Startling Conditions – Overcrowding and Infection

January 1885

Mexborough & Swinton Times, January 30, 1885

Startling Condition of Affairs at Denaby Main
Overcrowding and Infection

Dr. J.M. Wilson, in his annual report to the members of the Doncaster Rural Sanitary Authority, speaking with regard to Denaby Main, says the death-rate there has equalled what is reported from some of the largest manufacturing towns, being 28.3 per 1,000.

The mortality among infants and children under 5 years of age has been equal to about 80% of the whole deaths, half of which amount would be a reasonable proportion, and every effort, he adds, should be made to lessen this serious and preventable loss of life.

Continuing, he remarks :-

” During the year Denaby Main has repeatedly been referred to in my monthly reports, particularly to the uncovered and filthy condition of many of the privies and ash-pits among the older houses, of house drains blocked up and outside drains out of repair ; latterly also I had to refer to the wet and unhealthy state of the footpaths, where children played while recovering from an attack of measles.

These are matters to which the colliery owners should give more attention, and I believe the erection of a few well fitted wash-houses would confer an immense boon on the householders, but there is much for which the householders them selves are responsible.

Attention was drawn a few months ago to a serious amount of overcrowding, which was found in many of the colliery cottages. At the last census the average number of persons per house in Denaby Main was 6.8 ; in nineteen consecutive houses visited in July last there were found 8.5 persons per house – two had 11.

Lodgers are taken into houses where there are already large families inhabiting the two or three bedrooms provided, and in many instances there are two families inhabiting the same house. Infection introduced amongst these must of necessity spread rapidly, for isolation is impossible.

Having visited many of these houses, I cannot speak at all favourably of their cleanliness. Water is now supplied more liberally, but neither in the appearance of the children nor of the houses themselves is there any corresponding sign of improvement.

Another feature I often notice is, that children ill are most often nursed in the common kitchen or sitting room, crowded with other persons. The mother has but little time or convenience for nursing, and the family was is perhaps going on in the next room.

Altogether the children have many extra risks to encounter at Denaby Main, and I feel it a duty to speak of these things plainly, that some consideration may be given by those most concerned.

Another matter deserves notice viz., the insurance of the lives of young children ; the principle is no doubt right to provide against the expense of burial, but it becomes a serious question whether the universal prevalence of insurance does not lessen the care and attention which the children ought to receive whilst alive. Happily there is no neglect to call in medical aid, and every death is certified, but even that help can do but little if it is not accompanied by good nursing at home.”


At the time this report was written smallpox had not broken out.