Brownhills – the Royal Oak is on page 10 (Ancestry image 11).

  3. Pedro says:

    Some years before, during and after!

    July 1884…Three houses at Walsall Wood belonging to Mr Henry Knight, arising from foul and dangerous draining cesspit, and foul state of wooden erections used as stables and pigaries, which should be taken down. There was no water supply to these houses…Houses at Walsall Wood belonging to Henry Horobin, arising from defective drainage running near the well, the water in which was not fit to drink….Houses near the canal bridge, Walsall Wood, belonging to W Atkins, arising from privies, ashpits and pigstyes being too near the well. There was a foul drainage cesspit in the garden…Houses at the same place belonging to Mr Smalley, arising from insufficient closet accommodation. There was no proper drainage and no water supply….The Board ordered the usual notices to be given in these cases…

    Dr Maddever drew the Board’s attention to a row of houses in Walsall Wood without any water supply…the people drew water from the canal or paid other people for it. In the view of the alarming epidemic of cholera abroad, which was likely to make a tour of Europe, he strongly urged the Board to see to these matters as the defective water supply was the one thing more than any other that would spread the cholera in this district.

    June 1891…BUDC..Clerk reported with respect to Horobins Row well had been sunk 36 yards deep, and the Medical Officer and the Board should satisfy themselves as to the condition of the water….Clayhanger Brook was discussed in committee.

    June 1899… BUDC….Water at Walsall Wood…The question of water supply at Walsall Wood cropped up, Mr Bradbury proposed and Mr Southall seconded, that the S Staffs Water-works Co be requested to extend their mains through Horobins Row to the foot of Pepper Alley Bridge, through Hall Lane, and on from Occupation Road to Green Lane, and from Occupation Road down Hollanders Lane..’ This was carried

    • Andy Dennis says:

      Good stuff, Pedro!

      The only Henry Horobin I can find is:
      Born 1842 Shenstone. 1851 Ogley Hay 9 son of Henry (& Martha Horobin) farmer 17 acres. 1861 Ogley Hay 19 son of Martha widow “Farmer of 40 acres employing 2 labourers”. 1871 Henry Horobin Ogley Hay 29 farmer, unmarried, mother Martha. 1881 Henry Horobin at Stonnall 39 farmer of 100 acres, wife Emily, at New Barns. We know where that is! HOROBIN Henry died 19 Dec 1881 Watling Street, proved by Emily Horobin, widow. Estate £270 3s 6d. Sources: Ancestry – censuses and probate calendar.

  4. David Evans says:

    HI Andy
    page 5 shows a Clayton family (of 8 people), known to have lived in this stretch of Lichfield road, in one of the miners cottages (rows) roughly opposite Holly Lane junction . In more recent years a Horace Horobin the village milkman, is known to have lived in a cottage by the “Dutch houses” and perhaps very near to the site of the former home of George Horobin( 10 people) . Another known reference point here is the Nutting family who lived near to the Streets Corner. 6 ..
    Interestingly the name, Horobin, was pronouced as shown in the medics report..the first “o” was closed, the second “o” was open, and the spelling is correct in the census.
    I think Mrs Reakes’ listing of two Royal Oaks in this census area is a mistake. I think she may have called in the Royal Exchange on her long walk downn from the Shire Oak Inn and left well refreshed!

    But, the overcrowded housing, and the deperately poor sanitation in this part of the village,at that time , will surely shock most readers.

    Kind regards, Andy, and thanks to Bob and Chris Pattison for bringing this to or notice.

  5. Pedro says:

    At the November 1890 meeting the Staffordshire County Sanitary committee passed that there should be a Medical Officer who would devote his whole time to public health matters. Dr George Reid was in the post at the time and now took up full duties.

    The Brownhills Local Board meeting of Dec 1890, Medical Officers Health report as follows:—”Gentlemen.—I beg to lay before you my monthly report on the health of your Authority during the month of November during which there have been eight deaths, four males and four females, none unfortunately from preventative cause. In the same period there have been 18 births,—seven males and 11 females. I am glad to state that the epidemic of scarlatina has nearly gone, only four cases, all mild, coming to my notice during the month. I have had a note from Dr Reid, of Stafford, intimating that he has received a notice of the sewage deposit in Clayhanger Brook, and stating that he will personally inspect the condition of the same on Saturday next. I shall, as he requests meet and advise with him as to the requirements of the same…”

    Feb 1861 County Council Resolved to ask Brownhills Local Board what steps were being taken about the pollution of Clayhanger Brook.

  6. Andy Dennis says:

    The Royal Oak listed in 1891 recorded William Cooke. Kelly’s Directory 1896, 1904, 1912 records Royal Oak, Shire Oak as William Cook. The same publication records in 1896 James Welsh at the Royal Exchange, Walsall Wood. The census in 1891 records James Welsh at the Royal Exchange, Walsall Wood (Aldridge District 12 p24). I suggest the vicar’s wife was more sober than you allege!

  7. David Evans says:

    HI Andy
    I think we have located the Shire Oak cottages..but not yet Horobins Row.. From a friend, possibly a row of back to backs in Camden Street where it joins Coppice Road….can’t find a mention of it in the 1891 census by that name though….the reference to Pepper Alley bridge might be helpful…My apologies to Mrs Reakes. There was yet another Royal Oak, of course!

    • Andy Dennis says:

      You do take some convincing! In Kelly’s Directory 1896 and 1904 the Royal Oak, Walsall Wood, Bullings Heath was run by Noah Cresswell. In the 1891 census at the Royal Oak, Bullings Heath, was licensed victualler Joseph Wright and his son-in-law Noah Cresswell.

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