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1890: Tragedy and illness at Horsgate Cottages


Petty Sessions, Haywards Heath - Impure Water


William James Ball, of Willesden Road, London, was charged at the instance of Mr William Beach, Inspector of Nuisances to the Cuckfield Local Board with having a certain well on premises of which he is the owner, the water of which way injurious to health.

Defendant did not appear, neither was he represented. Mr Beach said that on June 9th, in company with the Medical Officer of Health, he visited six cottages belonging to the defendant, which were situated opposite the Union Workbouse. They visited the premises because of an outbreak of typhoid fever. There was only one well for the supply of the whole six cottages.


He took a sample of the water and forwarded it to the County Analyst for analysis. In the six cottages at the time there were 15 cases of fever, and there were more now; fever was prevalent in the whole of the cottages. There had been one death since his first visit. The water was impure from the leakage of surrounding cesspools.

There was one cesspool for slop water and one to each of the six closets. the contents of which the occupants were in the habit of putting on the soil of their gardens. The composition of the garden soil was gravel, and sandstone underneath. The well was about 25ft from the cottages and about 40ft from the cesspools, The cesspool and well were on a level, the former being 5ft deep from the latter 18ft.


Neither of the cesspools were cemented. Dr FF Fussell, Medical Olicer of Health for the District, said he had visited the cottages belonging to the defendant five times since June 9th.


There were 16 cases of fever - two adults and the remainder children - and there had been one death. He attributed the fever to the drinking of foul water. He had examined the water, and found it full of organic matter and in such a polluted state is it to be injurious to health, probably made so through the sewage matter it contained. The water was simply vile, and actually unfit for drinking purposes.

They had a case of scarlet fever in another cottage in December last, but there had been no other cases of typhoid fever in Cuckfield. He had no doubt in his own mind that the fever was due to the water. A girl who had been staying at one of the coaches became ill through drinking the water. The use of the well in question was very dangerous especially to young people. Questioned by the bench, Mr Beach said Mr Ball had called on him and had admitted the cottages belong to him. He had, however, prohibited his tenants from going for water elsewhere, as he believed it was good. Mr EH Moore, the County Analyst, deposed that he received a quart bottle of water on Thursday last for analysis from Mr Beach. The bottle was labelled ‘Horsegate Cottages, Cuckfield’.

He had analysed the contents and found the water in a filthy condition, containing a large amount of organic matter in solution and a considerable quantity in deposit. The organic mutter showed marked indication of sewage pollution, was full of low type animalculis, and was unfit for human consumption on account of being impure water.


Questioned by Mr Lister, witness said if the water was boiled it would be merely boiled sewage, and be asked why people should be called on to use a necessity impure which the Almighty supplied so abundantly and in a pure state. He had been a sufferer himself from drinking in pure water, and should refuse to drink that sent to him even if it was born.


Mr Beach proposed to sending the water to Mr Moore for analysis on Thursday afternoon, and Miss Maud Beach, his daughter, deposed to delivering it to the owners as she had received it from her father. The bench made an order for the well to be permanently closed forthwith.


Mid Sussex Times 1 July 1890.


Photograph: How Disease is Prevented. Pasteurizing means heating the milk to 150°-160° F. for 20 minutes. This does not injure the milk.. . but kills all the germs of disease. . .Impure water can be purified. . .by boiling it. Quoted from American Museum School Chart. American Museum of Natural History. Wikimedia public domain image.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

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