Manuscripts and Special Collections

Towards better times

Housing in Nottingham

Cholera was no respecter of social status. Its impact was greatest in the low-lying courts and alleys, but no-one could feel safe. Medical knowledge was elementary and many remedies were sold as supposed preventatives and cures.

Conditions in the countryside also caused concern. Some forward-thinking landlords built better cottages for their estate workers. In 1848 the Nottingham architect T.C. Hine won a prize for his designs for rural labourers' cottages (see Document 2). His introduction to the published design states, 'It is now generally acknowledged, that convenient, well-constructed, and ventilated habitations, are …essential to comfort, health, and well-being of the labouring classes…'

It was very clear that the root causes of the cholera lay in the environment of the poor. So in and after 1832 various improvement schemes were either initiated or accelerated by the authorities. It was recognised that the water supply was inadequate in certain parts of Nottingham, despite the opening of new waterworks in 1826 and 1832. It was also appreciated that unpaved streets, lack of sewers, dwellings built over privies, the ill-ventilation of closed courts and the overcrowding of the houses were all contributory causes of the epidemic. See Theme 2 of this resource, 'Water supplies and sewerage in Nottingham', for more about 19th century sanitary improvements.

In 1833 commissioners were appointed to enquire into the running of the municipal corporations (of which Nottingham Borough Council was one). See Document 4 for some of the evidence relating to housing in Nottingham.

In October 1849 the Sanitary Committee was able to report to the Borough Council that much had been done to eliminate the worst evils, and that although other cities of the kingdom were suffering severely from a new cholera outbreak, Nottingham had escaped relatively lightly, with only six deaths.

On the other hand, in 1847 there were about 900 cases of 'continued fever' in Nottingham. It is not clear whether 'continued fever' was typhoid, the germ of which is carried in contaminated food and water, or typhus, a disease transmitted by the body louse, because the two illnesses were not separately identifiable before the end of the 19th century.

Although conditions were better in 1849 than in 1832, few further improvements had been made by the time Edward Seaton, the new Medical Officer of Health, took up his post in 1873. His Report on the sanitary condition of the borough of Nottingham (Document 5) describes each of the wards. Inhabitants of the 'Old Town', the area which had been built up before the Inclosure Act, still lived in courts, yard and back-to-back houses. Many of these houses were not demolished until the slum clearances of the 1930s.


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