Sunday 11 September 2011

Dust Yards


(Before Mr. Serjeant ADAMS, Assistant-Judge, and a Bench of Magistrates.)


This indictment at common-law, it will be recollected, was brought before the Court at the lest sessions, but in consequence of an objection suggested by Mr. Ballantine to the jury, inasmuch as the panel had been summoned from the district of St. Luke's, it was postponed until the present sessions, after the objection had been submitted to the trial and decision of "two triers," who held it to be good. The case was therefore brought on yesterday, and concluded this evening.
    Mr. Parry, with whom was Mr. Metcalfe, conducted the case for the prosecution; and Mr. Ballantine and Mr. Prentis appeared for the defendant.
    Mr. PARRY stated, that the present indictment was at the instance of the authorities of the parish of St. Luke against the defendant, a dust-contractor, carrying on an extensive business also as a scavenger, with large "laystalls," in Hatfield-street, Goswell-street. That depot was the place of deposit for the sweepings of the public markets—Smithfield and Newgate markets—the sweeping of streets, and the refuse of breweries. This "laystall' was the nuisance complained of. The prosecutors were not actuated by any feelings of hostility towards the defendant, but they had been induced to institute the proceedings upon which the jury were about to enter solely from a sense of public duty, and in consequence of the great injury to life and property which was sustained in the parish as the results of the nuisance in question. All that was desired by the authorities was that the matter of healthiness or prejudice to health in reference to the place the existence of which was about to be the subject of inquiry should be impartially gone into. The solo object of the parish was to ascertain whether the alleged nuisance was of a pestilential character, as they themselves believed, or not. The jury would hear a mass of evidence, the whole of which would prove that a scavenger's yard was the most pernicious in its effects to health. Amongst the witnesses they would find several gentlemen of the most distinguished and scientific reputation, who had devoted the whole of their lives to the consideration of the "health of towns" and other populous localities, and from those persons the jury would learn the nature of the exhalations which emanated from those depositaries in which there was a large quantity of animal and vegetable matter necessarily in a process of decomposition. In addition to those men of science a vast number of the inhabitants of the immediate vicinity of the premises would be called. Not only had there been a depreciation in the value of the property in the neighbourhood, but there had been great destruction of health, both the results of the proximity of so Iarge a depositary of offensive and poisonous materials in a constant state of fermentation. The neighbourhood was very populous, and much crowded by a poor class of inhabitants, and all the efforts of the parochial authorities to promote the sanitary condition of the district, and the comforts of the residents, by an improved system of paving, cleansing, and draining, had proved ineffectual, and must continue to be so, so long as there was such a focus of fever and other diseases permitted to be maintained in its very centre. The abatement of the nuisance was the object of the prosecution, and not the injury or the inconvenience of the defendant, beyond what might be absolutely imperative with a view to the preservation of the public health. There was not the least intention on the part of the prosecution to impute that the defendant did not carry on his business in a proper manner and as a respectable scavenger. The first witness he should call would be
    Mr. John Gyles, who stated that he was the surveyor to the parish of St. Luke. He produced a plan of the defendant's premises, which consisted of two large areas, one on either side of Hatfield-street. In one of these the dry rubbish was deposited, and comprised the sweepings of cellars and houses; and in the other, which was denominated the "slop-yard" was discharged the "muck" and the " liquid" fifth which were collected from the streets and markets. In the former the dust heap was usually 10 or 14 feet high, and sometimes was raised even above the houses which were adjoining. Whenever that heap was moved, as was frequently the case when there was either an addition to or a diminution of the quantity, a considerable portion was blown about, and thus the inhabitants sustained extreme inconvenience and annoyance. There was also an intolerable effluvium arising from the decomposition of vegetable and animal matters which were deposited there, the more especially from the "slop yard," and, in his opinion, that effuvium was one cause of the fever and the other illnesses that prevailed in that neighbourhood, in which there had been constant disease. The particular places in the present case were places known as Dean's-court, Golden-lane, and Middle-row. The parish had recently put down new pavement, and had to a considerable extent improved the draining of the district. To such an extent was the air impregnated with the noxious vapoars that the paint in the surrounding neighbourhood — in Hatfield-street especially — was discoloured. In warm or in wet weather the locality around was covered with vapours, having the most offensive smells emitted front it, arising as they did from the exhalations of the whenever the filth was removed, either by additions or by diminutions. In his opinion, these yards were a great public nuisance.
    Mr. H. C. Harris, one of the parish surgeons, said that he well knew the promises of Mr. Gore which formed a place of deposit of scavengers' refuse collectings. He had constantly seen large quantities of decayed animal and vegetable matter, hops, potato peelings, cabbage leaves, portions of dead dogs and cats, all in a state of decomposition. The emanations from the yards necessarily vitiated the air, and were, of course, extremely prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants. He had frequently experienced the smells produced by carburetted and sulphuretted hydrogen gas in the neighbourhood. Both of those gases were, without disipute, decidedly prejudicial to health, and their influence would extend over an area of 400 feet. He had himself met with cases of fever at 200 feet distance from the spot of generation.
    Cross-examined.—He had no doubt found cases of fever in other parts of the parish, and beyond the supposed influence of the exhalations from these yards. The fevers which were usually prevalent in poor locality were of a low type. That class of fever had been of more prevalence of late years, but in this particular district he was of opinion that it was propagated by the emanations from the defendant's premises.
    Dr. S. Smith was then examined.— He stated that he was one of the Sanitary Commissioners, and that for the last 10 years he had more particularly devoted his studies and his professional attention to matters connected with the public health. He had examined the premises of the defendant in the month of May last, and had made a report of that examination, accompanied by his observations and opinions, to the parish authorities, who were the prosecutors in the present case. His opinion was, that where the atmospheric conditions were favourable to the devolopement of poison every inmate, young or old, of its immediate neighbourhood was in danger of being attacked by fever. This was the largest area of space covered with animal and vegetable matter that he ever saw, so far as his remembrance would carry his mind. The heaps were as high as the sleeping-rooms of the surrounding neighbourhood. The following report, which the witness has made to the Paving Board upon the subject, was then read and admitted as a part of his evidence:-
    "At the request of your board, conveyed to me through your secretary, I examined on Wednesday last, the 19th of May, a yard in Hatfield-street, at present in the possession of Mr. J. Gore. This yard is nearly an acre in extent, and is divided into two portions, both of which contain large accumulations of dirt and rubbish, consisting of the sweepings of the streets and roads and the content, of ash pits and dust bins. On examining this matter attentively, there is found to be mixed with almost every part of it a large quantity of vegetable and animal refuse. The whole of these materials are uncovered so that the atmosphere and the rain and sun have the free access to them. The yard in surrounded with houses of the poorer description, and is in the midst of a close and dense population. On one side, indeed, it is separated from a cluster of confined and dirty courts only by a double wall, the inner wall being about eight feet high, and the outer somewhat higher, to which are attached some wooden planks about four feet high. Onlooking towards the yard from one of these courts the heaps of rubbish in some places appeared to bo quite as high as the bedrooms of the houses, and in that part of the yard which is nearest to these houses there are two open stagnant gutters choked up with a semi-fluid filth, the odour from which was most offensive. From the description it is obvious that there is a large accumulation of vegetable and animal matter, with all the conditions favourable to decomposition, and that this decomposition is going on in close proximity to a population likely from their poverty and the confined and unventilated state of their dwellings to be most injuriously affected by the poison generated. Whenever the atmospheric conditions are favourable to the putrefaction, the process occurs ; the wind slowly waves the gaseous poisons produced in the direction of the houses, and every inhabitant of those houses, young and old, must be in danger of an attack of fever, or of some other painful and fatal malady.
    "It is only lately that public attention has been directed to the peculiar danger arising from these accumulations of filth ; but now that that danger is understood, it is the important duty of parochial authorities to do everything in their power to protect the inhabitants who are unable to protect themselves; of course with all due consideration for persons who, in the pursuit of a useful and indispensible business, have been allowed to place their deposits of filth in situations like the present, hitherto without warning or remonstrance, and in ignorance of the dangerous character of the nuisance they were creating. I am,  gentlemen, your most obedient servant, SOUTHWOOD SMITH.  -- To the Trustees of the Paving Board of the parish of St. Luke's."
    The viva voce examination was then resumed.— He had been for 20 years connected with the Fever Hospital, and had written on the subject of' fever, and had devoted a very large proportion of his professional attention to that question.
    Cross-examined.— He had seen two or three other places of a similar description—that of Dodd, of the Wharf-road, and that of Newman, of Bethnal-green. He regarded them as public nuisances, where existing in populous and crowded neighbourhoods. In the locality where the other yards he had seen were situated, there was not so crowded a population as there was in the district where the defendant's situated. In his opinion Smithfield market was a public nuisance.
    The learned JUDGE observed, that that was, he believed, the opinion of every one who was not a member of the corporation of the city of London. (Laughter.)
    Cross-examination resumed. — In his opinion there were too many of these dust heaps and laystalls in and about the metropolis. The business of a scavenger was, without doubt, necessary, and absolutely essential to the maintenance of the health of London, but nothing could he more clumsy than the arrangements which were generally adopted for the removal of the dust and refuse of the metropolis, as well as that throughout the country.
    Dr. J. Thompson, Dr. Lloyd, Dr. J. C. Powell, Mr. Chiswell, and Mr. J. T. Cooper, the professor of chymistry, in the Blackfriars-road, and several others were subsenuently examined, all of whom concurred in opinion as to the pre-judicial effects such premises do and must have upon the health of the locality.
    Upwards of 20 inhabitants of the neighbourhood were then examined, whose testimony went to show that there had been a considerable depreciation in the value of the property in the locale of the defendant's premises, in consequence of the defendant having established his business there. The noxious smells were at times intolerable, and in certain parts of the year the inhabitants were compelled to close their windows, not only to prevent the admission of the smell, but to keep out the dust. Several of the witnesses attributed the loss of members of their families to the exhalations.
   Mr. BALLANTINE now addressed the jury on behalf of the defendant, and contended in the outset that the occupation and business of a scavenger was most essential for the preservation of the public health ; and then said, as they had heard, that the defendant was a scavenger, and was admitted to carry on his business in a very proper manner. In answer to the case which had been presented to the jury in support of the present prosecution, he was prepared to place before them a series of evidence to prove that the emanations from these yards were most positively not prejudicial to health ; and he should call witnesses who would state that the illness which had been complained of by some of the inhabitants of the neighbourhood had arisen from other causes than from the effluvia ; which it was asserted exhaled from the heaps of dust and ashes ; and that there had not been more disease there than in other poor localities. The learned counsel in support of his argument that such yards were not prejudical to health, read a variety of extracts from the works of Dr. Watson, Mr. Thackeray (On the Health of Different Trades and Occupations), of the French physicians, MM. Pallissier and Penard, and also from a recent author in America of the name of Danglefield, and in conclusion, he submitted that the defendant was entitled to a verdict in his favour.
    A number of witnesses were then called, many of whom had been brought up to the business of scavengers or night-men. Some of these had been born and still resided in similar yards, and had never suffered from ill health ; whilst there were others who said that the atmosphere was productive of a good appetite ; their families all enjoyed very good health.
   Dr. W. A. Guy, the physician to King's College Hospital, had not only turned his attention and consideration to scavengers' yards, but had written many papers for the Statistical Society on the subject. His attention to this particular yard had been first directed in the month of October last. He made an examination of its contents on that occasion and in the last month, and the result of those examinations had been to induce him to arrive at the opinion that those contents and their exhalations were not iujurious to the public health. In addition to his visiting the place and walking over the yards, he had made ample inquiries of the inhabitants of the immediate neighbourhood as to the state of health that usually existed there, and he had then referred to the Registry-book at, and the result of those inquiries had proved to him that there was not a greater proportion of deaths or indisposition in the locality of the defendant's yards than in any other equally poor district. (The witness then entered into a lengthened scientific detail of his reasons for these opinions ; but as the jury by their verdict would appear not to have held those reasons to bo quite as valid as they did those of Dr. Southwood Smith and the other witnesses who had been examined in support of the contrary view of the subject, it is not deemed requisite to give his statement.)
    Dr.  J. Ryan corroborated the views taken by the preceding witness as to the absence of such a state of impurity in the air — the result of the decomposition progressing in the defendant's yards — as was calculated to endanger the health of the neighbouring residents.
    Mr. PARRY having replied in an extremely forcible speech,
    The learned JUDGE most minutely summed up the evidence, and then told the jury that this was one of the most important questions that could possibly come under their consideration. They had arrived at a new era, for the question of endeavouring to preserve the health of their fellow creatures had lately been made the subject of especial enactment. They would therefore give their best attention and consideration to the evidence which they had had, during the last two days, placed before them. It was the more important that they should do this because it was by no means improbable that the present would not be the last of this series of prosecutions.
   The jury retired, and after an absence of half an hour returned into court with a verdict of Guilty.
    Mr. PARRY thereupon said, that as it was not the wish of the parish to inconvenience the defendant more than could be avoided, he would not press for any thing more than that a sufficient amount of sureties should be given to ensure the early abatement of the nuisance. All the parish required or sought was that the nuisance, so far as their district was concerned, should be got rid of. After some considerable discussion,
    The learned JUDGE. said, that of course reasonable time must be afforded to the defendant to obtain in the first instance other premises ; and in the next, to remove the filth to such new site. He should therefore order him to enter into his recognizance for 80l. and find two sureties for 40l. each, as a guarantee that the abatement should take place before the 30th of March, on which day he must come up for judgment. If on that day the defendant could show that there had not been any fresh deposit made, and that he had made every reasonable effort to obtain other premises, but had not succeeded, or, if he had succeeded, then that he had not had time to remove the whole of what might perhaps be termed the "stock in trade," the Court might probably in that case extend the period when the total abatement should take place. Tho court, which for the two days had been crowded to excess, in a few minutes became comparatively empty, and the other "bail cases" were proceeded with, although it was nearly 7 o'clock.

Times, 1848

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