TRING: History About Library Contact TRING: Home

Site Search


The Dancer’s End Waterworks.  In its later days the pumping engines cooling pond was used by water company staff as a swimming pool.


I enjoy reading old editions of the local press, for the rags of bygone days contained much more meat than one finds amongst today’s diet of local gossip.  For instance, what an interesting read was the account of the first amputation at the Bucks Infirmary in which an anaesthetic was employed. [February, 1847]  Although the patient might later have succumbed to gangrene, the administration of ether did at least prevent death from shock.  The grisly spectacle of public hangings was also well covered, such as that of the pair who murdered the Sparrows Herne Turnpike gate keepers for their meagre takings. [March 1823] Thousands turned up to witness the event which took place in front of the Aylesbury County Hall.   And when Queen Victoria stopped briefly at Tring station on her journey to Wolverton along the recently opened London & Birmingham Railway, [November 1844] our local news hound was there to record the event in which a chorus of local children was assembled in the pouring rain to sing her the national anthem.

A less happy newspaper report that stuck in my mind was of cholera visiting a local village (Ivinghoe) during the 1867 epidemic.  In the course of a few hours it wiped out most members of a family that had fallen victim to it . . . .

“. . . . the cholera had made its appearance in the last few days. Japhet Janes, aged 40, was first attacked on the 9th inst., but he is getting better. His son Thomas was taken on the 10th. inst., and died the same night. His wife was attacked on the 10th inst., and died also the same night, together with two of his children, one of whom died on the 11th inst. Two other of his children were also taken ill, and a woman named Turney, who was engaged in nursing the above-named patients, was attacked with cholera and died in 12 hours. On Sunday a man who gave evidence on the previous day at the Ivinghoe Petty Sessions was taken ill, and died in a few hours.”

Thankfully, cholera and typhoid are strangers to us today, but not to our Victorian forebears who had yet to receive a plentiful supply of uncontaminated drinking water.  So when the Secretary of our local history society asked whether I would look into the history of Tring’s public water supply, the invitation provided a good excuse to root among the back issues of the local press to see what gems on the subject might be unearthed.

The account that follows ― which for the most part comes from old editions of the Bucks Herald  ―  is about the early history of sanitation in Tring.  It covers the period 1865 to 1905, during which uncontaminated drinking water became publicly available (although many preferred to continue drinking well water, sometimes with dire consequences) and a workable sewage disposal system was brought into operation.  An isolation hospital was built ― for this was an age in which serious infectious disease was commonplace ― and arrangements were made for the safe burial of the dead.  Although at first glance these topics might seem unconnected, the theme that flows through them is that of serious disease and its prevention and control within the community ― public health.

My thanks go to my friend and sometime co-author, Wendy Austin, for her assistance with research, to Pat Roberts for access to her papers on the Tring Isolation Hospital and for an interesting guided tour of the former site ― now attractive residential accommodation, tastefully landscaped  ―  and to local historian Mike Bass for the use of his photographs of the Tring Nursing Home.

Ian Petticrew

October 2016























“The half-yearly shareholders’ meeting of the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company, at Aylesbury, on Monday, occasioned several farewells and reminiscences on the part of the Directors and officers of the Company.  It was the last meeting of the Company, after 81 years existence, before it became merged with the Bucks Water Board . . . . the Company was formed about 80 years ago by a small band of men who felt that the necessity for a supply of pure water to the town was very urgent.”

Bucks Herald, 5th October 1946.


Clean drinking water, drawn from deep wells in the Chiltern Hills at Dancer’s End, was first piped to Tring in 1870.  However, the history of this important step in promoting public health began at Aylesbury some years earlier.

The first attempt to establish a water company was in 1853.  A scheme was announced to draw water from Broughton Brook at a point adjacent to the canal ― the alternative of piping water from the Chiltern Hills having been considered too expensive ― then to pump it into a water tower “sufficiently high to command the upper stories of all houses in the town”.  The estimated cost of the scheme was put at £8,000, added to which would be a further charge of 20 to 30 shillings a house for connecting the supply.  It is interesting to note that at this time the question of ‘water quality’ was confined to its hardness; that of contamination had yet to appear on the agenda.

In an age before public infrastructure projects were funded centrally, schemes such as the creation of a water utility had to be financed privately. The outcome was that if a scheme’s promoters failed to raise sufficient capital, it was abandoned ― and such was the fate of the first attempt to supply running water to Aylesbury.

The next attempt to set up a water company came in 1858:

 “We understand that the long-talked-of Water Company is about to be established in this town, there being at present nearly £2,000 in shares subscribe, the proposed capital being £7,000.  Looking at the scheme in a mercantile sense, doubtless it will prove a profitable investment of capital; and, in a sanitary point of view, its importance to the town of Aylesbury will be incalculable.”

Bucks Herald, 8th May 1858.

. . . . so was announced the proposed Aylesbury Water Company, and while the notice draws the attention of prospective investors to the scheme’s scope for profit, it also emphasises its “incalculable” contribution to the town’s sanitation ― it appears that news of Dr. John Snow’s work on the cause of cholera had reached Aylesbury, for the notorious Soho pump was by no means alone in spreading that potentially fatal disease among the population it served (
APPENDIX I).  Writing in 1868, Dr. Charles Hooper, an Aylesbury general practitioner, had this to say about that other dread waterborne disease, typhoid, and the town’s wells:

“During the last epidemic of typhoid fever here, all those patients suffering from it who first came under my notice had a special affection for the Kingsbury pump water.  The water on their own premises tasting disagreeably, they had all been in the habit of imbibing freely from that source, and I attributed the attacks to the impurity of that well . . . . It is my firm conviction that there is scarcely a well in the town of Aylesbury so situated as to be entirely free from the danger of contamination by infiltration of sewage.”

The 1858 scheme appears to have been a reappearance of that from five years earlier.  Based on their previous experience, the main concern of those who gathered at the White Hart Hotel to consider the plan was whether sufficient capital could be raised to fund the project, and whether sufficient customers would then connect to the supply to yield a reasonable return on their investment.  It was therefore agreed that the town would first be canvassed to estimate both the number of customers for a supply of “pure and wholesome water” and the number of shares that would likely to be taken up by investors, for, “unless a sufficient number of shares are taken, the proposed undertaking must fall to the ground”.  When the townsfolk met a week later to learn the outcome, they were informed that only £3,000 of the estimated £7,000 requirement had been pledged.  A further effort was made to enrol potential investors, but this too seems to have failed.  For the time being, nothing more is heard of this particular undertaking.



Towards the end of 1863, statutory announcements appeared in the Aylesbury press giving notice that two undertakings, the ‘Aylesbury Waterworks’ and the ‘Chiltern Hills Water Works’, each intended to apply to Parliament for leave to bring in a Bill to incorporate the respective companies, their aim being to supply Aylesbury with water.

The Aylesbury Waterworks Company planned to use as their source the Bear Brook and to construct their waterworks “on the north side of the road known as Dropshort Lane, and on the south side of the corn mill known as Walton Mill.”  The company also planned to construct a reservoir and filter beds, and install steam-powered pumping equipment.

The competing scheme was more ambitious.  The promoters of The Chiltern Hills Waterworks Company aimed to supply water, not just to Aylesbury, but to surrounding parishes.  While the statutory notice fails to identify the source of the supply, it does state that water was to be stored in a “service reservoir” to be built in a field adjacent to the Sparrows Herne Turnpike Road [1] “on or near the summit or highest point of Tring Hill”. [2]  Water from the reservoir was to be piped along the route of the turnpike to Aylesbury to terminate “. . . . in the street known as New-road, at or near the Market-place, opposite to the house known by the sign of the Crown Inn . . . .” from where the mains would distribute the water around the town.

A private Act of the type applied for would have given the company who obtained it various legal rights not generally available to the community at large, the most notable being the right to buy land and property by compulsory purchase ― or as the statutory notice put it:

“To purchase by compulsion or agreement and otherwise, take or lease and take grants or easements over lands, houses, water rights of water and other property for the purpose of the undertaking, and to levy rates and charges in respect of water supplied by the Company.”

However, obtaining a private Act for an infrastructure project [3] was (and remains) an expensive business, particularly if, as is usual, objections are raised by parties opposed to the Bill.  Such objections are presented during the quasi-judicial committee hearings in which the Bill is examined in detail, when each faction generally employs barristers to state their case for or against the Bill most forcibly.  In this instance it was unlikely that Parliament would approve both waterworks schemes, so rather than spend a potentially large sum in fruitless legal fees in a contest, the Board of the Aylesbury Waterworks Company withdrew their application:

“It will be satisfactory for the inhabitants of this town to learn that the promoters of the rival projects for supplying Aylesbury with water have come to an amicable agreement, by which the Chiltern Hills promoters are pledged to seek for parliamentary sanction to their scheme by every means in their power, and in which effort they will be assisted with evidence, &c. (if necessary), by the promoters of the Aylesbury scheme, whose engineer (Mr. R. J. Ward, Victoria Street, Westminster), has had considerable experience in such matters, and who, as we understand, only consented to withdraw his plan from the consideration of Parliament, from a desire not to contest a matter of such importance to the town of Aylesbury.”

The Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News, 28th November 1863.

Withdrawal of the Aylesbury scheme left the field clear for the Chiltern Hills Waterworks Company, but petitions against their Bill were then lodged by The Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway [4] and the Grand Junction Canal companies.  The nature of these petitions is unknown, but the outcome was that the Waterworks Company withdrew their Bill, perhaps foreseeing the high cost involved in fighting off these opposing parties.  How the company managed to construct their pipeline and distribution mains without the underpinning authority of an Act of Parliament is unclear; it must be assumed that the Company reached amicable agreements with the Sparrows Herne Turnpike Trust, the Aylesbury Local Board of Health [5] and any other parties affected by the Company in laying their pipeline.

Despite the parliamentary setback, by April 1864 the Bucks Herald was able to report that the directors and their consulting civil engineer [6] had visited the Caterham Waterworks near Reigate where, as in the Chilterns, water was pumped from wells sunk deep in the underlying chalk.  The extracted water was then softened using Clarke’s process [7] before being released into the mains.  The article concludes by stating that “the works of the Company near the summit of the Chiltern Hills are progressing most satisfactorily.  A large supply of water has been already found at a depth of not more than 180 feet”. [8]

It appears that up to 1863 the Company had been prospecting for water.  A good supply was located in the aquifer at a site in the Chilterns at Dancer’s End, on a steep hill known locally as The Crong, about 1½ miles southwest of Tring.  This location was sufficiently high to provide Aylesbury and its surrounding area with water by gravity, while the site had the added advantage of lying adjacent to chalk pits from which lime for water softening (by Clarke’s process) could be obtained. [9]

“The works were visited by the Rivers Pollution Commission, and were then softening 230,000 gallons a day by means of 18,400 gallons of lime water, at a cost for lime and labour of 27 shillings per million gallons, reducing the total solid impurity from 28.60 [parts per 100,000] to 8.18, and the hardness from 26.3 to 3.2 without impairing its brilliancy, transparency, and palatability; it has a normal temperature of 51° F.”

The Water Supply of England and Wales, Charles Rance (1882)

The site having been agreed on, construction of the works and reservoir commenced:

“We are happy to state that the construction of the reservoir between Aston Clinton and Tring, for the supply of the town with water, is progressing with great rapidity, about 150 men being employed on the works.  The water has been found at a depth of 187 feet, some 30 feet nearer the surface than was expected.  A second shaft has now been sunk, and as soon as this has been completed adits [10] will be formed in various directions to collect a quantity of water sufficient for the requirements of the town.  The purity of this water is unquestionable, and after being softened by a patent process [Clarke’s process – see fn. 7] it can be supplied in any quantity at a level of 200 feet above the highest part of the town.  The company is now formed under the limited liability act, it having been deemed advisable to abandon the special Act of Parliament in consequence of the expense; and we understand that the whole of the shares have been taken up.”

The Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News, 26th March 1864.

Design was placed in the hands of George Devey (1820-86), an architect usually associated with the design of country houses and their estates, especially for the Rothschild banking family who provided him with a steady stream of commissions.  The waterworks he designed comprised a walled courtyard with an attached watchman’s lodge, a store, stables, an engine house with cooling pond (used to condense the exhaust steam from the pumping engine), two lime tanks, and a pair of depositing reservoirs (softening tanks).  In addition, a pair of semi-detached two-storey workmen’s cottages was built at the north-eastern end of the site.  A date plaque on the wall of the main building reads 1866, although the etched glass engraving on the main doors reads 1867, the year in which the Works commenced business.



The Dancer’s End Waterworks as it exists today.


Below: pumping engine and boiler.



The history of ownership in the waterworks’ early years is unclear.  The Rothschild Estate Books for the period 1851-79 (held in the Rothschild Archive in London) list the purchases and tenants for the Rothschild estates in the Vale of Aylesbury. Among the purchases is an entry that reads “Dancer’s End, bought from Mr. Parrott in 1862 and sold to the Waterworks Company in 1866”.  The published report of the Company’s first Ordinary General Meeting, held on 17th May 1866, states that the sum of £6,500 was paid as “Amount agreed upon for the purchase of land, with the wells, reservoirs, pits, pipes, buildings, &c., up to 19th of May 1865, the date of incorporation of the company . . . .”  Why, in 1862, the Rothschild family bought a site on which to erect a waterworks is a matter of conjecture, but it might have had more to do with supplying water to the family’s property in the Vale of Aylesbury than to the town itself.

In 1851 Sir Anthony de Rothschild (1810-76) bought an estate at Aston Clinton.  He commissioned the architect George Henry Stokes to design his mansion (destroyed by fire in the 1960s) and grounds, with George Devey later designing the park gates and various estate cottages.  It is possible that the Dancer’s End waterworks was conceived originally to supply this estate ― which lay mid-way between Dancer’s End and Aylesbury ― with running water.  Sir Anthony certainly made effective use of the product when it became available:

“The other day I went over to see the sanitary improvements carried out by Sir Anthony Rothschild in his cottages at Aston Clinton and adjoining villages.  I found that in each cottage, water brought from the Chiltern Hills had been laid on.  It is not everyone who can, in this particular, follow the example of Sir Anthony, or who, if willing, has a public water works so near at hand.  I have mentioned it, because on inquiry of the cottagers, I found that it was a boon highly prized.  One man remarked that he did not know what they should now do without it.  The wife joined in, and said, ‘Yes, sir, it is a great convenience, and it saves us so much in soap.’  Indeed, who can estimate the value to these poor people of an abundant and constant supply of the purest water for drinking, cooking, and washing, or ― what is also important ― its value for carrying away a good deal of filth which without it would be sure to collect in and about the dwellings.”

The Farmer’s Magazine, Volume 76, 1874.



The CHSWC was incorporated in May 1865 with a capital of £21,000.  In the following year it acquired the assets of the Chiltern Hills Waterworks Company from the Rothschild family, which perhaps explains why George Devey, the Rothschild’s ‘house architect’ at the time, designed the Works.  The question now arose of how to finance the new company.  In April 1865 a prospectus was published inviting the public to apply for £10 shares in the Company, which . . . .

. . . . has been formed for the purpose of obtaining for the Town of Aylesbury and adjacent Parishes an ample supply of the finest Spring Water from the chalk formation above the Village of Aston Clinton. The Supply Tanks will be placed at an altitude of 650 feet above the level of the sea, and will enable the Company to supply the Town of Aylesbury and adjacent Parishes, including Tring, with a continuous stream of the purest water by gravitation.

Company prospectus, Bucks Herald, 1st April 1865.

The Company’s first Directors were: Edward Robert Baynes, of Aylesbury; William Bell of Bierton; George Lathom Browne, of London; Herbert Astley Paston Cooper, of Aylesbury; Rowland Dickens, of Aylesbury; John Kersley Fowler, of Aylesbury; Henry Gurney, of Aylesbury; James James, of Aylesbury; and Joseph Parrott, of Aylesbury.  There were also five members of the Rothschild family with an interest in the concern and who, in later years, gave public-spirited assistance to the Company by taking up a large number of shares and advancing loans on favourable terms.

Unlike earlier attempts to establish a water company in Aylesbury, the new undertaking appears to have made a good start financially, for the directors decided that only 600 of its 2,100 shares would be offered to the public with the subscription list being closed four weeks after the offer.  No doubt the candid description they gave of the quality of the water then being consumed in the Town encouraged potential investors to reach for their cheque books:

“A large proportion of the population derive their supply from the Mill-stream, which gathers sewage and other impurities on its passage through the Country intervening between the Chiltern Hills and Aylesbury.  The water thus vitiated is unfit for ordinary used, and is moreover, from its extreme hardness, equally unfitted for culinary and other domestic purposes; but bad and unwholesome as it is, the cost is more than ten times as great to the consumer than that which the present Company can furnish water amongst the purest to be found in England.”

Company prospectus, Bucks Herald, 1st April 1865.

The prospectus went on to describe the waterworks and how the supply was to reach Aylesbury:

“To remedy these [above mentioned] evils the Company has sunk deep Wells in the chalk, with underground Tanks, where they can pump, from day to day, a supply of water greater by far than a much larger population can possibly require.  This water will flow through pipes laid along the line of the Turnpike Road, and after supplying the Township of Aston Clinton, with the Farms and Residences on the road, will be distributed through every part of Aylesbury and Walton.”

Company prospectus, Bucks Herald, 1st April 1865.

At this stage the Company’s consulting civil engineer,
Samuel Homersham, estimated the cost of the project to completion at £17,200:

“The cost of the works necessary for supplying the town of Aylesbury, and including all the districts named in the Bill, exclusive, of course, of the surveys, level, Parliamentary expenses, land and compensations, and engineer’s charges, I estimate approximately as follows:”


Wells, borehole, adits to yield 220,000  gallons per day


Pumping engines, pumps, boilers


Engine-house, boiler-house, boiler sealing,  and chimney


Foundations for pumps and girders, &c.,  in well


Depositing reservoirs and service  reservoirs


Limewater reservoir, lime house, &c.


Whiting pits


Roads, Boundary walls, &c.


Main pipes, 8 inches internal diameter, from service reservoir to Aylesbury, laid in ground about 7 miles long, at  £830 per mile


Screw cocks, &c., for main, &c.


Distributing pipes in Aylesbury





(At the Company’s half-yearly meeting, held in March 1885, the final cost of the work was stated to have been £30,000.)

In the following month the company placed advertisements in the Bucks Herald inviting tenders from contractors for building work at Dancer’s End, the outline specification suggesting that construction of the Works had already commenced, but was not far advanced:

“. . . . the engineer was instructed to issue advertisements for tenders for the necessary engines and pumping apparatus, and for the erection of a pump house and other necessary works.   The pipes, we understand, will be laid from the engine-house across Sir A[nthony] de Rothschild’s property, entering the road at the back of Mr. Jenney’s house near Buckland Common; the pipes will then be carried along the Tring-road to Aylesbury.   The wells and pumps are of sufficient capacity to supply the town of Tring, should it at any future time be found desirable . . . . It may be observed, for the benefit of intending shareholders, that water companies in all parts of the country, when well managed, have usually been found to yield a better return than any other undertaking of a similar nature.”

The Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News, 26th March 1864.



So far as funding was concerned the new company initially had an optimistic start, with the share allocation available to the general public being limited to 600 £10 shares.   But the cost of acquiring the Chiltern Hills Waterworks Company (£6,500) together with that of ongoing construction was beginning to make the company’s financial position look distinctly shaky; on the other hand, the advancing cholera epidemic was again focusing attention on the need for clean drinking water.  This from the report of the first general meeting:
Calls on allotted shares together with other income had raised £11,327 12s 3d, of which all but £262 2s 9d had been spent.  The Secretary reported that shares of only £15,560 had so far been subscribed (of the £21,000 estimated capital).  “The Chairman urged every shareholder to solicit his neighbours to take shares, as that would be a very great assistance, not only so far as the supply of money was concerned, but also for the increase of interest in those who were to be benefited by a supply of pure water”.

Contracts for all the necessary works had been let and work was progressing rapidly towards completion.  The engine house was complete, but the engine and pumping gear had yet to be installed.  Pipe-work had been laid from the Works as far as the Tring to Aylesbury road, about a mile in distance leaving a further six miles to complete.  This section had been the most difficult on the route to construct, with trenches in which to lay the water pipes having to be excavated to a depth of 40 to 50 feet.

The Chairman stated that The cholera had already made its appearance at Liverpool, and medical men said it would probably rage again throughout the country during the summer; and he was quite certain that all who had studied sanitary measures would see that the best mode of preventing the introduction of that disease was by seeing that an early supply of good water was effected”

As for the Chairman’s warning of approaching cholera, in the following year, at Ivinghoe . . . .

. . . . the cholera had made its appearance in the last few days.  Japhet Janes, aged 40, was first attacked on the 9th inst., but he is getting better.  His son Thomas was taken on the 10th. inst., and died the same night.  His wife was attacked on the 10th inst., and died also the same night, together with two of his children, one of whom died on the 11th inst.  Two other of his children were also taken ill, and a woman named Turney, who was engaged in nursing the above-named patients, was attacked with cholera and died in 12 hours.  On Sunday a man who gave evidence on the previous day at the Ivinghoe Petty Sessions was taken ill, and died in a few hours.

Northampton Mercury, 22nd September 1867.



By the time of the General Meeting of June 1867, the pipeline had still to reach Aylesbury although the project was now “approaching its completion”.   One reason given for the delay was work outstanding by James Kay, builder of the pumping engine to be installed at Dancers End.  Then, in September: 

“We are pleased to note that the mains of the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company have been laid down in the principal parts of this town, and there is every reason to expect that in a very short time the majority of the houses in Aylesbury will be supplied with wholesome water.   In many parts of the Town at the present time the water is so bad that people refrain from drinking it until it has been boiled, and very wisely to, for there is no doubt that the unwholesome water is the primary cause of much illness in the town.  The fire plugs [fire hydrants] have been fixed, and on Wednesday afternoon a large number of the gentry and tradesmen of the town, and the directors, assembled in the market square to witness an experiment with one of the fire plugs.  Among those present we noticed the two representatives of the borough, S. G. Smith Esq., and N. M. de Rothschild, Esq.  A hose was fixed, and, under the direction of Mr. Boltbee, the manager, the water was turned on.  The force with which the water escaped was tremendous and it was more than three men could do to hold it steady, and much amusement was caused by the directors and others getting wet.  The water was thrown higher than the County Hall, so that in case of fire these plugs would be of great assistance.”

Bucks Herald, 21st September 1867.


The water is turned on at Aylesbury.

In 1873 Samuel Homersham wrote a description of the water supply system.  It is worth repeating most of what he had to say to illustrate the care he had taken to ensure that Aylesbury received a supply of running water in the face of inevitable breakdowns at the Works: 

“There are two boilers, two pumping engines, and two sets of pumps at the Company’s works at Dancer’s End, to raise the water from the wells, and, so arranged, that the two pumps, boilers and the two engines, with their two sets of pumps, can be worked together, or either of the boilers, engines, and sets of pumps, can be worked singly.  This arrangement admits of one boiler, engine, and set of pumps being able to be repaired, while the other boiler, engine and set of pumps are at work.  The two engines, with the two sets of pumps, when working together, are capable of raising more than four hundred thousand gallons of water in twelve hours; and one engine, with one set of pumps, in the same time, is capable of raising half this quantity, or, in twenty-four hours, more than four hundred thousand gallons of water.

Judging from the amount of last year’s [1872] income, at present the Company must be disposing of little more then one-fourth of the last named quantity, or, on the average of the year, about one hundred and ten thousand gallons per day.  Therefore, one engine, and one set of pumps, when working only seven or eight hours per day, is capable of supplying the present demand; or the two engines and the two sets of pumps, working together, would do so in only one-half the time, or in from three and a half hours per day.

Again, the softening and the service reservoirs are constructed in duplicate, and so arranged that two can be used together, or can be used separately as required.

Indeed, notwithstanding the works are most solidly constructed, so that the minimum outlay for repairs may  be looked for, yet ample provision has everywhere been made to enable any repairs that could be required to be properly, readily, and quickly executed, without danger of interrupting the continuous supply to the consumers.

With respect to the engines and boilers, I may state that the steam power necessary to raise the water to the height necessary to obtain pressure in the mains or pipes used in Aylesbury, is remarkably small, because the water has only to be raised two-thirds of the height due to the pressure in the streets, in consequence of the water in the chalk hills at the works existing in the natural level of about two hundred feet above the town.

Almost the only portion of the works not in duplicate is the main pipe, nearly seven miles in length that conveys the water from the service reservoir at Dancer’s End into Aylesbury.  It is not usual to make such lines of main pipes in duplicate, neither is it found to be necessary.

The main pipe is abundantly supplied with stop valves and other conveniences at suitable distances, to enable any necessary repair to be quickly executed.”

The pumping engine referred to by Homersham has been preserved and can be seen at The London Museum of Water & Steam at Brentford.  The engine’s description and specification are reproduced below by kind permission of the Curator: 

“The engine was built in 1867 by James Kay of Bury.  It was donated to the museum by the Thames Water Authority’s Chiltern Division, where it had been kept on standby since the 1930s.  It was found to be in good working order and was re-assembled at Kew Bridge in 1978-79.

The engine has two high pressure cylinders, each connected to its own beam and crank, the flywheel being common to what are, in effect, two separate engines.  This was a typical feature of engines used to drive textile mills in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and it is possible this engine was converted from textile to waterworks use. 

The engine drove a set of well pumps which used to be connected to tailrods driven directly from the main piston rods.”

Date of manufacture


Cylinder Diameter

14 inches (355 mm)


30 inches (762 mm)

Flywheel diameter

11 feet (3.35 metres)

Power rating

36 horse power at 36 r.p.m.

Last worked

c. 1930

Returned to steam



The Dancers End pumping engine, The London Museum of Water & Steam, Brentford.

The pipeline to Aylesbury having been completed, the Chairman was able to inform the general meeting held in May 1868 that there was a steady increase in customers for the company’s water; after just 4 months in operation, revenue was running at the rate of £800 p.a. (an overstatement, as events transpired).  However, the shareholders were warned that revenue would need to increase threefold before it would be impossible to pay a dividend.  Based on the number of prospective customers in Aylesbury, Halton, Aston Clinton and Tring, all to be charged at £2 per house p.a., it was estimated that the revenue raised after working expenses should be sufficient to yield a dividend of 5% ― but as in any large capital project, the prospect of shareholders receiving a dividend in the early years following completion are remote, and such proved to be the case. [12]

In view of the rising expenditure, the shareholders were invited to approve an increase in the company’s capital from £21,000 to £30,000 to be raised by the issue of a further 900 shares, and because it was considered to be the simplest and easiest way of raising money they were also invited to approve the directors’ decision to raise a £10,000 mortgage, at 5% p.a., on the security of the company’s assets.  Both motions were carried.

The general meeting held in 1869 commenced on a low note.  Capital expenditure slightly exceeded forecast while the number customers for water was disappointedly low, at 140 households out of an estimated 1,500:

“People had certain prejudices against the introduction of anything that was new, and with the vast amount of ignorance which exists on sanitary matters, they [the directors] were not surprised to find that people were satisfied to drink the sewage of the town, instead of taking the wholesome liquid offered to them when they were called upon to pay for it.”

Chairman’s address, General Meeting - Bucks Herald, 1st May 1869. 

Income for the half year from January to June 1869 was £282 10s, falling considerably short of the £800 p.a. predicted at the previous year’s meeting. [13]  The creation of additional shares had been fully subscribed by the directors and their friends, the directors being “much indebted to members of the Rothschild family for the material aid and assistance they have rendered, and that the thanks of the Directors are due to them for their large and generous support.”  The report of the meeting gives no information of the nature of the Rothschild’s “material aid”, but it is documented that in 1865 the family bought shares (Baron Lionel, 183; Nathaniel, 181; Anthony, 183; Leopold 84) and on occasions loaned money to the company at rates varying between 3% and 4%.



On the 10th August 1870, an Act of Parliament passed into law:

“. . . . to incorporate the Proprietors of the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company (Limited), and granting them powers with reference to Supply of Water to the town of Aylesbury and the vicinity thereof; and other purposes.”

The Act gave the CHSWC, among other statutory powers, that to raise further capital by various means; to regulate the voting rights and other privileges of shareholders; to break up any street, roads, highways, bridges, and other public passages and places in which to lay and maintain pipes; to levy and recover rates, rents, and charges for the supply of water; and to exercise such other powers as are usually conferred by Parliament on Waterworks Companies.

The Act also gave the CHSWC statutory authority to supply water to Tring, but not to villages to the north of Aylesbury.  In the case of Waddesdon, an unexpected gift was bestowed on the Company when Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild offered, at his own expense, to lay a water main between Aylesbury and the estate that he planned to build at Waddesdon (‘Waddesdon Manor’).

“As soon as the architect, the landscape gardener and the engineers had settled their plans, we set to work, but at the outset were brought face to face with a most serious consideration.  This was the question of water supply, as the few springs in the fields were not to be relied on in a drought.  The Chiltern Hills fortunately contain an inexhaustible quantity of excellent water, which an Aylesbury company works with much skill to the advantage of the immediate neighbourhood and profit to its shareholders.  Not a moment was lost to coming to terms with the Company, laying down seven miles of pipes from the county town to the village and thence to the projected site of the house, and building a large storage tank in the grounds.  This subsequently proved insufficient for our wants, as one dry summer the supply failed, and but for the Manager’s energy, who sat up all night at the Works sending us up water, we should have been compelled to leave the next day.  To obviate recurrence of a similar difficulty another and larger tank was constructed.”

The Rothschilds at Waddesdon Manor by Mrs James de Rothschild, pub.1979. 

In February 1875, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild applied to the magistrates sitting at the Bucks Epiphany Sessions for permission to lay the pipes along the road between Aylesbury and Waddesdon, to which they saw no objection “. . . . provided the work be executed to the satisfaction of the Magristrates and of any Surveyor who they may appoint to inspect the works . . . .  And so work commenced: 

“CHILTERN HILLS WATER WORKS EXTENSION. − A large body of workmen have commenced work this week, to carry the water company’s pipes from Aylesbury to Lodge Hill, Waddesdon, to supply the new mansion of which will be shortly erected there by Baron F. de Rothschild.  A junction with the present water mains is made at the top of Walton-street, and the pipes will be carried thence along the Oxford and Hartwell-roads, through Hartwell, Stone, Eythrope, and Winchendon, to Lodge Hill.   The whole of the expense, we believe, will be borne by Baron F. de Rothschild, whose property the pipes will be; but we have no doubt that places through which they pass will be able to participate in the advantages to be derived from the possession in their midst of a good supply of pure water.”

Bucks Herald, 17th April 1875. 

The newspaper report is somewhat misleading, for it appears to have been agreed that the new mains would be taken over by the CHSWC when complete.  At the company’s interim meeting held in October, 1875, the directors appeared to be rubbing their hands with glee at the acquisition of a valuable asset gratis, for the Chairman was able to report that:  

“Since they last met there has been a large amount of work undertaken by Baron Rothschild, and the Company had laid down at his requirement ten or eleven miles of pipe between Aylesbury and Waddesdon.  They hoped to have a large increase of customers from the extension of pipes, which included Eythrope, Hartwell, Winchendon, Lodge Hill, and Westcott, besides Waddesdon.  So large an extension of course implied a large expenditure of money, but that happily the Company would not have to pay, though they hoped to have the profit of it.”

Bucks Herald, 2nd October 1875.

Undated photo of a reservoir under construction at Dancer’s End.

The question then arose concerning the CHSWC’s powers to supply water to areas not covered in the company’s Act of 1870.  However, under the Gas and Waterworks Facilities Act, 1870, a provisional order could be granted by the Board of Trade authorising, among other things, “the construction, maintenance and continuance of gas or water works.” An application for an order was made, which was granted in June 1876, giving the CHSWC additional powers to supply water Quarrendon, Fleetmarston, Waddesdon, Westcott, Wootton Underwood and Upper Winchendon.



The period 1879-1885 brought other additions to the system. The Directors felt it expedient to install a second set of pumping equipment at Dancer’s End to cater for the possibility that the existing set might suffer a serious breakdown and the supply fail completely as a result. In 1880, the new machinery came into operation together with a new well and adits, the Chairman later stating that the Company: 

“. . . . had saved £120 in the use of coal, and that arose mainly from the use of their new and beautiful engine [capable of raising some 12,000 gallons per minute], which worked more economically and more satisfactorily than the old one.”

Bucks Herald, 31st March, 1883. 

As the demand for water grew it became apparent that a further pipeline would eventually be needed between Dancer’s End and Aylesbury, but its high cost postponed a decision.  However a decision could not be postponed on additional reservoir capacity, to pay for which Sir Nathaniel de Rothschild lent the Company £3,500 at 4%, to be repaid by yearly instalments when the Company could afford to do so.  Construction was at first delayed through scarcity of labour ― due to Mr. Alfred de Rothschild building his large mansion at Halton and Sir Nathaniel de Rothschild making extensive alterations at Tring but by 1884 the new reservoir was on stream: 

“Formerly it was found that, notwithstanding pumping until late at night, it was necessary to utilise some part of the Sabbath Day, in order to keep up the supply, but the new reservoir enabled them to have two or three days’ stock in hand, and the men could finish their work on the Saturday.  The whole concern could rest upon the Sunday, and he [the Chairman] thought this was a pleasing feature of the undertaking.  (Hear, hear.)”

Bucks Herald, 29th March 1884. 

The most significant addition to the system at this time was construction of a second waterworks.  The need for more water became apparent during the summer of 1884, when the water level in the wells at Dancer’s End began to sink to the extent that the supply to the mains had eventually to be restricted.  The Directors acted promptly in response.  They bought a plot of land from Nathaniel de Rothschild at New Ground on the road between Tring and Northchurch.  There they sank a well, laid a ten inch main between the new works and the Dancer’s End reservoirs, and set temporary pumping engines to work until the New Ground engine house was complete.  This eventually housed an inverted compound vertical pumping engine, followed later by a second engine, and a technical innovation for the period was the installation of a telephone connection to coordinate activities between the two engine houses.


New Ground Pumping Station under construction.

By 1886 New Ground was in full operation, but a problem foreseen by the directors several years earlier then resurfaced:

“The Directors have, for some time past, been aware that the means for bringing water to Aylesbury are altogether insufficient for supplying the demand, and have considered that there ought to be a double line of pipes from Dancer’s End Works to Aylesbury; and the Directors have felt that if the means could be provided, on favourable terms, the work ought to be carried out; and they are now able to inform the Shareholders that the money required to completing the work (estimated at about £8,000), can be obtained on such favourable terms that it is proposed to commence and complete the work as soon as practicable.”

Bucks Herald, 20th August 1887. 

The second pipeline was completed with money loaned by the Rothschild family on the “favourable terms” referred to (3%) and was in use by the following year.  In 1891 a further well was sunk at New Ground, new pumps were installed and the existing wells at Dancer’s End were lowered.



The possibility of l
aying on a water supply to Tring had been mentioned at earlier company meetings, and the company’s engineer had stated that it was feasible, but nothing had been done to make the connection.  Instead, all effort and resources had been concentrated on supplying Aylesbury.

During 1869, James James, the CHSWC Chairman, together with one of the directors, William Brown of Tring, engaged in some private enterprise.  Between them they bought sufficient pipes to connect Tring with the Dancer’s End waterworks and arranged with a contractor to lay them.  This avoided the need to place a further burden on the Company’s limited capital until the point was reached at which its earnings were sufficient to cover the cost of supplying Tring, which appears to have been in the following year:

“Mr James and Mr Brown have fulfilled their engagements with the company, and have expended a large sum of money in laying on the water to the town of Tring.  The capital applied for that purpose, and the works performed, are now, by virtue of our Act of Parliament, incorporated with our capital and our works.”

Chairman’s address to the annual meeting Bucks Herald 20th August 1870. 

1881 saw Wigginton connected to the system.  It was estimated that to supply Wigginton with running water would require four to five miles of pipeline and a reservoir (in fact “a new tank” laid in “Mr Butcher’s wood”).  In view of the cost of the project vis-à-vis the anticipated revenue, the Directors had reservations about its profitability; as the Chairman put it, Wigginton was “a destitute district”! However, Nathaniel de Rothschild together with Messrs Williams (of Tring) and Valpy not only guaranteed the Company against loss, but paid for the pipeline to be laid.

Aldbury was connected to the supply in 1900.

Although a supply of running water was now available in Tring, Aldbury and Wigginton, many households continued to draw their water from wells, which, due to sewage contamination, presented a risk of waterborne disease.  Indeed, until into the 20th Century the Bucks Herald carried reports of patients being admitted to the isolation hospitals at Tring and Aldbury suffering from typhoid, the source of which was usually attributed to polluted well water.

The Little Gaddesden area was better served, thanks to the Brownlow family of Ashridge.  The Ashridge Water Company was formed in 1856 at the instigation of the guardians of the 2nd Earl Brownlow of Ashridge House, Little Gaddesden.  In addition to supplying Ashridge House, the company piped water to the villages of Little Gaddesden, Hudnall and Ringshall  from a new covered reservoir at Ringshall via a steam-driven pumping station and well in Little Gaddesden.  Walter Parker built the reservoir at Ringshall Meadows; Robert and Joseph Paten of Watford sank the well, 6 feet in diameter and 255 feet deep; Joseph Harris of Berkhamstead erected the engine and boiler house for the pumping station; and Messrs Eaton and Amos of London supplied the steam-engine, boiler, and pumps, and also laid the water mains, and by 1857 a clean water supply was available.  In 1930, the steam engine was replaced by electric power and the boiler chimney demolished.  It appears that the well was used to supply water to the neighbourhood until at least 1980, but the former pumping station and the water tower now lie derelict.



The now abandoned Ashridge Water Company tower at Little Gaddesden.




The subject of public health now turns from water supply to drainage, and to the public sewers that carry sewage and rainwater run-off for treatment and/or disposal.

In 1877, Dr. C. E. Saunders, [15] Medical Officer of Health for Middlesex and Hertfordshire, published a report on the sanitary ― or rather the unsanitary ― conditions prevailing in parts of Tring. [16]  Some of the squalor he refers to makes disturbing reading.  On the need for the town to acquire effective sewers he had this to say:


“This necessity can scarcely by better appreciated than by comparing two streets in the Western Road ― Charles Street and Langdon Street the one with pail privies, emptied into an open ashpit and having slop-water cesspools; the other having a sewer into which many of its houses can, and do, drain.  The filth and squalor of the one and the decency and order of the other could scarcely fail to show the necessity for a better system of filth removal.  Another place I would refer to is Church Alley.  Here there is a row of 10 privies within about 8 feet of the back-doors of the houses; these privies have pails, and these pails when full, as they usually have been when I have seen them, are emptied into a huge ashpit, also near the back-doors of the houses.”

Sanitary Conditions of Middlesex and Hertfordshire for the year 1877.


In 1867, the Tring Local Board of Health [17] first attempted to address the problem of sewage disposal in a systematic manner.  In that year the Board built a main sewer under Brook Street, commencing beside the Silk Mill Pond [18] and leading down to New Mill where it entered an open ditch.  This ditch led under the Wendover Arm canal into either Tringford or Startops reservoir depending on the setting of a sluice.

At a later date the Board built another sewer, the ‘cross culvert’, which connected the Frogmore area of the town with the Brook Street sewer. Writing some years later, Dr. Saunders had this to say about the construction of these sewers:


“The Board’s first attempt to carry out a scheme of sewage was so singularly disastrous that their efforts for the last five years have been confined to devising means to undo the mischief that was done by draining the Silk Mill Reservoir” [i.e. the mill pond].

Sanitary Conditions of Middlesex and Hertfordshire for the year 1877.

To explain the problem that Saunders refers to, it is first necessary to say something about the Silk Mill Pond and Tring’s water courses at the time, for construction of the cross culvert was to lead to expensive litigation and years of delay in resolving the town’s sewage disposal problem.

The Silk Mill Pond received water from three feeds, one man-made and two natural.  The man-made connection is a subterranean culvert that connects the Dundale Lake (located at the junction of Icknield Way and Dundale Road) to the Silk Mill Pond.  It was built c. 1824 by the Silk Mill’s owner, William Kay, to supply water to drive the mill’s waterwheel.  The Mill Pond’s two natural sources were (i) springs that arose beneath it and (ii) the Horse Pond, a narrow stretch of water that once lay in the vicinity of today’s Bishop Wood School (see map below).  A stream connected the Horse Pond with the Silk Mill Pond ― in terms of today’s locations, it left the Horse Pond, crossed Frogmore Street somewhere in the vicinity of the Black Horse public house, passed between the Churchyard and the Red Cross Hall, and entered the Silk Mill Pond somewhere in the vicinity of the Fire Station.  The new cross culvert ran parallel to this stream for at least part of its length, then passed under the Silk Mill Pond ― which had to be drained to enable its construction ― to join the main sewer in Brook Street (centre right on the map below).


Above: the Horse Pond (bottom left) feeds the Silk Mill Pond (centre right) via the connecting stream.
Below: the Silk Mill Pond today, much reduced in size (Tring Church just visible centre background)

When the cross culvert was complete and the Silk Mill Pond refilled, its level was seen to be much lower than before.  Investigation of the cause showed that the stream from the Horse Pond together with some of the contents of the Silk Mill Pond were seeping into the cross culvert, then into the Brook Street sewer.  The impact of this diversion was to derive the Silk Mill of part of its water supply ― perhaps not a big issue, for a steam engine was by then powering the Silk Mill’s machinery ― but more important was the reduction in the volume of water flowing along the Feeder and directly into the Wendover Arm.  The diverted water was now passing along the Brook Street sewer and into the open ditch at New Mill that passed beneath the canal and into the canal reservoirs.  To make good the shortfall in water supply, the Grand Junction Canal Company had ― at additional cost ― to raise a greater volume of water from the reservoirs into the canal in order to maintain its level.  Another problem was that the village of Long Marston’s water supply was chiefly obtained from the overflows of Tringford and Startops reservoirs, which was now contaminated with Tring’s sewage.  This added further complaint.

the Tring Local Board of Health refused to remedy the problem.  The Grand Junction Canal Company therefore sought an injunction to (i) restore the shortfall of water into the Wendover Arm and (ii) to restrain the Local Board from polluting the company’s reservoirs with the raw sewage they were now receiving from the Brook Street sewer.  The canal company won its case (Grand Junction Canal Company v. Shugar, 1871) leaving the Local Board to face the legal costs and the problem of addressing the injunction’s requirements; the latter was no easy matter, as events were to prove.

During the four years following the court case it is difficult to ascertain the course of events, for the Local Board considered the problem in closed session, a procedure that in itself was to cause major dissatisfaction in the community, for the ratepayers ― not unreasonably ― wanted to know the basis of decisions concerning the expenditure of local taxes.  From the newspaper reports of later meetings it is possible to surmise that some form of agreement was reached with the canal company, but this was abandoned following much local disagreement, principally from Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, by then owner of the extensive Tring Park Estates.

The Local Board next engaged John Bailey Denton, [19] a civil engineer and expert on sewage engineering, to devise a suitable disposal scheme.  Bailey Denton drew up a plan that appears to have met with the Local Board’s approval, for they submitted it to The Local Government Board [20] for sanction together with an application for a loan to fund construction.  In response, the Local Government Board appointed an Inspector, Major Hector Tulloch, formerly of the Royal Engineers, to hold a public inquiry into the scheme.

A number of inquiry meetings then took place commencing on the 7th October, 1875, in Tring’s Vestry Hall.  In that year an important Act ― The Public Health Act (1875) [21] ― passed into law designed to combat the filthy urban living conditions that caused various public health threats, including the spread of many diseases.  During the inquiry meeting held on the 18th December, Major Tulloch reminded those present that under clause 17 of the new Act it was now an offence to pollute water courses with sewage:

“Nothing in this Act shall authorise any local authority to make or use any sewer drain or outfall for the purpose of conveying sewage or filthy water into any natural stream or water course, or into any canal pond or lake until such sewage or filthy water is freed from all excrement or other foul or noxious matter such as would affect or deteriorate the purity and quality of the water in such stream or watercourse or in such canal pond or lake.”

Clause 17, Public Health Act 1875 [38 & 39 VICT. Ch. 55].

Sewage pollution of the canal reservoirs had led in part to the costly legal conflict between the Local Board and the Grand Junction Canal Company.  To avoid any recurrence, whatever scheme the Local Board adopted would require some form of filtration to purify any discharge of effluent into a water course, and filtration did form part of Bailey Denton’s proposed scheme.

The newspaper description of the Bailey Denton scheme is vague, but from what is said it required 17 acres of land for “intermittent filtration” (described below).  The filtered sewer water ― ‘effluent’ ― was to be run off into a 30 acre reservoir that was to be connected to the canal, while the remaining sewage was to be spread over the land as agricultural fertiliser.  It is unclear whether the Local Board adopted this plan to the letter, but considering the number of years that were to elapse before anything actually happened, and the progress made in the treatment of sewage in the intervening period, the scheme carried out is more likely to have been a refined version.  However, what Bailey Denton’s plan did amount to was, in principle, a ‘sewage farm’, which was what was eventually built at Gamnel to process the town’s sewage.

In general, a sewage farm comprises an area of agricultural land irrigated and fertilised with sewage.  The product being ‘farmed’ is the sewage combined with the microbes and bacteria that are used to break it down. In this context, the term ‘intermittent filtration’ (referred to above) has a particular meaning.

In 1868 Sir Edward Frankland conducted a series of experiments which showed that natural land did not clog up if sewage was applied to it in small quantities and allowed to trickle away before the next dose was applied.  This is the principle of ‘intermittent filtration’. Coupled with this, efforts were made to reduce the area of land necessary for treatment of the sewage by using a pre-treatment process, the most common form of which was to channel the raw sewage into settling tanks into which a chemical was added to speed up the precipitation of the solid matter.  The most common precipitant was lime (also used as a water softening agent at the Dancer’s End Waterworks).  When sufficient sludge had accumulated in the settlement tank it was collected and used as agricultural fertiliser.

Bailey Denton joined Frankland by making another important contribution to the principle of sewage farming.  He observed that when land was ‘under drained’, [22] water and sewage flowed more rapidly through the soil into the under drains; that water discharging from the under drains was clear; and that plant growth flourish where under drainage was carried out.  These principles were later applied to the construction of Tring’s first sewage farm at Gamnel.

According to the notes left by the 19th-century local historian Arthur Macdonald Brown, in order to comply (in part) with the injunction, Bailey Denton also laid a 9-inch iron pipe from the Horse Pond to the Silk Mill Pond to restore the flow of water that ran between the two before the cross culvert was built.  At the same time the Silk Mill Pond was diminished in area and ‘puddled’ (i.e. lined with impervious clay) to better enable it to retain the water that flowed into it from the Horse Pond and from Dundale Lake.



An interesting side issue to emerge from the public meeting held in the Vestry Hall on the 18th December 1875 had more to do with democratic government than with Tring’s sewage problems.

The meeting was of Tring’s ratepayers and not part of the Government Board’s inquiry into the proposed sewage scheme that was then taking place.  Some fifty attended, a Mr. C. Chappell taking the chair.  While the meeting had been called to discuss the sewage scheme and its associated costs, dissatisfaction was expressed that the press were not being admitted to Local Board meetings and that the Town was in ignorance of how decisions were being taken:


“Mr. J. Grange ― The ratepayers generally like to know what is done by a public body who represents them. I should say that whatever may be done in the future, should be done in a more satisfactory way to the ratepayers.  I therefore beg to propose ‘That at all meetings of the Local Board the representatives of the press be admitted’. . . .

Mr. Chappell ― “The time has come, and it is only right that we should know what is done. Don’t you think it unjust that we should find money, and not know how that money is spent? Are not the ratepayers as well able to appreciate the spending of their money as any gentlemen of the Local Board?

The motion was put to the meeting and carried with acclamation.”

Bucks Herald, 18th December 1875

And so reports of Tring Local Board meetings began to appear in the press.



Following the inquiry meetings chaired by Major Tulloch, no significant advance in treating the town’s sewage appears to have made for the next decade; indeed, taking account of the canal companys injunction it is a mystery how, during this period, the problem was managed.  Even the Government Board (whose duties included supervising the law relating to public health) wanted to know, for at a Local Board meeting held on 3rd June 1880 the Clerk read a letter from that body asking what had prevented the adoption of a sewerage scheme for the district; he was instructed to reply that they “were doing the work by degrees.”  Then, in 1885, the Medical Officer of Health announced in his annual report that:

“The [Tring Local] Board have adopted a method of sewage treatment which promises success - viz., the precipitation of the sewage by chemicals in tanks, and the intermittent filtration of the effluent, on ground under-drained and prepared for the purpose.”

The canal company agreed to supply water to operate a small water wheel for mixing the chemicals necessary for “the precipitation of the sewage”, for which they charged the Local Board £5 p.a. subject to their use of the canal water being restriction to 50,000 gallons a day.  However, with regard to sanitary matters elsewhere in the town, the same report goes on to say that . . . .

“. . . . it would be an anomaly that the main street of the town should remain the worst sewered, and it is to be hoped that the
[Tring Local] Board will relay the sewer along the High Street as well as complete the general sewering of the town.  There are special difficulties in sewering the main street, owing to it being so narrow, and to there being no other approach to the West-End except through the town, but they are not of such a nature as to be insurmountable.  Thirty-one houses have been cleansed and disinfected.”

Tring and Urban Sanitary Authority Report for 1885.

Another three years were to elapse before there is any mention of the sewage farm being in operation (and a further decade before anything was done about re-sewering the High Street).  But as the following newspaper report refers to various crops under fertilisation, the sewage farm appears to have been in operation for some time before a “party of gentlemen” from the town paid it a visit:

“The party on arriving at the Farm was met by Mr. Mead, who explained the operation of the disposal of the Tring sewage which is being carried out there.  The sewage flows by gravitation from the town, and is delivered to the Farm at the highest possible point.  The area of land under irrigation is twenty acres, and the crops growing on the land are oats, Italian rye grass, wheat, mangels, and cabbages, and preparations are being made for the cultivation of other crops.

The party walked all round the Farm, and finished up inspecting the point at which the effluent water runs away into the canal.  This small stream is perfectly bright and clear, and absolutely free from smell and taste, and in every way proves how thoroughly the land is doing the work of purifying the sewage.  The party, as a result of their visit, were unanimously of the opinion that the whole operation is carried out in a thoroughly business-like manner, and that the freedom from nuisance was evident.”

Bucks Herald, 12th May 1885.

For many years Ralph Seymour (in later life the Reverend Ralph Seymour) worked at the Tring Flour Mill, eventually becoming its Manager.  In his (unpublished) autobiography, he also refers to the fertility of the ground irrigated by the sewage farm:

Percy [Mead] was tenant of some ground below the mill, owned by the local council, as part of the sewage works, where an open irrigation system was employed.  From time to time sewerage liquor was directed over the ground in rotation.  Consequently Percy was always able to grow exceptionally large mangel wurzels there, and each October he would invariably search for two of the largest specimens and place them, one on either side of the door to the mill office, much to the governor’s chagrin.

The Local Board had entered into a ten-year contract with Thomas Mead for receiving the sewage on his land.  When that agreement had run its course it was renewed for a further ten years, Mead taking the sewage and treating it and the Council paying him £125 a year so long as ‘surface water’ (not a part of the sewage treatment) was excluded successfully from what he received; but if the drainage system failed to keep out surface water, the payment was to increase to £150.  Under the old contract some twenty acres of land were under irrigation, but following its renewal Mead added a further ten acres.




Night soil collectors

Two other aspects of public health addressed by the Public Health Act (1875) appear in press reports of Local Board meetings.  They were the removal of “night soil” and “scavenging.

At the meeting held in June 1879, it was resolved “That the Board take immediate steps to purchase a night-soil cart.”  Fortunately, the term “night-soil” (a.k.a. “slops”) is one that we are unfamiliar with today, but our Victorian forbears knew it well.  It is a euphemism for the human excrement collected nightly by a contractor from buckets and privies, which for convenient access were usually placed in an outhouse.

In an age before water closets became standard fittings, many households particularly those of the poor ― relied on more basic means of disposing of human excrement.  At the lower end of the scale was the bucket, while the better off used “earth closets Dr. Saunders, the town’s former Medical Officer of Health, left a description of those used in Tring (APPENDIX II). The contents of buckets and earth closets had to be disposed of, hence the use of a ‘night-soil cart’ to carry away this particular spoil.  The operators of the service generally sold the product of their endeavours to farmers to be spread on the land as fertiliser.  Earth closets remained in use in parts of old Tring until the 1950s.


A purpose-built night soil van.

The term ‘scavenging’ refers to street cleaning, a requirement that appears in the Public Health Act (1875), clause 42 of which required local authorities “to provide for cleansing of streets and removal of refuse.”  At a ratepayers’ meeting to discuss the proposed sewage scheme for the town held in November 1875, a motion was put to the meeting, and carried unanimously, “That it is desirable that a thorough system of scavenging should be adopted by the Local Board”, which implies that either nothing of the sort was in place or what there was, was not “thorough.“  Nothing then appears in the press until the Local Board meeting held on the 12th June 1880, when:

“Mr. Baines [the Town Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances] was instructed to make enquiries as to the terms upon which the scavenging of the streets would be undertaking, and to report to the next meeting of the Board.”

The tender of 4 shillings a day submitted by coal merchant and removals contractor John Gower was accepted, “one horse and one man” being provided for the work; in 1888 the rate was increased to 5 shillings a day.  This contract continued until at least 1895, but the extent of the scavenging and the location of the rubbish dump at this time are not mentioned.  The Towns rubbish was later dumped into the abandoned section of the Wendover Arm canal at Little Tring.



In March 1895 the Thames Conservancy wrote to Tring Council [17] alleging that the town’s sewage was again running into the canal and polluting the Thames and its tributaries, and they gave notice under the Rivers Pollution Act to abate the nuisance.  This alarmed the Council, for they were aware of the cause of the problem and that remedial action would involve considerable investment in a modified drainage scheme for the town.

The existing brick-built sewer through the High Street had been constructed by the Local Board during the 1860s.  Since then they had sewered various streets in the town, but the problem they had not solved completely was how to manage storm water.  In stormy weather the greatly increased volume of surface water passing down the main sewer caused an overflow of sewage into the Silk Mill brook, which fed the canal.  The polluted water then found its way across the canals overflow weirs into the streams that feed the Thames.  Previous attempts to separate the sewage from storm water had failed.

Faced with the possibility of further legal action, the Council engaged Professor W. H. Corfield, [23] a drainage expert, to report on the problem.  In September 1895 the Council’s civil engineer, Gordon Thomas, guided by Corfield’s conclusions, presented the Council with a preliminary report.  This was fully discussed and many suggestions were made.  Two months later Thomas presented a detailed report together with estimates and drawings, and after further discussion the Council adopted his scheme.  In essence, this involved building a weir (or dam) across an existing culvert near to the Silk Mill designed to separate the storm water from the sewage.  The storm water would then pass out through the existing relief culvert into the Feeder and into into the Wendover Arm, while the sewage would continue down the main Brook Street sewer to the sewage farm at Gamnel. [APPENDIX III.]

A combined storm drain and sewer.  The weir (or dam) helps separate raw sewage from storm water, allowing only the storm water to enter the watercourse.  However, there still remains a risk of heavy storms polluting the watercourse.

Having devised what they considered to be a workable scheme, the Council then applied to the Government Board for a loan to finance its construction.  In September 1896, an inquiry chaired by the Government Board’s Inspector, Col. J. T. Marsh, R.E., was held at the Council office to look into their loan application.  The outcome was that the Government Board rejected the scheme on two grounds:

(i) they required the brick culvert from the junction at New Mill to be replaced by an iron pipe to convey sewage only, and

(ii) they would only sanction a loan in circumstances where the Council retained the sewer outfall in their own hands and treated the effluent themselves ― at that time the town’s sewage was being  ‘farmed’ by Thomas Mead on his land.

The last requirement would have involved the Council taking a thirty-year lease ― i.e. for a period sufficient to cover repayment of the Government loan ― on the land occupied by the existing sewage farm.  However, Lord Rothschild came to the town’s assistance by offering the Council a 999-year lease, at a nominal rent, on a alternative site.  This site ― located below the Wendover Arm and on the opposite side of Tringford Road to the sewage treatment plant that exists today ― was to become Tring’s second sewage farm.


Orange: Trings the original sewage farm.  Green: the later sewage works. Blue: the Wendover Arm. Yellow: Tringford Road. Red: Heygates Flour Mill.
On the map above (1952), todays sewage treatment plant occupies the land between the Sewage Farm and the Sewage Works.

The new site was to employ an ‘Ives tank‘, a patent device in which sewage was chemically treated to provide both deodorisation and precipitation before being deposited on the land, about six acres of which was to used for this purpose.  The work of attending to the tank was to be carried out by one of the Council’s road men, and the operating cost for chemicals and labour was estimated to be considerably less than the scheme then operating.

Local Government Board was again approached for a  £5,000 loan to cover the cost of re-sewering a greater part of the town and construction of the new sewage disposal plant.  After much to-ing and fro-ing between the Council and the Government Board’s Chief Engineer, the details of the scheme were agreed and construction commenced:

“THE SEWAGE SCHEME - After months of waiting, after protracted discussion, Government enquiries, and in spite of much criticism and some opposition, the sewage scheme decided upon after due deliberation by the Urban District Council, and sanctioned by the Local Government Board, is in a fair way to become an accomplished fact. The contractors, Messrs. Siddons and Freeman, of Oundle, have started the construction of the new sewer, and the first length at Gamnel, starting near Mr. Mead’s mill,
[now Heygates Flour Mill] is making satisfactory progress under the direction of Mr. G. Thomas, the engineer, and the personal supervision of Mr. Bentley Asquith, the clerk of the works.”

Bucks Herald, 13th August 1898.


“RESIDENT ENGINEERS REPORT - Mr. Bentley Asquith reported that the whole of the main sewer was complete, with the exception of Frogmore-street, and a short length carrying to the outfall.  It was hoped to finish before Christmas. The Clerk said Mr. Asquith had been putting a lot of extra time (about sixty hours, exclusive of Sunday work), drawing up regulations and plans for the connection of the house drains with the main sewer, and in other ways. He suggested that the Council give him one week’s additional salary (£3:3) as some remuneration for his extra work.”

 Bucks Herald, 10th December 1898.

Mr. Bentley Asquith, the resident engineer, received the three guinea gratuity referred to, while Gordon Thomas (the civil engineer) confidently predicted that the system would prove itself even more satisfactory in years to come, than at the present time.  But his optimism was to be short lived.  At a Council meeting held in March 1899, a letter from Thomas Mead [24] was read, asking the Council to:

‘. . . . kindly abate the abominable stink, as I fear instead of wanting one infectious hospital we shall require two.  The wind changed this morning to west, hence the bad smells.  I did not ask anyone, but I was told by several of the employees that horses refused the water in the canal.’

Bucks Herald, 11th March 1899.

Mead was not alone in complaining of the nuisance.  In the town, a Mr. Dowson complained that there was a terribly bad smell, so bad that customers would not stay in his shop; another complaint was of a sewage tailback flooding premises in Frogmore Street; a Mr. Pratt complained that his yard and kitchen were flooded during a recent storm, an incident that had never occurred before; and Messrs. Brown and Foulkes complained of the smell arising from the manholes near their laundry.  To add to local complaints the Thames Conservancy again entered the fray with a letter stating that their analysis of the outflow of the sewage plant was “a bad one”, suggesting a high level of pollution remained after processing, while the County Analyst reported that a sample of the outflow from the Ives precipitation tank was also unsatisfactory.

All-in-all, there was a mounting body of evidence that the new system was not working as expected.  At the Council meeting held on 5th September 1899, letters were read:

“. . . . complaining of the ‘awful stink,’ and asking the Council to stop it; from Mr. W. N. Mead, saying ‘the stink from the overflow near my cottage [at Gamnel] is almost unbearable; shall have to come onto you for damages;’ from Mr. T. Mead, Sept. 4, ‘When is this abominable nuisance to be abated? it goes from bad to worse.’ ― a letter was read from Mr. Pettit, solicitor, Leighton Buzzard, stating that he had received instructions from Mr. Mead to at once take proceedings to compel the Council to abate the nuisance. ― Mr. Percy Mead said that, instead of improving, the smell got worse . . . .”

Bucks Herald, 16th September 1899.

Following the acknowledgement that the ‘Ives tank’ was not performing, later reports of Council meetings suggest that Gordon Thomas, their civil engineer (who recommended the system), had fallen out of favour.  In September 1899, the Council consulted J. E. Willcox [25] on the adoption of an alternative scheme for processing sewage at their new plant and Willcox soon replaced Thomas as civil engineer to the Council.

The scheme proposed by Wilcox was not designed to supersede any part of what existed, but to supplement it.  Willcox estimated that, taking the worst case scenario of twelve hours of continuous rain, the scheme that he proposed would treat 30,000 gallons in ‘bacteria beds’, 40,000 gallons stored in a sceptic tank and 120,000 gallons spread over the land.  His proposed modification involved converting the defective Ives tank into a sceptic tank (see below) that would be covered over to combat offensive smells.


Septic tank. Wastewater enters the first chamber of the tank, allowing solids to settle and scum to float.  The settled solids are anaerobically digested, reducing their volume. The liquid component flows through the dividing wall into the second chamber, where further settlement takes place.  The excess liquid, now in a relatively clear condition, then drains from the outlet, which, in the Willcox plan, was to be bacterial filter beds.



Section (above) and plan (below) of the sewage disposal system designed by Tring architect William Huckvale for the towns isolation hospital.  It makes use of a single chamber septic tank that discharges into two bacterial beds in tandem using coke breeze’ for filtering.  The output is collected in the effluent tank on the right, which is periodically pumped out as field irrigation.  The system remained in operation for many years.

The partially cleaned outlet from the sceptic tank was to be channelled into ‘bacteria beds’.  These are beds of crushed rock or other coarse material, such as coke or clinkers, upon which the effluent from the septic tank was to be distributed and left to percolate freely.  During percolation the sewage effluent was exposed to air and to the action of micro-organisms, hence use of the term ‘bacteria’.  Six beds were to be laid down.  Following this stage of filtration the effluent was considered to be sufficiently pure to be used for land irrigation which itself provides further filtration without the risk of sewage pollution.  The ground at the plant was to be under-drained [20] to prevent it becoming waterlogged.

Wilcox considered his scheme sufficient to deal with the dry weather flow and a certain part of the storm water, but a storm waste tank was to be provided to receive the first flush from the sewers in wet weather.

The offensive smell complained of arose in a great measure from an accumulation of sludge which, it was hoped, would be done away with by converting the defective Ives precipitation tank into the septic tank referred to.  And so commenced another round of discussions with the Local Government Board for a loan to fund construction and, as one commentator described it, further interminable delay.


In some ways the scheme proposed by Willcox had features of a modern sewage plant, but some Council members considered the employment of bacteria beds both an expensive option and one of uncertain outcome.  They remained much in favour of sewage farming on the old style, which they considered to be natural, and from what they saw of the proposed site for the new plant it was just the place for sewage farming.   Here, Mr J. G. Williams the wealthy owner of Pendley Manor ― offered the Council a further sixty acres of land at a nominal rent (to add to the 14 acres of land that Lord Rothschild had already made available) for a new sewage farm.  In March 1903, a contract was signed with Messrs. Siddons and Freeman to undertake construction, and work commenced.

“The town is sewered, and the sewers in the lower part of the town have been re-laid, and the storm water partly diverted from them.  The authority are about to re-lay the sewers in the upper part of the town, which leak badly, and also take storm water: this will render it possible to divert the whole of the storm water from the sewer, and render the treatment at the outfall [the sewage farm] less troublesome.  Various improvements have been carried out at the outfall tending to the production of better effluent.”

Bucks Herald, 16th September 1905.




In 1928 the Health of the town was again to the fore.  The Surveyor reported over 70 cases of overcrowding and, to the Ministry of Health, that 34 houses were unfit, some of which had been condemned in 1914 (one or two remain today).  Many children from these homes, who attended the Council School, were suffering from Tuberculosis and Ricketts.  He reported that the tenants of these houses could not afford more that 3/- to 5/- a week rent inclusive.  The Council, who were refused Ministry help, could not rehouse these people and a voluntary scheme was set up at New Road, the houses being built by a public appeal headed by Chairman John Bly.  One man without a home found to be living on his council allotment was ejected as a trespasser.  With all his extra Health work the Surveyor asked to have a typewriter . . . . this was firmly refused.

From a memoir (c.1973) by the late Bob Grace, formerly a Tring Urban District Councillor



Seepage of contaminated surface water into an unsteined well.

WATER SUPPLY —The mains of the Chiltern Hills Water Company supply the town, and most of the houses obtain their water from that source; but there are many wells still in use.  Analyses are made from time to time, and the water company’s water is laid on where pollution can be shown. Owners of property should remember that in towns, wells, unless steined in cement, so that surface water is prevented from entering, are constantly liable to pollution, and that no chemical analysis can always prove that a water is absolutely safe.  If the surroundings of a well are such there is at reasonable risk of pollution, where a water main is at hand the public supply should be preferred.

I have called attention to this matter for several years, and had a little more notice been taken of it the serious epidemic of typhoid fever which has recently overtaken us, and of which I shall speak later on, might have been averted.

Dr. William Gruggen, Medical Officer of Health - from the annual report on Tring, 1899.

Although Tring was first connected to a mains water supply in 1870, many people continued to draw their water from wells.  There were several reasons for this.  First, the town’s supplier, the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company, was reluctant to absorb the cost of running their water mains into areas of the town where people were unlikely to take the supply.  For instance when, in 1888, the company laid a water main in Frogmore Street, only one household connected to the supply; twelve years later there were only three.   The problem was the cost to tenants (or landlords) of having the supply brought onto their property, which they were reluctant to pay, added to which was the cost to the water consumed ― water drawn from a well cost nothing.

By the later decades of the 19th century it was known that those who used water drawn from wells faced a greater risk of contracting water-born disease ― such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery a risk that increased when the well was not lined (‘steined’) with cement or brickwork to prevent contaminated ground water seeping in.  Despite this, wells remained in use in the town for many years.  Samples of well water were taken periodically by the Council Surveyor and sent for analysis; while this gave some assurance that the well was free from contamination, it gave no guarantee.  Where a well was shown to be contaminated the Council ordered it to be sealed.

Prior to 1899 there were isolated cases of typhoid in the town, but in September of that year there occurred a serious outbreak:

“TYPHOID OUTBREAK. - Tring has been visited by one of the most serious epidemics of recent years. On Tuesday evening no less than thirty-two cases were reported, all in the densely-populated neighbourhood of Akeman-street. The cause of the outbreak is still uncertain, though the water supply of the infected area naturally came under suspicion, and the residents were advised not to use their wells . . . . Dr. Gruggen, [Medical Officer of Health] on learning of the outbreak . . . . in company with the Sanitary Inspector, made a thorough examination of the sanitary arrangements of the district. He condemned the water from several wells.”

Bucks Herald, 9th September 1899.

Through the Medical Officer of Health, the Council took immediate action on the condemned wells:

“Dr. Gruggen presented his report upon ten samples of water which had been sent to him for analysis, seven of which were condemned as unfit for drinking purposes, and three were very suspicious. The Hon. W. Rothschild proposed, Councillor Carr seconded, and it was carried unanimously ‘That the Clerk be instructed to request the owners of all wells in which the water was condemned to permanently close and fill them up to the satisfaction of the Medical Officer of Health; the Inspector of Nuisances to provide a proper water supply, and in case of refusal to take proceedings before the magistrates.’ The Medical Officer was asked to report upon the sanitary conditions of Albion-place, Surrey-place, and Harrow-yard. The Surveyor was instructed to see that special attention was given to the scavenging of the town during the prevalence of typhoid.”

Bucks Herald, 23rd September 1899.

At an early stage of the epidemic the Aldbury Isolation Hospital [26a and Appendix X.] was filled.  The sick had then to be cared for at home by nurses from the Tring Nursing Home who were assisted by the nurse employed on the Rothschild estate.  The Nursing Home Committee did not have sufficient funds to meet the high demand, nevertheless they employed extra nurses to the extent that no patient suffered from want of nursing care.  The additional costs were met by voluntary contributions from townsfolk (including £160 from Lady Rothschild), from the Council and from the Berkhamstead Board of Guardians.

The outbreak resulted in 105 people contracting typhoid, mainly from the Akeman Street area of the town and the courts leading from it.  By the beginning of 1900 the outbreak had been brought under control, by which time nine of its victims had died.  In the pre-antibiotic era, the fatality rate from typhoid was 10–20%; today, with prompt treatment, it is less than 1%.

Following the outbreak, the Medical Officers of Health provided a detailed report on its causes.  This makes interesting reading, both with regard to the typhoid outbreak and to the living conditions that then existed in the Akeman Street area of the town.  The Bucks Herald’s summary of this report is reproduced at APPENDIX IV., while APPENDIX V., written by a local resident, attributes the possible cause of the outbreak to a human ‘typhoid carrier’.
There are parallels between the Tring typhoid outbreak of 1899 and the more serious outbreak that occurred in Chesham (The Chesham Plague) in 1871, during which 24 people died including some of those tending and ministering to the sick (a doctor, two nurses and the Vicar).  See Appendix VIII and Appendix IX.


Although the 1899 typhoid outbreak probably hastened the construction of Tring’s Isolation Hospital, its need was already under debate when the outbreak occurred.  Until then, infectious disease patients from Tring were cared for at Aldbury.

The Aldbury Infectious Diseases Hospital was opened in December 1879.  Built by the Berkhamsted Sanitary Authority on an isolated site in New Ground Road, the hospital was intended for patients living within the area administered by the Berkhamsted Poor Law Union, which included Tring. [26b]  The hospital was managed by the Sanitary Authority until 1898, when the Aldbury Hospital Joint Committee ― made up from members of the Berkhamsted and Tring councils
took over.  However, Tring’s town councillors soon became concerned that the amount they were being asked to contribute towards the hospital’s running costs was more than it would cost to build and operate their own facility.  The crunch finally came three years later:

“THE COUNCIL AND THE ALDBURY HOSPITAL. Replying to the Chairman, the Clerk said the Council were at present under a temporary agreement with the joint hospital terminable by a month’s notice at any time.  An account had just been received for £50: 7s: 4d for the quarter ending September.  The agreement was that the Council should pay £1 a week whether there were Tring patients in the hospital or not; 10 shillings a week each patient, and a proportion of nursing expenses when additional nurses were engaged.  As no additional nurses had been engaged he was at a loss to understand how the amount was made up. Councillor Rothschild proposed, and Councillor Elliman seconded, ‘That the recommendation of the Hospital Committee as to terminating the agreement with Aldbury Hospital be adopted, and that the Clerk be empowered to give the necessary notice when the new hospital is ready for occupation.’”

Bucks Herald, 11th November 1901.

And so Tring withdrew from the Aldbury Hospital Joint Committee.

In the meantime the first move towards building Tring’s own isolation hospital was made at a Council meeting held in December 1898.  An estimate of construction costs had been made, which, including an administrative block, amounted to £200 per bed, with six beds being thought sufficient to meet the town’s needs.  Lord Rothschild offered to donate the land on which to build the hospital, a 2½ acre site on Little Tring Road being selected for the purpose.

At a Council meeting held in June 1900, a motion was carried “That the Clerk apply to the Local Government Board for permission to borrow £2,500,” this being the estimated building cost following “alterations to the plans.”  A delay of several months then followed.  In November 1900, the Public Works Loan Board consented to advance the Council £3,000 for building costs at 3½%, repayable over thirty years in half-yearly instalments (presumably the £500 increase in the estimate was accounted for by further “alterations to the plans”).  Local architect William Huckvale was engaged to “get out the quantities, etc., with a view to advertising for tenders.”


“MEDICAL OFFICERS REPORT. The Medical Officer reported during May there were four fresh cases of scarlet fever in one family, and four membraneous croup, two of the latter being fatal.  One case of scarlet fever was removed to the [Aldbury] infectious hospital.  He urged the necessity of providing a proper isolation hospital.”

Bucks Herald, 8th June 1901.

In addition to donating land on which to build the hospital, the Rothschild family were to contribute handsomely to the project in other ways.  Emma Lady Rothschild contributed £300 towards building costs and also offered to furnish the building throughout when complete.  However, the cost of acquiring an ambulance had been overlooked, and so the begging bowel was again placed at the Rothschild’s door:

“THE HOSPITAL. The Chairman said when Lady Rothschild undertook to furnish the new isolation hospital one thing was overlooked.  No provision was made for an ambulance a very necessary thing.  He had ascertained that this would cost about £120.  He had seen her ladyship on the matter, and she had expressed her willingness to provide the ambulance at the same time she was purchasing the other furniture . . . . the Chairman said he did not know what the furnishing of the hospital and the ambulance would cost, but it would come to several hundred pounds. The Clerk said the hospital was practically finished, and the hospital committee suggested that they should advertise for a man and a wife as caretaker and nurse at a salary of 30 shillings per week, with house, light and firing. The suggestion of the hospital committee was discussed, and ultimately adopted.”

Bucks Herald, 8th November 1901.

When it came to laying out the hospital grounds, the cost of which was estimated at £100, Lord Rothschild again put up the cash.

On the 19th December 1901, the Tring Isolation Hospital was opened by his Lordship:

“The building, which is designed by Mr. William Huckvale, has no pretensions to architectural style, but is admirably adapted to the purpose for which it is intended, and has a simple, homely, appearance.  On entering the grounds, immediately in front is the administrative block, containing rooms for the caretaker and nurses when not on duty.  Behind are two isolation blocks, each having to wards, and each ward containing two beds, with a nurses duty room between each block.  At the rear of these buildings are disinfecting rooms, laundry, ambulance shed, mortuary, &c., and on the north side of the administration block is a small building called the discharge block, in which patients are thoroughly disinfected before leaving the premises, one of Thresh’s steam disinfectants being used.  The sewage is treated on the bacteria system, with filter beds, and the effluent pumped up onto a piece of land prepared to be finally treated with irrigation.

The contractors were Messrs. E. Smith & Son, of Tring, who have carried out their work in a most satisfactory manner.  The hot water and smith’s work was executed by Messrs. W. J. and H. Dawe, and the plumber’s work by Messrs. Hedges and Son.”

Bucks Herald, 28th December 1901.


William Huckvales design for one of the two ward blocks at Tring Isolation Hospital.

Following the hospital’s opening, an administrative problem soon emerged when visitors, who had been accustomed to see their children and friends at Aldbury, were refused admittance on the grounds that this was an ‘isolation’ hospital.  After much debate on the subject the management committee decided that only parents visiting children who were “seriously ill” should be admitted.

Following Tring’s withdrawal from the Aldbury Hospital joint agreement, terms were eventually agreed between the management committees to the effect that providing there was accommodation scarlet fever and diphtheria patients would be dealt with at Tring, and small-pox patients would be treated at Aldbury.

n her article on the Aldbury Isolation Hospital, local historian Jean Davis reproduced some statistics from that hospital’s Admission Book for the period 1899 to 1942, which taking into account the split between Aldbury and Tring in case sharing by disease, referred to above gives some indication of the incidence of serious infectious disease in that period:


“. . . . diphtheria, 417 cases with 24 deaths; typhoid, 46 cases with 6 deaths; scarlet fever, 1,575 cases with 6 deaths; meningitis, 3 cases with 1 death; and smallpox, 1 case. Other admissions were for erysipelas, 4 cases with 1 death; measles, 13 cases; paratyphoid, 4 cases; gastritis, 2 cases; chicken pox, 1 case; mumps, 1 case; and whooping cough 1 case.”

The Fever Hospital, Aldbury: from Hertfordshire Past, No. 36, by Jean Davis.

Miss Davis goes to say that:

“The average stay in the hospital in the last few years before the hospital closed in 1948 was about 40 days, and those still alive who stayed there (some more than once) describe their families coming and peering through the iron gates, waving and calling as they were not allowed to come nearer . . . . Further examination of the Admissions Book highlights the areas where disease was prevalent, such as the ‘yards’ and the cluster of farm cottages.  Where such large families were crowded into too few rooms, germs were hard to escape and the progress of an epidemic of, say scarlet fever, could be traced as, one by one, the children who comprised a very high proportion of the hospital inmates were attacked.”

The Fever Hospital, Aldbury: from Hertfordshire Past, No. 36, by Jean Davis.

And so, in an age before effective vaccination programmes and antibiotics between them more or less eradicated serious infectious disease in the land, Tring provided a systematic means for treating infectious disease victims with the standard of medical care then available, while reducing the risk of it spreading within the community.

“The Matron reported that since the last meeting two cases of typhoid had been admitted to the hospital from Frogmore-street, and one case of diphtheria from Potten End.  There had been one death from typhoid.”

Bucks Herald, 10th June 1905.

During the Great War, additional temporary accommodation was erected on the site to house infectious disease patients from the military camp at Halton, buildings that were later removed.  An entry in the minute book for 15th July 1920 states that the hospital then had 16 beds (an entry in Kelly
s Trade Directory for 1937 states 20 beds), which was more than was required.  To make better use of the space and reduce operating costs, the management committee reached an arrangement with the Aylesbury Rural District Council to accommodated infectious disease patients from their area.

The hospital was connected to mains electricity in 1929, the supply having reached Tring three years earlier.

In addition to a small compliment of support staff, the hospital was run by a matron with one or two nurses in support.  A theme that runs through the minute book from the hospital
s earliest days is that of staff turnover ― its nursing staff  rarely stayed long.  The records give no indication of the reason for this, but working in an isolated location with little contact with the outside world must have proved tedious and uninspiring, with the added risk of contracting potentially serious illness from the patients.

The penultimate entry in the minute book is dated 16th March 1938, and deals with the appointment of yet another matron.  There is one further entry dated 14th July 1947, in which the management committee discuss making an agreement with the Aldbury hospital to take all future infectious disease patients from Tring.  There is nothing to indicate why management committee meetings ― if there were any ― went unrecorded between 1938 and 1947, although from what press reports exist it appears that i
n its later years the hospital was little used and sometimes had no patients.

In 1948 the National Health Service was established; both the Tring and Aldbury isolation hospitals were declared and closed.  The former hospital buildings at Tring were later converted into attractive residential premises in tastefully landscaped grounds.  A resident of the one of the houses, The Rustlings, recalled that:

. . . . local people I have spoken to still speak with affection about the stories they heard about the hospital where relatives had been sent when they had childish diseases, although one did tell me how scared the children were of the large black horse-drawn ambulance whose metal wheels echoed along the quiet lanes.




The older term ‘graveyard’ is often used interchangeably with ‘cemetery’, but it refers primarily to a burial ground within a churchyard.

HORRIBLE CONDITION OF A GRAVEYARD . . . . The medical officer further urged the necessity of taking measures for securing the closing of the Baptist Chapel graveyard at Ivinghoe, which was so crowded that burial coffins had been cut and bodies mutilated in making new graves, besides which this condition of things must have a deleterious effect upon the water supply. ― Mr. G. Batchelor asking for confirmation of the Medical Officers statement as to the condition of the graveyard, Mr. T. Brown (sanitary inspector) said he could give it, and had been told by a resident at Ivinhoe that in digging graves the heads and feet of corpses had been cut off.  The Board directed that . . . . the condition of the graveyard be immediately reported to the Home Office, with a view to an order for closing.

Northampton Mercury, 27th August 1887.

By the beginning of the 19th century, church graveyards were rapidly becoming overcrowded, while the decaying matter from infected corpses infiltrated the water supply causing epidemics.  The issue became particularly acute after the cholera epidemic of 1831, which killed 52,000 people in Britain alone and placed unprecedented pressure on the country’s burial capacity.  Thus, burial of the dead in graveyards began to be discontinued in favour of completely new places of burial ― cemeteries established away from heavily populated areas and the water supply.

Legislation was enacted in 1879 to permit local authorities to lay out new cemeteries directly and outside the regulations imposed by the earlier Burial Acts. [27]  Furthermore, a cemetery established under the 1879 Act could remain wholly unconsecrated, although public cemeteries often contain both consecrated and unconsecrated sections, with areas given over to the burial of members of other religions.

At Tring, the original graveyard had been extended in 1853 to the north of the parish church (the area bordering on Frogmore Street car park), but by the 1880s the extension [28] was filling up.  The Vestry [29] applied to Lord Rothschild for permission to extend further north onto his land, then forming part of the Vicar’s garden.  Although reluctant, his Lordship gave his consent, only for the church authorities to discover that the site was unsuitable for burials due to the high water table.  The Vestry was thus left with the need to buy land for a new cemetery [30] and to that end they asked the local Sanitary Authority to take whatever steps were necessary for its construction under the Public Health (Interments) Act, 1879:


“A letter was read from the Vestry Clerk at Tring forwarding a copy of the following resolution of the Vestry: That this meeting, agreeing upon the need of a burial ground being provided for the parish, hereby requests the Local Sanitary Authorities to take steps needed to provide the same under the Public Health (Interments) Act, 1879, and not under the Burials Acts.’ The Clerk added that the Statute referred to was one enabling the Authority under the Public Health Act, 1875, and extended by the 10th and 11th Vic., cap. 6, to the provisions of cemeteries and the acquisition of the site and the construction and maintenance of a public cemetery. It was resolved that the Clerk submit the resolution to the Local Government Board in order than an enquiry may be made under their direction.”

Berkhamstead Board of Guardians meeting, Bucks Herald, 28th June 1890.


[Tring] Local Board. The Clerk read letters received from the Local Government Board in reference to the Cemetery question.  One was from the Clerk to the Berkhamstead Rural Sanitary Authority to the Local Government Board, and the other the Board’s reply to its inquiries, and asking for a copy of the resolution of the Tring Local Board, and plans and particulars if it was intended to apply for a loan to carry out the work. The Clerk was directed to acknowledge the receipt of the letter, and state that the Board was much surprised at the statement that the burial ground or cemetery was to be in the hamlet of Wilstone, which was altogether unsuited for the purpose, [due to the high water table] and, so far as the Board was concerned, had never been contemplated.”

Bucks Herald, 16th August 1890.

As seems to have been customary on such occasions, Lord Rothschild was approached by the Local Board to ask what his terms would be for the sale of  a plot of land for a burial ground, although it is likely that the Council hoped their inquiry would result in the usual benevolent gesture they received in response:

“Estate Office, Tring, Dec. 29, 1890.

DEAR SIR, ― In reply to your letter of the 12th inst., applying to Lord Rothschild to sell three and a half acres of land on the Aylesbury-road for the purpose of a cemetery, I am directed by his lordship to say that, seeing the necessity for a proper cemetery being provided for the district, he is prepared to give the land referred to in your letter, provided that liberal terms are made by the Board with his lordship’s tenant, Mr. Amsden.

                                         I beg to remain, yours faithfully,

A. W. Vaisey, Esq.                                                     Richardson Carr.”

Bucks Herald, 3rd January 1891.

The town’s other large landowner, Mr. J. G. Williams of Pendley Manor, was also asked to sell land and he offered the Local Board a further six acres at £150 an acre, this being £50 an acre below its market value.

The Local Board accepted Lord Rothschild’s offer with “their hearty thanks for his generosity” while they also accepted Mr. Williams’ offer subject to the Government Board approving their application to borrow £3,000 to fund construction of the cemetery chapel, the keeper’s lodge and the boundary walls, all to plans drawn up by local architect William Huckvale.  The Government Board held the usual inquiry before the loan was approved, although for some unexplained reason the cash was advanced by the Prudential Assurance Company.


The chapel, Tring Cemetery, by Tring architect William Huckvale.

The Local Board received nine tenders for the construction contract, the successful bid going to Messrs. Honour of Tring at a price of £1,961, and the cemetery was duly opened on the 19th April 1894:


The new Cemetery which has been provided for Tring was opened with appropriate ceremonies on Thursday afternoon, April 19th.

The area of the Cemetery, which occupies a fine site on the Aylesbury Road, is between five and six acres; it has been sown with grass and laid out tastefully with trees and shrubs. The number of grave spaces at Present laid out is 2,298, the lower part being bricked off for grazing purposes.  It is surrounded by a brick wall, surmounted by an ornamental fence, which with the entrance gates are of wrought iron.

The chapel, erected in the centre of the ground, is of Gothic design, built of flint and red brick facings and stone tracery windows, and is paved with ornamental bricks. It is 32 feet by 20, and capable of seating around 50 persons.  The lodge, a pleasant-looking structure, is also of Gothic design.

The whole has been planned by Mr. W. Huckvale, Western Road, and Messrs. Honour and Sons, Akeman Street, have carried out the work in a most satisfactory manner, their contract being about £2,000.  The total cost of the Cemetery will probably be £3,000, the leading items of which are as follows:― Purchase of land (Mr. J. G. Williams), £300; compensation to tenants, £50; fence and road, £200; Planting, £250; Walls and gates, £910; Lodge, £350; Chapel, £550; architect, £300. Part of the land acquired belonged to Lord Rothschild, who with his accustomed generosity gave it freely for the purpose of the Cemetery.

The ratepayers having preferred the Public Health Act to a Burial Board, the management of the Cemetery has been entirely in the hands of the Tring Local Board, who are to be complimented upon the satisfactory completion of so large and expensive an undertaking.

The dedication service was conducted by the Rev. S. W. Tidswell, Vicar of Tring. The weather was chilly and uncomfortable, notwithstanding which a large number of ratepayers and others assembled. . . .”

Bucks Herald, 28th April, 1894.


. . . . but Lord Rothschild was not among them.



Wilstone Cemetery lych gate by William Huckvale, 1897.

The village of Wilstone had been without a burial ground due to the high water table making the area unsuitable.  Interments had therefore to be carried out at Tring.  However, following the Local Government Act of 1894 and the formation of rural and parish councils, great strides were made in improving conditions in the country districts.  The provision of allotments, road repairs, sanitation, and the provision of a burial ground were on the agenda for Wilstone.

An acre of land was selected for a burial ground on Wilstone Hill, and tests established it would make a suitable site. Unsurprisingly, Lord Rothschild, owner of the land, donated it for the intended purpose. William Huckvale, the Rural District Council's Surveyor, was instructed to prepare a plan and estimate, to include a tool house and a lych gate (the frame of which was to be of oak and the roof of red tiles).

Work was completed in August 1898 and the Bishop of St Albans duly visited Wilstone to consecrate the Church of England half of the cemetery.




Information about the Tring Nursing Home is sparse and little can be pieced together from newspaper reports of the period.  Whereas Tring’s isolation hospital provided care for those suffering from serious infectious disease, the nursing home and its district nurse cared for those with health problems that did not pose a risk to the community.

The Tring Nursing Home, known as Nightingale House, was located at the top of Station Road on the site now occupied by the Tring Clinic.  In an age before the state provided health care, the nursing home’s construction and maintenance costs had to be privately funded, much depending on the generosity of Lord Rothschild’s wife, Lady Emma.  Two commemorative plaques in the clinic’s entrance hall provide a clue to the history of the site (although not of the buildings that presently stand on it, which are of comparatively recent construction).  One plaque reads:


On this site from 1886 to 1965 stood the Nursing Home which was established voluntarily to provide accommodation for patients and a district nurse maintained by the Tring Nursing Association.

The skill and kindness of all connected with this Home brought comfort to many a sick bed and those who have filled the office of district nurse are remembered with thankfulness by all.


There is some doubt whether ‘1886’ is in fact the correct opening date.  The earliest reference to the Tring Nursing Home in the press is in 1898, while the Tring local historian Arthur Macdonald Brown, writing in 1940, states that the Home opened in 1900 ― and as Macdonald Brown was Chairman of the Nursing Association, some weight should be attached to his assertion.  Furthermore, the Rothschild Archive holds a deed of gift from Lady Rothschild to the Trustees of the Tring Nursing Home of land for the erection of a home, dated 1891.  So unless there was an earlier nursing home on the site, Nightingale House was probably erected at some date between 1891 and 1897.

The other plaque, presumably taken from the original nursing home building, reads:


In this house let the name of its founder EMMA LOUISA LADY ROTHSCHILD be held in grateful remembrance who by her generosity and sympathy for many years provided relief and care for the sick and suffering among her neighbours in Tring.

There can be no doubt about Emma Rothschild’s benevolence.  There are numerous references to it in the local press, and in his book The Unexpected Story of Nathaniel Rothschild, John Cooper states that:

“Many of the welfare activities on the Tring Park estate were organized by Emma. From Lady Rothschild’s personal accounts, it is apparent that she gave money generously for the supply of winter fuel and clothing, the apprenticeship of young men and women, assisting emigration, compensation for personal injuries of employees and for multifarious medical expenses.  Employees of the Tring Park estate received free medical attendance and nursing, free medicine and also access to a nursing home which Emma opened and equipped.  On payment of a subscription of £1 a year, the residents of Tring could obtain the same benefits.”


The nursing home was managed by the Tring Nursing Association, which until the advent of the National Health Service received its income from subscriptions and donations, Lady Rothschild providing a generous annual contribution.  This from Lady Emma’s obituary:

“The Tring Nursing Home, in the Station Road, was another of her benevolent inspirations. She founded the Home and has ever since been largely responsible for its maintenance.  It is said that she has made provision for that support to continue.  Her interest in it was personal and active to the very last.  A meeting of the committee of the Tring Nursing Association was held at the Mansion only last Friday, and Lady Rothschild attended the meeting and took part in proceedings . . . . The West Herts and the Royal Bucks Hospitals have been deprived of a most generous supporter, and she subscribed most liberally to almost all the Tring Charities.”

Emma Rothschild (Lady Bountiful), Bucks Herald, 11th January 1935.


Tring Nursing Home.  Above, probably an Edwardian view; below, at a much later date.

To illustrate the Tring Nursing Home’s funding, its annual report for 1897 shows that the running costs amounted to £321, against which receipts included subscriptions of £78, a donation from Lady Rothschild of £160, and other donations of £40 (principally from the town’s churches and the Tring Friendly Societies).  Although its expenditure on ‘drugs’ and ‘appliances’ would not seem out of place today, poor relief would: £159 went directly to the sick in meat, beef tea, milk, wine and spirits.

“THE NURSING HOME. − The laudable work which is being done by this institution in providing not only skilled nursing, but also, where necessary, nourishment for the sufferers of the prevailing epidemic, [Ed. - typhoid] is greatly appreciated in the town, and should result in placing the Home on a sound financial basis.  Among other contributions recently received is the sum of £10.15s.5d collected at Akeman-street Chapel on Sunday, Sept. 17.  This is considerably in excess of the usual contribution from this source, being £4 14s more than last year.  Mrs. James Brown, a member of the Committee of the Home, initiated a house-to-house collection towards a fund for providing nourishment for the fever patients, and, assisted by Miss Butcher and one or two other ladies, carried out the idea with most gratifying success.

All classes of the community responded readily to the appeal, and about £44 has been received up to the present time.  The contributors include not only the principal residents, professional and tradespeople, but the poorest people have gladly given their mites; one especially encouraging item, as showing how the institution is appreciated by the working classes − is a sum of £3 11s, subscribed by the employees of one firm in the town.  The children at the National Schools have also, at the suggestion of their teachers, added their pence together, and sent them to Mrs. Brown.  The Friendly Societies of the town are also making a special effort during the present week on behalf of the fund, and on Sunday next will attend a special service at the Parish Church, when a collection will be made for the same object.  We hope that the present interest in this institution will not pass away with the epidemic, having demonstrated its usefulness in such a striking manner.

Bucks Herald, 30th September 1899.

In addition to providing a district nurse, there are odd clues in press reports that the Nursing Home also provided services akin to what today we would call a cottage hospital.  Writing in 1940, local historian Arthur Macdonald Brown states in his book, Some Tring Air, that the nursing home was equipped “with a ward for accidents and operations.”  Newspaper reports add weight to this:

“Mr. Joseph Hannell succumbed on Saturday morning to injuries he received in the accident in Park-road the previous Wednesday evening.  By Dr. Le Quesne’s advice he was removed to the accident ward of the Tring Nursing Home, which, thanks in a great measure to Lady Rothschild’s wise generosity, is held in readiness for the reception of such cases.  Upon examination it was found that Mr. Hannell’s spine was broken, with the result that he was paralysed from the waist downwards.  All that medical science and skilful nursing could accomplish was done to alleviate the unfortunate man’s sufferings, but from the first it was known that it was impossible to avert or even delay his death.  The doctor’s efforts were loyally supplemented by Miss Girardet, the indefatigable district nurse.”

Bucks Herald, 29th September 1900.

But who was the “indefatigable district nurse” referred to?

Fanny Clara Girardet is thought to have been born at Marylebone in 1867.  She took over the role of District Nurse in Tring thirty years later having formerly been a sister at the Westminster Hospital.  Judging from contemporary newspaper reports, she was highly thought of during the years she spent at Tring.  Hers was no doubt an unpleasant task in an age before effective preventive and curative remedies were available and welfare relief for the poor was scant.  She was also at times kept very busy; for instance, in the spring of 1898, there were so many cases of diphtheria at New Mill that the Nursing Committee had to engage another nurse from London to help attend them.  Exclusive of the work of the additional nurse, during 1897 Miss Girardet visited 143 patients making 4,609 calls in all; in the following year she visited 178 patients and made 6,360 calls.  Here she reports on the sanitary conditions in Harrow Yard, a slum area off Akeman Street (Richardson Carr was Chairman of the Tring Nursing Association) . . . .


Nightingale Cottage
July 16th, 1900

Dear Mr. Carr.

I beg to inform you that I have two cases of diarrhoea in Harrow Yard and much to my surprise the well water is being used again.

During the Typhoid Epidemic the well was closed and when the Sanitary Authorities removed the tap the pump was repaired. In the Yard we had 17 cases of Typhoid Fever, 3 of which died, and the last case was not convalescent until February.  I would also remind you that I has a case in September 1898
No. 32 in Register. It is the only infected Yard along Akeman Street that the well has been allowed to be used again, and I quite expect more Typhoid after seeing the filth rush down the Yard as I did last week during a storm, [into] the well at the bottom of the Yard.

At No. 6 Chapel Street there have been 4 bad cases of Diarrhea in succession
adults ― well water used. I dont know if anything can be done but I do not want any mote Typhoid.

I remain
                                   Your faithfully
                                                               F. C. Girardet

Following the typhoid epidemic of 1899, Miss Girardet received an honourable mention in despatches:

“The serious outbreak of typhoid fever which occurred in the latter part of the year 1899, made a call upon the resources and funds of the Nursing Home such as never been made before. There were no funds in hand to meet the special demand, but the Nursing Committee in faith engaged extra nurses, and supplied nourishment to the patients, and had the satisfaction of knowing that none of them suffered more than was necessary from want of proper nursing and support.  The additional nurses did their work thoroughly well, but the committee feel that special praise is due to Nurse Girardet for the way in which she worked herself, and superintended the work of others during the long continuance of the epidemic.  It is what we should have expected of one who so well and diligently performs her ordinary nursing duties in the town.

Bucks Herald, 30th June 1900.

On the outbreak of the Great War, Fanny Girardet offered her services to the Red Cross.  She was called up shortly after and posted to the military hospital on Wandsworth Common.  In 1916, her name appeared in the Birthday Honours List when she was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal, a military decoration awarded in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth for exceptional services in military nursing.  This from the hospital newsletter:

Scene from the Wandsworth Military Hospital

“Miss Girardet has been here as a Staff Nurse since October, 1914.  She is one of the most capable nurses we have, and is generally loved by all of us for her kindness and goodness to those around her.  She was trained at Westminster Hospital and has been District Nursing since.”

Fanny Girardet never returned to Tring.  All that is known about her subsequently is that she died in March 1955, aged 88, at Wood Green, London.

As for Lady Rothschild
s gift to town, in 2017 the site of the Tring Clinic, which in 1965 succeeded Nightingale House, was sold by the National Health Service to a property developer and has since become Nightingale Close . . . .

In 1961 the site of Tring
s Isolation Hospital − another Rothschild gift to the town − was also sold by the National Health Service for redevelopment, despite protest by the Town Council that the land really belonged to Tring.




The preceding sections of this account deal mainly with the community’s reaction to public health problems that had occurred.  Preventive health measures were also introduced in the latter decades of the 19th century that aimed to identify and, so far as possible, remove or reduce risks to health, thereby improving the wellbeing of the community.

Although the cause of cholera was at the time unknown, the epidemics that attacked Britain during the 1830s and 1840s spawned what became a public health service.  Local Boards of Health were formed to place water supply; sewerage; drainage; cleansing; paving, and environmental health regulation under a single local body.  Two important roles that grew out of these changes were those of ‘Medical Officer of Health’ and ‘Inspector of Nuisances’.  Each played an important role in tackling environmental health issues in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Public Health Act, 1872, made a marked advance on previous sanitary legislation by providing for the appointment of one sanitary authority in each part of England and Wales, whether urban or rural, and requiring such authority to elect an MOH.  MOsH had to be legally qualified medical practitioners, but were not usually permitted to practise privately in order to avoid a possible conflict of interests.  Regulations issued by the Local Government Board in 1872 (
APPENDIX VII) defined the duties of the role, among which was a requirement to produce annual reports.  These were to describe the work carried out and provide data on birth and death rates, infant mortality, incidence of infectious and other diseases, and a general statement on the health of the population.

The role of ‘Inspector of Nuisances’ can be traced back to medieval times and to the need to take action against anything that was considered a public nuisance, such as an obstruction of the highway or the making of excessive smoke, noise or smell.  The role assumed new importance in the public health reforms of the 19th century, later being renamed (more appropriately) ‘Sanitary Inspector’.  It was then concerned with identifying and, if appropriate, prosecuting those creating sanitary and health hazards under local by-laws, such as ‘filthy and unwholesome’ living conditions, gutters, drains, privies and cesspools.  Sealing up wells identified as health risks and disinfecting houses where there had been serious infectious disease/contagion were other duties that fell to the Inspector.  All these were matters of environmental health.


The annual Sanitary Reports prepared by the MOH on Tring provide a succinct summary of the activities of both the MOH and the Inspector of Nuisances.  They give a summary of health hazards and what was done to deal with them ― if anything, for such matters as the efficiency of the towns drains and sewers often involved capital projects that lay in the hands of the cash-strapped local authority.  The state of the town’s sewage arrangements ― particularly the lack of proper closet flushing mechanisms (i.e. toilet cisterns) in many homes; inadequate flushing led to a build-up of deposit that blocked the sewers ― seems to have been a constant bone of contention between the MOH and the Council:

The town is sewered, but I must again call the attention of the Authority to the want of proper water supply to the closets for flushing. The Council have decided to undertake certain works in connection with the sewerage system which will be of great benefit to the town.”

Extract from the Sanitary Condition Report for 1895.

“The town is sewered, and the sewers in the lower part of the town have been relaid, and the storm-water partly diverted from them.  The Authority are about to relay the sewers in the upper part of the town, which leak badly, and also take storm-water; this will render it possible to divert the whole of the storm-water from the sewer, and render the treatment at the outfall [i.e. the sewage works] less troublesome.  It will be necessary to compel owners to lay on water to closets, and provide proper flushing arrangements, which will be a vast improvement.”

Extract from the Sanitary Condition Report for 1900.

“Various improvements have been carried out at the outfall [i.e. the sewage works] tending to the production of a better effluent.  There are still too many hand-flushed water closets, but whenever possible owners are compelled to put in flush tanks [i.e. toilet cisterns].”

Extract from the Sanitary Condition Report for 1905.

As Dr. John Snow had shown some years before, much can be learned on the cause and spread of disease from an analysis of the statistics.  Thus, the MOH provided annual statistics for the town on its birth and death rates analysed in various ways.  The following is a summary of the death statistics for the years 1895, 1900 and 1905:



1895 1900 1905
Diphtheria 1 1  
Croup   1  
Typhoid 1   1
Whooping cough 1 1  
Diarrhoea/Dysentery 3 4 2
Enteritis   1 1
Rheumatic Fever 4    
Phthisis (i.e. pulmonary tuberculosis) 4 2 3
Other tubercular diseases   3 1
Bronchitis, Pneumonia and Pleurisy 8 15 11
Other diseases of Respiratory organs   3 2
Heart diseases 6 6 7
Influenza 6 5 1
Injuries/Accidents 1 1  
Diseases of organs of digestion 5    
Diseases of Urinary Organs 4    
Premature birth 13 3 1
Atrophy and Debility 2    
Cancer, malignant disease 4 1 7
Diseases of Nervous System 2    
Tubercle other than Pulmonary 1    
Alcoholism/Cirrhosis of liver   1 1
Venereal disease     1
Other causes 12 17 24


78 65 63

A section of each annual MOH report also summarised the activities of the Inspector of Nuisances in the period.  The following is a summary of the nuisances dealt with in the years 1895, 1900 and 1905:



1895* 1900 1905
Complaints received   6 3
Nuisances detected without complaint   75 33
Nuisances abated   83 36
Notices served   40 25
Drains repaired and sinks cut off 15 6  
Cottages inspected   170 193
Cottages cleansed and whitewashed 17 63  
Cottages repaired   5  
Manure removed 7    
New privies built, old ones repaired, and new pans 19    
Bakehouses inspected   11 9
Bakehouses whitewashed 1    
Animals removed 4    
Overcrowding abated 0    
Cesspools emptied or filled in 2 3  
Privies emptied 4    
Privies and drains connected with sewer 5    
Privies and WCs repaired; WCs supplied with water     10
Earth, pail, or improved privies constructed or existing privies altered     3
Slaughter-houses repaired or inspected 2 8 7
Lodging houses inspected   2 2
Dairies and Milkshops inspected   8 5
Cowsheds inspected   4 9
Workshops inspected   3 38
Wells sunk or improved supplies of water afforded   3  
Samples of water taken for analysis   13 10
Wells closed   7 6
Wells cleansed or repaired     3
Houses disinfected 22 8 6
Houses connected with water mains   33 33
Houses connected with sewers   6 7
Houses placed in habitable repair     5
W.C.s repaired   7  
Rainwater pipes disconnected from drains   2  
Foul ashpits removed and sanitary dustbins provided   13  
Compensation paid for destruction of infected bedding   12s. 20s.
Patients removed to Isolation Hospital 1 2  

* The statistics recorded for 1895 are somewhat different to those of later years.

For many years the role of Inspector of Nuisances in Tring was discharged by William Baines.  Described in his obituary as a man of considerable culture, William Baines came to Tring in about 1860 to take up the post of Master of the National School, a position he held for 10 years.  He next became Surveyor to the Tring Local Board, while his other duties included Inspector of Nuisances, Clerk to the Tring Consolidated Charities, Collector of the Urban District Council rate and Collector of the Queen’s taxes.  ‘In the various public offices which Mr. Baines filled his urbane and kindly manner, and perfect accessibility at all times, won for him general esteem. His assistance was constantly invoked by people struggling with the intricacies of the income tax return, or by needy applicants for the benefits of the Tring charities. Occasionally William Baines’ activities as Inspector of Nuisances found their way into the press:

George Hanwell, of Wilstone, was charged by Mr. Baines of Tring, Inspector of Nuisances for the Berkhamstead Union, with allowing a nuisance at Wilstone. ― Mr. Baines stated that he gave the defendant notice to remove two nuisances which he saw on the premises on the day previous; one was from on overflowed cesspit, the other from a piggery.  Mr. Baines produced the certificate of Mr. Sanders, Medical Officer of the Union, who had visited the place with him on the 19th ult., and considered the nuisance complained of as injurious to health. ― The Bench ordered the nuisance to be removed, and the payment of costs 16s. 6d., and, as long as the nuisance existed, there was a liability of the infliction of a fine of 10 shillings a day.

William Hearne, of Tring, was charged by Mr. Baines, Inspector of Nuisances, with overcrowding his cottage. ― Mr. Baines said there were two rooms in the cottage, containing 1,526 cubic feet, and there were 9 persons living there.  Each person should have 300 cubic feet of air, while the 9 had only 169 feet each. The children ranged from the age of 21. ― Mrs. Hearne said her husband was 71 years of age, and she did not like to turn out her sons, who helped to support him. ― The Chairman said she must get rid of the two eldest, or have a larger house, and the girl, aged 17, had better go out to service, which was the best thing she could do.  Fined 5 shillings, which Mrs Hearne said she could not pay. ― John Taylor, of Tring, who was also represented by his ‘better half,’ was charged with a like offence.  There were 10 in the family, living in a house of the same size, having only two sleeping rooms.  Besides the father and mother, there were children aged 22, 19, 18, 13, 11, 8, 6, and 3 years.  Two of them were said to be about to go out to situations. ― Two were ordered to go elsewhere, or the family to remove to a larger house, and the defendant to pay 10 shillings expenses.

William Parrott, of Wilstone, was charged by Mr. Baines, Inspector of Nuisance for the Berkhamstead Union, with allowing ducks to contaminate water used for domestic purposes, on June 11 ― Mr. Stallon, clerk to the Guardians, said the Rural Sanitary Authority felt bound to prosecute. ― P.C. Rogers proved seeing 12 ducks in the water. ― Mrs. Parrott, who appeared for her husband, loudly protested against the ‘nuisance man,’ and declared that the ducks only got in the water while she was away a few minutes, and left them in charge of a girl. ― She was fined 5 shillings and £1 2s costs, which she paid. ― The Chairman said they were determined to put a stop to the practice.

Although Medical Officer of Health and Inspector of Nuisances are job titles that have disappeared from local government, equivalents continue to operate today under different titles. The role of Medical Officer of Health was abandoned in 1974, but in today’s NHS organisation the Director of Public Health fulfils a similar function. The nearest modern equivalent of the role of Inspector of Nuisances/Sanitary Inspector is the Environmental Health Officer, a title that was adopted by local authorities following the Local Government Act of 1972.





Any case of the potentially deadly diseases of cholera or typhoid occurring in Britain today would likely make headline news, but to our Victorian forebears each was, at times, a fact of life.  Together with dysentery, waterborne diseases such as these were one of the great blights of the age in which the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company was formed.

Judging from contemporary press reports, cholera was the most feared.  During the years 1829 to 1849 a great pandemic spread from India across western Asia to Europe, Britain and the Americas, and eastwards to China and Japan; it was to cause more deaths, more quickly, than any other 19th century epidemic.  Cholera reached Britain in December 1831, appearing first in Sunderland where it was brought ashore by passengers arriving on a ship from the Baltic, and from there it spread across the land.  Other cholera outbreaks followed in 1848-49, [a] 1854 and 1867.

‘Cholera on the Bowsprit,’ shows the disease coming ashore as a Turkish immigrant.

Cholera is caused by micro-organisms (Cholera vibrio), and although it can spread by various means, including contaminated foodstuffs, its spread is most associated with warm, fecal-contaminated water, hence its once prominence in Britain during summer months.

One important cause of the disease was identified through a brilliant piece of medical detective work carried out by Dr. John Snow (1813-58), now considered to be one of the founders of modern epidemiology. [b]  Snow was already sceptical of the dominantly-held belief that diseases such as cholera and bubonic plague were caused by a noxious form of “bad air” (the miasma theory), the germ theory of diseases not having then been established.  By talking to local residents during a cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854, he was able to identify the probable source of the outbreak to be the public water pump on Broadwick Street.  His studies of the pattern of cases in the spread of the disease were sufficient to persuade the local council to disable the well by removing its pump handle, an act that was credited with ending the outbreak.  But more importantly Snow was able to add further evidence to his claim.  He produced a dot map to illustrate the cluster of cholera cases around the infected pump, while his statistical analysis of cases established the connection between the quality of the water source and cholera by showing that the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company’s supply of drinking water from sewage-polluted sections of the Thames led to an increased incidence of cholera.

George Cruickshanks cartoon c.1830 depicting the portion of the River Thames from which the Southwark Water Works drew its supply.

Typhoid was also an accepted fact of life during the 19th century.  Resistance to the theory of polluted water as a source of infection contributed to its steady prevalence during the second half of the century, affecting people of all ranks.  In 1861 Albert, The Prince Consort, died of the disease and ten years later his son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) contracted it while staying at a country house near Scarborough.

In common with cholera, the typhoid germ (Salmonella typhi) enters the body through the mouth, usually in contaminated food and water.  Outbreaks occurred periodically, one being in 1848 when the hot, dry summer was followed by a serious typhoid outbreak; and if that was not enough it was accompanied by cholera.  Drinking water taken from contaminated wells was a common source of typhoid infection, such as that which occurred at Tring in 1899 (referred to later).

In his important book on typhoid (Typhoid Fever, its Nature, Mode of spreading, and Prevention, pub. 1873), William Budd [c] stated that “organic matter, and especially sewage in a state of decomposition, without any relation to antecedent fever, is still generally supposed to be the most fertile source.”  The typhoid bacillus was eventually identified during the 1880s, with the first typhoid vaccines appearing in 1896.

Dysentery has accompanied armies since ancient times, often proving to be more destructive than the enemy – King John, King Edward I, and King Henry V are all believed to have died of the disease during military campaigns.  In common with cholera and typhoid, dysentery is spread by fecal contamination of food and water, usually occurring in areas with poor sanitation.  The disease is caused by the Shigella micro-organism, named after Kiyoshi Shiga (1871-1957), a Japanese physician and bacteriologist who isolated the bacterium in 1898 and developed the first vaccines.

Malaria, or ‘the ague’ as it was formerly known, is a disease that today we associate mainly with the tropics, but until the early years of the 20th century it was prevalent in Britain.  Even though the parasitic cause of malaria was not discovered until 1880, malaria was nevertheless associated in earlier times with stagnant water, although it was wrongly believe to be transmitted by the “effluvia” (i.e. bad air) given off.  It was later discovered that mosquitoes transmit malaria parasites, and that stagnant water is an ideal breeding ground for the mosquitoes that transmit the disease.  As the travel writer Edward Cornelius Osborne points out in his description of Tring, the stagnant mill pond was a probable source of local infections: 

“By the side of the [Silk] mill is the temporary residence of the proprietor, with a conservatory, and an extensive fish pool [the mill pond], the rather stagnant nature of which must give rise to much of pernicious effluvia; and considering that Tring is seldom or never without ague, and as the malaria is generally found to result from pools of this character, several of which are in the vicinity, it is to be hoped that, ere long, the proprietors of these sources of pestilence will evince sufficient morality and intelligence to compel the removal of a nuisance so highly dangerous to all the neighbourhood; actually fatal to some, and deeply injurious to the lives and happiness of many innocent people.

In the mill there are almost always persons whose haggard looks evince their having lately been afflicted with this terrible disease, evidently consequential to being employed in a building through which there must, despite all precaution, be continually circulating a portion of the vapour from the pool beneath; the adult patients look bad enough; but the sight of the little children who have lately suffered, with their wretched countenances, death-like colour, and tottering frames, cannot but make the heart of any humane person burn with the keenest anguish.”

Tring, from Osborne’s London & Birmingham Railway Guide (1840).

Despite the important role that vaccines were to play in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases, it is widely recognised that the most important preventive measures are sound standards of public health; in effect, clean drinking water and effective sanitation.






The urban sanitary authority of Tring has adopted at the suggestion of its medical officer of health, Dr. C. E. Saunders, a modified form of privy . . . . The peculiar characteristics of this privy are a shallow pit, and a bin placed at the side of the seat, for containing dry earth or ashes.  The cottagers where this form of privy has been erected are instructed to keep the bin provided with one or other of the materials named, and after each use of the privy, to throw upon the deposited excrement a scoopful of the dry earth or ashes. I saw several of these privies which had been some little time in use.  Where reasonable attention could be secured in covering up the excrement with the earth or ashes, the freedom from nuisance was marked.  In view of the necessity for frequent removal of the contents of these closets and of their storage in garden plots, it appeared to me desirable as a rule, where no proper care from the users can be reckoned upon, to have all ashes and dry household refuse thrown into the pit to use them, in fact, as middensteads [i.e. middens or dunghills].  By this simple plan there would probably be more likelihood of nuisance being avoided among the careless both in the privy and in the subsequent disposal of the contents of the pit.





Bucks Herald, 11th September 1896.

The High Street is to be re-sewered by low level pipe sewers.  The new system is to commence opposite Tring Park Gates, and to fall therefrom in either direction.  The western part is to join the existing culvert at the top end of Frogmore Street.  The eastern part is to avoid the existing culvert in Brook Street, and to run down that street along the eastern side of that culvert (but at a different level, lower at the top end and higher at the bottom end) to the Silk Mill gardens.  A new 24-inch pipe sewer is to commence near the foot of Frogmore Street, running out of the existing culvert (which will be crossed by a safety weir, and therefrom allocated to gathering and conveying spring and subsoil water only), and continuing outside the [St. Peter & St. Paul] Cemetery, through the Pond Close and the Silk Mill gardens over the existing culvert, to join the new pipe sewer in Brook Street.  This pipe sewer will be at a higher level than the existing culvert, which will therefore drain away the spring and subsoil water with which the chalk hereabouts is sometimes charged.

These two pipe sewers unite, and the 24-inch pipe sewer is continued along the eastern side of the existing culvert to the end of the Silk Mill buildings, where a junction is to be made.  At this point a weir is to be placed across the existing culvert to separate the spring water from the sewage, the former passing out through the relief culvert already existing, into the mill tail, and the latter continuing down Brook Street in the existing culvert, which, being efficient, is to be retained for use as far as New Mill Terrace.  Provision is to be made for diverting the spring water from the relief culvert for flushing the sewage culvert whenever occasion arises.  Except during the heaviest storms the existing culvert between Frogmore Street and the relief culvert at the Silk Mill will be reserved for spring and subsoil water.

At New Mill-terrace a safety weir will be built across the existing culvert for relief in storms, and the final length of the culvert reserved therefore, and from this point will commence a new outfall culvert 36 inches by 27 inches, and continue (nearly on the line of the existing outfall, which is to be abandoned) to Mr. Thomas Mead’s land, on which it is to be disposed of, as now, by broad irrigation [a.k.a. sewage farming].

The new outfall will be near that now existing and one foot lower, and Mr. Meade agrees to keep the new outfall culvert clean and efficient, and to re-arrange his land for irrigation, as may be necessary.

Special works have to be provided for the crossing of the Wendover Arm of the Grand Junction Canal.

All existing sewer and drain connections with those sewers which are to be reserved for spring or subsoil water, and for rain water, will be cut and new connections made at the expense of the Council.




7 GROSVENOR ROAD                       
WATFORD, HERTS                    
29th December, 1899


I have to report in regard to the recent epidemic of Typhoid Fever at Tring that it is now practically over, no cases having been notified since December 1st.

So far 105 cases have occurred in all.

The first intimation obtained by the Authority of this outbreak was the notification of four cases on September 1st, five cases on the 2nd and fourteen cases on the 4th, this last being the greatest number of notifications received in any one day during the epidemic.

The District Council immediately took steps to deal with the outbreak; and, as most of the houses where cases occurred took their water supplies from wells of which I have been always suspicious, notices were placed on the wells that the water should not be used for drinking, and a supply was provided from the mains of the Chiltern Hills Company for all the affected houses.  This, as we shall presently see, had the desired effect; and, as was to be expected, the epidemic began to subside after a short interval.

On making enquiries, I found that the first case of this outbreak occurred, on August 18th, in a yard off Akeman Street; and of the 52 houses attacked, 34 were in that street or courts leading off it, providing altogether 76 of the 105 cases; and it is noteworthy that this is the most crowded and dirtiest part of the town.



Above and below: Akeman Street, the centre of the typhoid outbreak, as it once was.


I have prepared a table marked A, shewing the houses freshly invaded, and cases occurring from day to day: also the notifications as received.

It will be seen from this that fresh houses were invaded in the following order; on . . . .

August, 18th, one;  19th, one;  20th, one;  24th, one;  25th, one;  26th, four;  27th, one; 28th two;  29th, two;  31st, three;
September 1st, two;  3rd, one;  4th, two;  5th, three;  7th, one;  8th, two;  10th, three;  11th, three;  12th, one;  13th, three;  14th, three;  17th, one;  18th, two;  22nd, one;  24th, one; 27th, two;
October 4th, one;  7th, one;  17th, one; and
November 1st, one.

. . . . making a total of fifty-two houses.

Taking the whole of the cases occurring week by week it will be seen that the epidemic extended over a period of fifteen weeks, with cases as follows, in the week ending:

August 19th, 2;  26th, 10;
September 2nd, 22;  9th, 18;  16th, 17;  23rd, 5;  30th, 8;
October 7th, 9;  14th, 3;  21st, 4;  28th, 1;
November 4th, 2;  11th, 2;  18th, 1; 25th, 1.

It was during the first week in September that the people were warned against drinking the well water, and the result is shewn in the week ending the 23rd, there occurring only five cases between the 16th and the 23rd; and allowing ten days or a fortnight for the incubation period of typhoid fever, the drop might be expected about that time.  Taking the houses newly invaded week by week, we have, in the week ending:

August 19th, 2 houses;  26th, 7 houses;
September 2nd, 10 houses;  9th, 9 houses;  16th, 13 houses;  23rd, 4 houses;  30th, 3 houses;
October 7th, 2 houses;  14th none;  21st, 1 house;  28th, none;
November 4th, 1 house.

This shewing still more markedly the cessation of the epidemic the second week after providing a fresh water supply.  The rise in the total cases in the weeks ending September 30th and October 7th being no doubt due to direct infection of persons attending on the patients.

The following Table shews the progress of the disease week by week; the number of cases occurring, and the houses invaded each week, being shewn in separate columns.  Thus it is seen that the epidemic commenced suddenly, attaining its maximum in the 3rd week of the outbreak.





August     19th

2 2

»    »    »    26th

10 7

September 2nd

22 10

»    »    »     9th

18 9

»    »    »    16th

17 13

»    »    »    23rd

5 4

»    »    »    30th

8 3

October      7th

9 2

»    »   »     14th

3 0

»    »    »    21st

4 1

»    »    »    28th

1 0

November 4th

2 1

»    »    »    11th

2 0

»    »    »    18th

1 0

»    »    »    25th

1 0


105 52

The mortality of the epidemic was low; nine deaths, or 8.5 per cent. of attacks.

With regard to the cause of the outbreak, I take it, there can be little doubt that this was Polluted Water, for the following reasons: ―

1st.    Of the 53 houses invaded, 38 took their supply from wells; or, taking the cases, 89 presumably drank well water, and 16 water from the main.

2nd.    Of the 18 wells from wells from which samples were taken, it was found ― on analysis ― that 9 were polluted, 6 were suspicious, and 3 shewed no evidence of pollution at the time of analysis.

3rd.    The cessation of the epidemic on the provision of a better water supply.

With regard to the specific infection of the wells, there is no doubt that the infection has been in the ground for years, ready under favourable circumstances to cause an outbreak; the badly paved yards, the defective slop channels, and defective drains from hand-flushed closets, tend to promote a condition of soil in which the Typhoid bacillus can live and flourish, and, on the occurrence of a heavy rain, may easily be washed into the wells.

Going back to the year 1874, which is as far back as I have any record, I find that in that year there were 10 deaths from Fever; and in the following years to 1878 inclusive, there was one death each year due to Enteric Fever; from this date, up to 1890, there was but one death in the year 1886.  This brings us to 1891, when notification was in force, and in that year one case was notified; in the year 1892, there was also one case; in 1893, there were three cases notified; in 1894, there were three cases; in 1895, eight cases; in 1896, six cases; in 1897, eighteen cases; and in 1898, two cases.  Thus it is seen that, for the last few years there has always been more or less Typhoid Fever in the town.

I have prepared a table, marked B, shewing “graphically” the rainfall for the months of June, July, and August; and the cases of Typhoid Fever from the commencement of the epidemic to September 27th.

It will be seen from this, that on 22nd July over one inch of rain fell, and that previous to that time there had been no rain to speak of since the 5th, and about 2 inches during the period from the 1st of June to the 22nd of July, and from the time of this heavy rain to the first commencement of the epidemic a period of twenty-six days elapsed,

If we take 14 days as about the incubation period of Typhoid, we have the remaining 12 days for the time taken for infective matter to reach the wells.  It is noteworthy that just 14 days elapsed from the time of closing the wells until the abatement of the epidemic.

With regard to age and sex distribution of the 105 cases; 49 were males and 56 females, the ages varied as follows :—


Under 5 years      »    »    »    »    » 11 cases.
At 5, and under 15 years     »    »  37 cases
At 15, and under 25 years   »    » 18 cases
Above 25  »    »    »    »    »    »    » 39 cases

I have prepared a map of that portion of the town where the cases were most numerous, using the 10-foot scale ordnance map for the purpose, shewing the houses in which cases occurred, the number of cases in each house, and the order in which each case was attacked.  The greatest number of cases occurring in any one house was eight.  This map also shows the position of the wells, and distinguishes between those that are polluted and those that are suspicious.  It also shews roughly the line of sewers.

It has been suggested that the new Sewerage Work recently finished by the Council has been responsible for the outbreak; but there is not the smallest ground for this suggestion, as it is a fact that almost all the cases have occurred in those streets where no Sewerage Work has been done.  In my opinion, the Council should, as soon as may be, go into the question of re-sewering the remaining portion of the town, so that all storm water may be entirely diverted from the sewers.

So far the new work has been confined to Frogmore Street, and the High street, and Brook Street to the outfall.

Now, only one case has occurred in the High Street, one case in Brook Street, and four cases in three houses in Alleys leading off Frogmore Street.  Thus we have 6 cases in the part of the town recently sewered, and ninety-nine in that part where no work of the kind has been done.  So it is obvious that the work of sewerage which has been carried out, and which it was absolutely necessary should be carried out, has had nothing to do with the outbreak.

This, however, brings me to the general question of the present system of the sewerage of the town.  The present arrangement is that, except where the new work has been done, the whole of the storm water and sewage are taken together to the outfall; and I am strongly of the opinion that the old sewers are probably in a leaky condition and are also sewers of deposit.  Most, if not all of the manholes, are simply flat bottomed pits, and require constant cleansing. The amount of sewage coming down at the outfall is considerably less per head than is usual in a water closet town, even where the water supply is entirely from wells.  It would therefore seem that the liquid portion of the sewage runs out of the sewers into the ground, and the solid matter remains in them until storm time, when it is more or less washed down to the outfall.

Above: manhole cleansing in Grove Road (the water cart in the background is fitted
with a sprinkler for laying road dust in the pre-tarmac era).
Below: the same activity being performed at New Mill.

The soil drains are also, in all probability, much in the same condition; for out of the fifty-three houses attacked, in only four cases were closets in use having a proper water supply; in one case there was an earth closet, the remainder all used hand flushed water closets; and many of these were in a very foul condition.

It is a pity that the Council have always been adverse to enforcing the provision of a proper flushing apparatus in all closets; but the saddest part of it is that all houses are still allowed to be erected with closets of this description in connection with them, in spite of bye-law 66.  So long ago as 1885, my predecessor, Dr. Saunders, called attention to this matter and says, “with a view to getting all W.C.’s supplied with water, it is very desirable that the water mains should be laid in Frogmore Street, Brook Street, &c.”  Again, in 1886, he says, “it is most essential for the keeping of sewers free from deposit that all water closets should be supplied with water.”  Again, in 1877, he says, “I have occasion to urge again the extreme importance of closets being supplied with water.”  This was Dr. Saunders’ last report. In my own reports, I have annually called attention to the matter and I trust that the Council will give it their earnest attention as soon as possible.

Another point which requires attention is that of the paving of yards in connection with dwellings; and, in my annual report for 1891, I called attention to the fact that, under Section 23 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890, Section 157 of the P.H.A. 1875 had been extended so as to empower Urban Authorities to make bye-laws with respect to the paving of yards and open spaces in connection with dwelling-houses.  The dilapidated condition of much of the paving of the yards in the town, causing filth to stand in puddles and soak into the ground, forming a home where the germs of disease can live and grow, is a question which well merits the attention of the Council.  Bye-laws should be made with respect to this and stringently carried out.

With regard to the wells, it may be taken for granted that no well in a town such as Tring, unless steined in cement for a considerable depth, can be looked upon as safe from pollution; the water may at one time shew no evidence of pollution, but at another time may be obviously polluted.  The fewer wells that are in use in a town like this the better; and, as I said in my annual report for 1893, if the surroundings of a well are such that there is reasonable risk of pollution, the public supply should be preferred.

The question of the scavenging of the dustbins is also one which merits the attention of the Authority; and I see that Dr. Saunders, in his annual report for 1880, says that the Authority “have recently undertaken the scavenging of the ashpits, &c.  Most necessary to enforce construction of properly covered ashpits.  There are still a great many, to many, uncovered; large, fixed ashpits, built below the ground level, and not cemented.  These are liable to cause nuisance; and, in every case where such nuisance is caused, the ashpit should be done away with, and a portable galvanised iron receptacle provided - properly covered.  Not only would this be a great improvement from a sanitary point of view, but the emptying of these receptacles by the scavenger would be much easier.

I remain, Dear Sir,
                    Yours faithfully.
                                               WILLIAM GRUGGAN

A W. Vaisey, ESQ.,
               Clerk to the Urban District Council,




Notes written by Joseph Budd of King Street, Tring (c. 1950s).

The year 1899 was a sad one for Akeman Street and Surrey Place, as this part of the town was hard hit by the Typhoid epidemic which struck the town in that year.  There were many cases, and the Doctors did their best to cope, but medical knowledge was not so great as it is now, and without the modern antibiotics the death rate was alarming.  The schools were closed, but the distribution of cases seems to indicate that the disease was mainly spread by a “carrier”, [Note below] probably one of the local food shops.

The existence of “carriers” was not generally recognised at that time, and when cases of Typhoid occurred they were usually attributed to bad smells or contaminated drinking water.  Some of the drains were pretty foul, and to combat the odours the Urban District Council organised a supply of disinfectant powder (I believe it was called Pynerzone) which could be collected free of charge by anyone from the Council offices.

Water from the wells in that part of the town was tested by the Medical Officer of Health and all, except the one at Mr. Rodwell’s Brewery, were condemned, and the lids nailed down until they could be filled in.  The Surrey Place well remained closed for some time, but eventually the woodwork was broken, and it became a dump for all kinds of rubbish, including among other things a dead pig.  After a time the smell got very bad, worse than the drains had ever been, and when a quantity of chalk became available from the foundations of the Museum extension it was finally filled in.

The rents of most of the cottages at this time were about half a crown per week, and there was some grumbling because landlords charged another two-pence per week to pay for the Mains water supply.  Also being properly softened and treated by the Water Company it was pronounced flat and tasteless by comparison with well water.  Anyone who has been used to spring water from a well, ice cold on the hottest day will understand this.

Note: such a person can exist [see Mary Mallon a.k.a. “Typhoid Mary”]. A human carrier may be a healthy person who has survived a previous episode of typhoid fever yet who continues to shed the associated bacteria, Salmonella typhi, in feces and urine.  The World Health Organisation estimate that around 2–5% of those who contract typhoid fever become chronic carriers, as bacteria persist in the biliary tract after symptoms have resolved. However, the outcome of the well tests and the disappearance of the outbreak suggest that a human carrier was unlikely to have been the cause.





From the West Herts Post, 9th May 1890.

On Thursday afternoon a vestry for the parish of Tring was held at the Parish Hall for the purpose of considering the question of the provision of a new cemetery.  There were present Rev. William Quennell, vicar, who presided, Mr. S. G. Foulkes, (church-warden), Mr. A. W. Vaisey (vestry clerk), Dr. Pope, Dr. Brown, Messrs. T. G. Elliman, F. Crouch, William Brown, James Grange (Wilstone), F. R. Butcher, C.C., W. B. Humphrey, J. E. Lawson, Rev. L. R. Foskett, Rev. Charles Pearce, Messrs. W. Woods, Thomas Glover, George Parrott, William Rodwell, Thomas Grace, W. Baines, W. J. Dawe, C. Pitkin, F. W. Elliman, E. C. Knight, H. Fincher, F. J. Brown, George Jeffery, T. Pusey, H. Swannell, John Putnam, George Batchelor, J. Appleby, H. Robinson, and T. King.

The minutes of previous vestries relating to the subject were read by the Clerk, who also read the notice convening the meeting which had been called pursuant to section 3 of chapter 128 of the 18th and 19th Vic.

The Chairman explained the position of affairs.  The burial ground attached to the church, which was by law the burial ground of the parish (although there were other places of burial within the parish), was in such a condition that at the present rate of use it would be covered in four or five years.  It seemed desirable that they should not wait until the four or five years before taking some action to make further provision.  The land which Lord Rothschild offered to give to the north side was not very large, but it would serve for ten or fifteen years.  However, on trying this ground it was found that at a very short distance below the surface they came to water; moreover, it was very close to cottages which were at the back of the Allotment Field.  To prepare this ground, and to bring it into connection with the existing ground, would necessitate considerable expense.  Deeming the ground unsuitable for the purposes of a burying ground, he reported to this effect to the Vestry, and as it seemed to be the duty of those in office to put the matter before the parish at large that meeting had been called.  According to the decision arrived at, those whose duty it was by law to provide for the necessary burials, would know, to some extent, how to act.

Mr. Humphrey asked that section 3 of the act should be read — [This section merely empowers the Wardens to convene a meeting] — and said if he understood the section just read it placed the management entirely in the hands of the Vicar, Churchwardens, and some persons elected at a parish meeting.

The Vestry Clerk: Then you do not understand it Mr. Humphrey — (laughter) — for it does not say so.  Mr. Vaisey proceeded to read sections of the Burial Acts passed in the 15 and 16 Vic. and to show that if the Vestry deemed a new burying ground necessary, a Burial Board would have to be formed, and this Board would consist of not less than three nor more than nine members.  A third of the members would retire each year.

Mr. Crouch said he supposed it was not compulsory that the Vicar should be on the Board.

The Vestry Clerk: No.

Mr. Knight: Then why is the name mentioned particularly?

The Vestry Clerk: Because he is eligible for such a Board whether he is a ratepayer or not.  The other representatives must be ratepayers.

The Chairman: In the present instance even this proviso does not apply, for the Vicar is a ratepayer and he stands on the same footing as any other person.

The Rev. L. R. Foskett: Then the Vestry appoints the Board?

The Clerk: The Vestry may proceed to elect in the first place, and if they cannot agree a poll of the parish may be demanded by the minority, and [in answer to Mr. Butcher] the expenses thereof could be recovered from the Overseers in the same way as the other expenses of the Board.

Mr. James Grange to Mr. Humphrey: What is to be done — anything?

No one responded to Mr. Granges question and the vestry relapsed into a dead silence which lasted a full minute. It was broken by more questions of the Clerk and Chairman.

The Rev. O. Pearce proposed “that it is necessary to provide a burial ground for the parish.”

Mr. Crouch seconded.

Rev. L. R. Foskett asked whether the motion had any reference to this particular Act of Parliament 18 and 19 Vic.

Some discussion ensued on this point, and it was evident that the Nonconformist gentlemen present had come to the belief that the ground was to be bought, and a Board formed under one particular Act of Parliament, to the exclusion of any Act of a more beneficial kind which might have been passed in more recent years.  The Clerk was at considerable pains to explain that this was not so, and that all the Acts relating to burials, so far as they affected a parochial Board, would have to be regarded.

The Chairman added that if they passed the motion a copy would be sent to the Secretary of State, and with it would go a copy of the notice convening the meeting.

Mr. F. Butcher said he for one had been in hopes that this question would have been staved off for several years, but it appeared to be the opinion now that it could not be very long deferred.  It would not be a wise thing to drive off the matter, and although he was not prepared to propose that a new ground be provided, he should not oppose the motion which had been made.  He thought the ratepayers should understand that if this resolution was passed it was tantamount to passing a resolution to form a Burial Board.  It was entirely in the hands of the ratepayers, and entirely in the control of the parish.  The Local Board might be the Burial Board if the parish thought fit — not that the members of the Local Board desired to have these new duties placed upon them, but he merely mentioned the matter as a piece of information.  In any case the parish had the matter entirely in their own hands and if they thought proper they could take a poll of the ratepayers.  If a Board were now formed they need not act in a hurry in regard to the provision of a new ground; they would have a few years before them in which to look out for the necessary land and they might secure it on more advantageous terms than when driven into a corner.  He believed that if the Vestry saw fit to nominate a Burial Board they might do so that day.

The Rev. L. R. Foskett asked the Clerk to refer to Martin’s Act — the Public Health Burials Act of 1879, and asked whether this was not an Act which provided for the dedication of cemeteries instead of consecration by a Bishop.

Mr. Crouch: They did so not long since at St. Albans, and it’s a very sensible plan.

Mr. Humphrey. The clergy can be present but there is no document.

Mr. Butcher recalled the Vestry to the fact that the question before them at the moment was simply whether a new burial ground was necessary.

Mr. W. Woods wished to know whether by passing that resolution they were tied to the Act specified in the notice.

The Clerk again explained that the Act in question was only mentioned as the authority under which they had called the meeting.  There was no attempt to get the better of anyone.

The Rev. L. R. Foskett said personally he was prepared to accept the Clerks assurance.

Mr. F. Crouch said that the members of the Board being elected they would do as they pleased.

The Rev. L. A. Foskett: They ought to do as they are told. (Laughter)

Mr. J. E. Lawson: In the event of a Burial Board being formed, will their expenditure he limited or will it be unlimited?  Can they spend thousands?

The Clerk: Certainly, but they will be bound by the opinion of the parishioners.  Three will have to meet the ratepayers every year.

Mr. Butcher; What they do, I presume, will require the sanction of the Secretary of State?

The Clerk: Yes; just as the Local Board requires the sanction of the Local Government Board.

Dr. Pope: How will the money be collected?  By a General District Rate?

The Clerk: By a precept on the Overseers, in the same way as the other authorities.

In answer to other questions the Clerk said Wilstone would be included in the burial district.

Mr. Butcher said that if Wilstone were included the Local Board could not act as the Burial Board.

Mr.Foulkes, in reply to other observations, said that the Long Marston people had their own burying ground.

Mr. Putman wished to call attention to the position of the church and congregation at New Mill, where they had not long ago provided an extended burying ground, and had incurred other expenditure in the building of a wall.  In the new ground they had 421 spaces, and the maximum depth of the graves was ten feet, so that they might reasonably expect that three interments could be made in each grave.  That would give something like 1300 burials.  As they had only 11 burials yearly this ground would last for 124 years which was a long time to look forward to. (Hear hear, and a laugh.)  Taking the entire burials in the New Mills ground for the past 21 years the ground would last for 97 years.  Having provided this new ground the church and congregation thought it hard that they should have to contribute to the cost of the parochial burial ground.

Mr. W. Brown impressed on the ratepayers the necessity of getting sufficient land to last them a long time, and of seeing that it was sufficiently removed from dwellings.  He was engaged in the purchase of the burial ground at Aylesbury, and his advice at the time was “Be sure you have enough.”  They did not however take his advice.  They purchased a lesser quantity and were now beginning to regret it, for the ground was being rapidly filled up.  The new ground should also be right away from the town. (Hear, hear.)  But even then they could not control people in what they might do hereafter, and houses might be built round it after all, but so far as they could they should be particular on these two points, to have enough and to have it clear away from the houses. (Hear, hear.)

After further discussion, the motion was carried nem. com. [Ed. ― with no one dissenting; unanimously].

Mr. Pope wished to know how many of the ratepayers of Tring there were interested in the New Mills Burial Ground, but Mr. Putnam did not answer the question.

On the motion of Mr. Butcher, seconded by Mr. Foulkes, it was decided that the Burial Board should consist of nine members.

At this stage the Vicar had to vacate the chair, and Mr. Foulkes conducted the proceedings to a close.

The Rev. C. Pearce wished to say publicly that he had had several interments at the cemetery, and that no one could have behaved in a more gentlemanly, kind or generous way than had the Vicar. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. Putnam wished to know whether Long Marston had been included in the notice.

The Clerk said the notice was posted both at Long Marston and Wilstone.

Mr. Rolfe thought they ought to be included in the new Board.

It was then generally agreed that the Board ought to be confined to the ecclesiastical parish of Tring.

Mr. Humphrey: But suppose that the Long Marston people prefer to be included in this Board.

Mr. Butcher: They have their rights of burial at Long Marston, and they would have no right to have that for which they do not pay.

The Clerk: They have their public rights in the churchyard of Long Marston, and they can go to New Mills, whose merits Mr. Putnam have shown us. (Laughter).

The Rev. Mr. Pearce: Are the people of Long Marston parishioners of Tring?

The Clerk: Long Marston is not a part of the ecclesiastical parish of Tring.

The Chairman: It is a part of the parish for some purposes but not for ecclesiastical purposes.

After further conversation it was decided to adjourn the meeting to the 19th June, and the proceedings then terminated.




From Manual for Medical Officers of Health by Edward Smith FRS (1873).

The following shall be the duties of a medical officer of health in respect of the sanitary district for which he is appointed; or if he shall be appointed for more than one district, or for a part of a district, then in respect of each of such districts or of such part:―

1. He shall inform himself as far as practicable respecting all influences affecting or threatening to affect injuriously the public health within the district.

2. He shall enquire into and ascertain by such means as are at his disposal the causes origin and distribution of diseases within the district and ascertain to what extent the same have depended on conditions capable of removal or mitigation.

3. He shall by inspection of the district both systematically at certain periods and at intervals as occasion may require, keep himself informed of the conditions injurious to health existing therein.

4. He shall be prepared to advise the sanitary authority on all matters affecting the health of the district, and on all sanitary points involved in the action of the sanitary authority; and in cases requiring it, he shall certify, for the guidance of the sanitary authority, or of the justices, as to any matter in respect of which the certificate of a medical officer of health or a medical practitioner is required as the basis or in aid of sanitary action.

5. He shall advise the sanitary authority on any question relating to health involved in the framing and subsequent working of such by-laws and regulations as they may have power to make.

6. On receiving information of the outbreak of any contagious, infectious, or epidemic disease of a dangerous character within the district, he shall visit the spot without delay and enquire into the causes and circumstances of such outbreak, and advise the persons competent to act as to the measures which may appear to him to be required to prevent the extension of the disease, and so far as he may be lawfully authorised, assist in the execution of the same.

7. On receiving information from the inspector of nuisances that his intervention is required in consequence of the existence of any nuisance injurious to health, or of any overcrowding in a house, he shall, as early as practicable, take such steps authorised by the statutes in that behalf as the circumstances of the case may justify and require.

8. In any case in which it may appear to him to be necessary or advisable, or in which he shall be so directed by the sanitary authority, he shall himself inspect and examine any animal, carcase, meat, poultry, game, flesh, fish, fruit, vegetables, corn, bread, or flour, exposed for sale, or deposited for the purpose of sale or of preparation for sale, and intended for the food of man, which is deemed to be diseased, or unsound, or unwholesome, or unfit for the food of man; and if he finds that such animal or article is diseased, or unsound, or unwholesome or unfit for the food of man, he shall give such directions as may be necessary for causing the same to be seized, taken, and carried away, in order to be dealt with by a justice according to the provisions of the statutes applicable to the case.

9. He shall perform all the duties imposed upon him by any by-laws and regulations of the sanitary authority, duly confirmed, in respect of any matter affecting the public health, and touching which they are authorised to frame by-laws and regulations.

10. He shall enquire into any offensive process of trade carried on within the district, and report on the appropriate means for the prevention of any nuisance or injury to health therefrom.

11. He shall attend at the office of the sanitary authority, or at some other appointed place, at such stated times as they may direct.

12. He shall from time to time report, in writing, to the sanitary authority his proceedings, and the measures which may require to be adopted for the improvement or protection of the public health in the district. He shall in like manner report with respect to the sickness and mortality within the district, so far as he has been enabled to ascertain the same.

13. He shall keep a book or books, to be provided by the sanitary authority, in which he shall make an entry of his visits, and notes of his observations and instructions thereon, and also the date and nature of applications made to him, the date and result of the action taken thereon, and of any action taken on previous reports, and shall produce such book or books, whenever required, to the sanitary authority.

14. He shall also prepare an annual report, to be made to the end of December in each year, comprising tabular statements of the sickness and mortality within the district, classified according to diseases, ages, and localities, and a summary of the action taken during the year for preventing the spread of disease. The report shall also contain an account of the proceedings in which he has taken part or advised under the sanitary Acts, so far as such proceedings relate to conditions dangerous or injurious to health, and also an account of the supervision exercised by him, or on his advice, for sanitary purposes over places and houses that the sanitary authority has power to regulate, with the nature and results of any proceedings which may have been so required and taken in respect of the same during the year. It shall also record the action taken by him, or on his advice, during the year, in regard to offensive trades, bakehouses, and workshops.

15. He shall give immediate information to the Local Government Board of any outbreak of dangerous epidemic disease within the district, and shall transmit to the Board, on forms to be provided by them, a quarterly return of the sickness and deaths within the district, and also a copy of each annual and of any special report.

16. In matters not specifically provided for in this order, he shall observe and execute, so far as the circumstances of the district may require, the instructions of the Local Government Board on the duties of medical officers of health, and all the lawful orders and directions of the sanitary authority applicable to his office.

17. Whenever the Diseases’ Prevention Act of 1855 is in force within the district, he shall observe the directions and regulations issued under that Act by the Local Government Board, so far as the same relate to or concern his office.

18. [Omitted in Urban] Where more than one medical officer of health shall be appointed by a sanitary authority, such authority, with the approval of the Local Government Board, may either assign to each of the officers a portion of the district, or may distribute the duties of medical officer of health amongst such officers.



The typhoid epidemic of 1871

The following article is reproduced by kind permission of its author, Neil Rees.

Victorian England

For Victorians epidemics of yellow fever, cholera, smallpox and typhoid were an ever-present risk.  It was not just the poor who suffered.  Prince Albert’s death in 1861 aged 42, was attributed to typhoid and his son the Prince of Wales contracted it in 1871, but survived to become King Edward VII.

Chesham’s Medics

In 1838 Dr George Faithorn came to Chesham.  In 1866 he was joined by Dr John Foot Churchill as assistant, and in 1869 as partner.  Chesham Cottage Hospital opened for patients on 30th October 1869, supported by contributions from Chesham churches.  It originally had seven beds, overseen by Head Nurse Arabella Hazard and assisted by Nurse Anne Beckley.  Dr Faithorn was the first Medical Officer.

Chesham in 1871

By 1871 the population of Chesham town was about 5,000.  The main industries were shoemaking and chair-making for men, and brush-making and straw plaiting for women.  Chesham had many isolated typhoid cases over the years, but in September 1871 there was an epidemic known as the Chesham Plague.  The Health Inspector tracked and traced the cases from 2 Welsh tramps at the Star and Garter beer-house at 53, 55 and 57 Church Street (which became a house in 1936).  Typhoid then spread to the 16 neighbouring cottages in Hearn’s Yard (off Bury Lane), then to neighbouring Church Street, and then to Star Yard.  The poor people there typically lived in cramped, damp and unsanitary conditions.

Caring for the ill

As the number of cases rose, the only patient at Chesham Hospital was moved out so that it could be used solely for typhoid patients.  The hospital was soon full, and they tried to contain the disease by encouraging people to remain isolated.  The doctors worked tirelessly visiting patients.  Soon Dr Churchill was stricken with typhoid, and lay in delirium in isolation.  At the end of September 1871 Dr Faithorn also contracted typhoid, but continued to work for as long as he could.  With both doctors ill they needed help, and they sent for nurses from St. John’s House, which was an Anglican Sisterhood Order, in the Strand in London.  A trained St John’s nurse, Jane Field, came to help.  Water was not considered safe enough to drink, so she gave patients beef-tea and wine.

Dr Faithorn

Dr Faithorn died of typhoid on 12th October 1871 aged 64.  The Lancet wrote “he fell a victim to those very sanitary defects that he strove in vain to remedy”.  Meanwhile Dr Churchill, who had now recovered, took over the practice.  He later attributed his survival to Anne East, the servant at their house in Germain Street, who insisted that he had hot soup every day.  He remained a doctor until he retired aged 84 in 1927.

Nurse Field

Jane Field had been a St John’s nurse for 12 years.  She arrived in Chesham when the two doctors were both ill.  She had previously worked in St Giles, London but she said that she had never seen such squalor as in Chesham.  After working for three weeks she too caught typhoid.  Nurses Werrells and Mason, were sent to replace her.  Nurse Field was ill for ten days and died on 28th October 1871.

The Iron Hospital

A prefabricated corrugated-iron hospital (known as the Iron Hospital) was put up behind Chesham Cottage Hospital, and opened on 28th October 1871.  It could accommodate 26 patients, and was used as an isolation unit for new patients, whilst the Cottage Hospital was used for convalescence.  Six patients were sent to Mrs Rusher’s Convalescent Home in Dover.

The Iron Hospital was staffed by nurses from another Anglican order of nurses based at All Saints Church, Margaret Street in London.  Infection rates dropped as patients were isolated and treated.

Rev Aylward

Rev Frederick Aylward, the vicar of St Mary’s Church in Chesham often visited the sick at their homes or at the hospital. Hearn’s Yard, the worst affected area, backed onto the Vicarage garden wall off Church Street.  He too caught typhoid, and after ten days he died on 12th November 1871 aged 50.  He was well loved and respected, and it was said to be one of the biggest funerals Chesham had ever had.

Nurse Jennings

Nurse Jennings was an All Saints nurse and a widow with seven children.  She died aged 47 at the hospital on 14th November, just two days after the vicar.

End of the Epidemic

By December 1871 there were no new typhoid cases.  The surviving nurses returned to London.  People felt confident to travel to Chesham again and trade picked up.  Dr Churchill later recalled that he had had 120 patients.  There had been 24 deaths attributed directly to typhoid, and others died of measles or diarrhoea.  They were all buried in Chesham Cemetery.

Improved sanitation became an urgent requirement.  Waterworks, mains drainage, and a sewerage works were slowly introduced to Chesham.  Some of Hearn’s Yard was demolished, all that is left of the old yard are the Sixpenny Houses.  There continued to be small numbers of typhoid cases over the following years, and the Iron Hospital remained in use as a fever unit, until it was sold in 1892.


A patch of Chesham cemetery has the graves of the Christian vicar, doctor and nurses who lost their lives during the epidemic.  A stone between the neighbouring graves of the two London nurses reads (in capital letters): “In memory of two devoted nurses whose lives were sacrificed in the midst of their labours of love during the outbreak of fever in the autumn of 1871”.

A brass memorial plaque to Rev Aylward hangs in the parish church behind the pulpit, which finishes with “in the faithful discharge of his duties he was stricken with fever and slept in Jesus Nov 12 1871”.  In the late 1950s a road called Aylward Gardens in Chesham was named after him.




The following article is reproduced by kind permission of its author, Neil Rees.

In 1866 the fear of a possible cholera epidemic led Lord Chesham, Rev Aylward the vicar and Dr Faithorn to outline plans for a hospital.  The original purpose was to isolate contagious diseases.

Chesham Cottage Hospital

Chesham Cottage Hospital opened in October 1869.  However a newspaper report on November 6, 1869, stated that the “hospital is not intended for the reception of patients with contagious or infectious diseases; it is contemplated to build a contagious and infectious department on some other spot quite detached.”  Not long after it was built the hospital struggled during a typhoid epidemic in 1871.

The Iron Hospital

The need for the planned isolation unit was now urgent.  In order to get one quickly a prefabricated iron hospital was bought on August 11 1871 from C. Kent of Euston Road, London, who advertised as a “Builder of Iron Churches, Schools and Hospitals”.  There being no station in Chesham yet, it was delivered by train in kit-form to Berkhamsted Station on October 13.  Local farmers arranged for it to be collected by wagon and horses.  Five men built it on a brick foundation, 60 yards behind the newly built Cottage Hospital.  It was just over 50 feet long and 28 feet wide.  It included a single ward, a nurses’ room and three toilets.  A kitchen was located in a separate building linked by a covered walkway.  It was accessed by a long path below the Cottage Hospital.  Construction of the hospital was completed on Friday October 25.  Twenty iron bedsteads, mattresses, plus bedding and quilts were then delivered and put in.  It was officially opened on October 28, 1871.  It became known as the “Iron Hospital”.  Its immediate purpose was as an isolation hospital for the typhoid epidemic.  Its first nurses were from an Anglican Order from All Saints Church, Margaret Street in London.

Later use

After the emergency of the typhoid epidemic the Iron Hospital closed in January 1872.  It was used occasionally thereafter for smaller typhoid outbreaks in 1874 and 1878, and for scarlet fever in 1880 and 1886.

Isolation House in the Vale

In 1891 Dr John Foot Churchill, who had survived the typhoid epidemic, said that they needed a new isolation hospital or a four-roomed cottage out of town.  His preference was for a brick building rather than an iron building, because it got very cold in the winter.  In 1892 the Iron Hospital was sold for £35 17s, on the condition that it was relocated.  In 1896 a spate of scarlet fever cases, encouraged Chesham Urban District Council General Purposes Committee to rent a house on a farm in the Vale.  It was furnished as an infectious diseases hospital.  In January 1897 books were donated for patients to read.  By May 1897 all the scarlet fever patients had recovered.  At the end of 1898 it ceased to be used.

The New Isolation Hospital in the Vale

In February 1900 Chesham Council bought some pasture land in the Vale from Mr Freeman as “in the bottom meadow… with a frontage of 188 feet 7 inches.”  The old Iron Hospital was re-erected there and become known as the “Isolation Hospital”.  The water supply came from a pipe in the ground and it used oil lamps for lighting right up until the end of the Great War.  A separate building was put up at the back as an ambulance station, for a horse-drawn ambulance to bring patients.  At its location in the Vale, it was first used in 1902 for a scarlet fever epidemic.  Thereafter it was used regularly for cases of scarlet fever, smallpox and diphtheria until March 1904.  In June 1904 the possibility of enlarging the hospital in case of another scarlet fever epidemic was discussed.  However, after painting it red, the Isolation Hospital was closed but kept in readiness so that it could be used at short notice.

The Isolation Hospital was used again in 1907 and 1908 for scarlet fever cases.  From 1908 single cases were sent to London Fever Hospital because it was cheaper to send a single patient there than the cost of re-opening the hospital.  It was then seldom used for 20 years, apart from some diphtheria cases in 1913.

County Isolation Hospital

In 1929 Stoke Mandeville hospital was extended to became a county Isolation Hospital.  From 1930 the old Isolation Hospital in Chesham was rented out as Nos 1 and 2, Hospital Cottages.  The Gale family came to live in 1 Hospital Cottage, and later the Keen family took it on.  The Berry family came to live in the former nurses’ quarters called 2 Hospital Cottages.  Mrs Berry said “when my husband and I first came here it still looked very much like a hospital, everything was covered in brown varnish and the nurses’ quarters were much as they must have been when in use as a hospital.”


By 1965 Chesham Urban District Council decided that the building was considered as being not up to modern standards as a residence.  In 1966 the tenants were rehoused in Chesham.  In November 1968 Hospital Cottages were put up for sale, with outline planning permission for 2 semi-detached dwellings if the existing properties were demolished.  The site was sold in 1969 and planning application was put in for two bungalows and garages.  Today the site of 1 Hospital Cottages is a bungalow called Ivinghoe, and the site of 2 Hospital Cottages is a bungalow called Langdale.  There is nothing to show that there was an isolation hospital there, but its founders have roads named after them.  Dr Faithhorn is remembered in Faithorn Close off Chartrdge Lane and Rev Aylward the vicar is remembered in the nearby Aylward Gardens of Berkeley Avenue.  Both died in the Typhoid Epidemic, which the Isolation Hospital was built to help.



by Jean Davis.

On the south-eastern edge of Stool Field - one of Aldbury’s old open fields - a small scatter of buildings stands among the desolation of modern set-aside.  They occupy part of a long, narrow site, once a two-acre meadow owned by the publican of the Trooper alehouse, and their isolation was intentional: they represent the porter’s lodge, one of the wards, the wash-house and the mortuary of the old Hospital for Infectious Diseases, built for the Berkhamsted Rural Sanitary Authority and opened in December, 1879.

This site for the new hospital, adjoining a road linking Aldbury village and the Berkhamsted to Tring highway (the old A41) was chosen for its general accessibility within the health region it was destined to serve and, at the same time, its remoteness from other habitation.  Unfortunately, soon after the plans were agreed, a large house was built about a quarter of a mile away.  This house, Brightwood, will be familiar to older members of the Hertfordshire Local History Association as the home of one of its founding fathers, the late Sir James Craufurd, who was born there a few years after the hospital was first occupied.

Financing the Hospital

An outbreak of smallpox in the Berkhamsted area in 1877 had prompted the founding of a hospital for infectious diseases to replace the old “pest house“ on the Common.  The buildings were planned under the provisions of the Public Health Act. 1875, and this proposal was first considered under the auspices of the Tring Urban Sanitary Authority and the Rural Sanitary Authority of Berkhamsted.

The estimated cost of the chosen site and primary building work amounted to £1600, which it was hoped to borrow from the Local Government Board.  Accordingly an enquiry was held by an official of the Board at the Station Hotel, Tring, on 20th June, 1877, to decide - among other things - whether the new hospital should be funded jointly by Berkhamsted and Tring.  Ultimately it was the Berkhamsted authority which became the founding body, borrowing the capital cost at 3½% , and patients from Tring were to be admitted from 1881 on an annual subscription basis.

Early estimates proved optimistic, however.  The site cost £425 and the buildings erected between 1878 and 1879 (that is, the first ward pavilion, administration block and probably the mortuary) cost £1975, making a total of £2400 — 50% more than the original estimate.  In 1897, when another new block was being considered at a projected cost of £700, the loan still stood at £1167.  The discharge block (later used as another ward pavilion) was to be added in 1899 for £171 and the porter‘s lodge in 1900 for £428.

A sample statement for the autumn of 1898 shows that the then cost of maintenance and management amounted to £209 15s 7d (£209.75) excluding the repayment of the loan.  This running cost was shared between the newly constituted Berkhamsted UDC and Tring UDC, the area which was to benefit including Berkhamsted, Northchurch, Tring Urban and Tring Rural, Aldbury, Puttenham, Wigginton, Little Gaddesden and Nettleden.

In this year, when a second pavilion was to be added, it was again suggested that the Tring Council should come to a proper joint ownership agreement, paying a full proportion of the new loan calculated on rateable values, and so acquire a permanent interest: but this proposal was not accepted.  In the event, a new isolation hospital to serve Tring was built in 1901, on the outskirts of Little Tring, by the generosity of Lord Rothschild.

The estimate for the Aldbury hospital in the second half of 1900 included £67.50 for salaries (doctor, manager and wife, matron and clerk), £51.50 for wages and the upkeep of nurses and laundry maid, and£34 for the upkeep of matron and managers.  “Necessaries” amounted to £200 and £35 was paid for furniture, drapery and fittings.  Repairs to the existing buildings would cost £114.  The total, including petty cash and interest on the loan, came to £487.

The manager (or master) and his wife lived in the upper floor of the administrative block, and when the hospital was in use he was expected to give it his full attention and his wife had to act as nurse if required.  They also had “the privilege of making such as they choose of the garden ground”.  As revealed in the census for 1881, the “Master” was a 32-year-old general labourer from Essex.

Local Government Board Report, 1882

A report and papers on the “Use of Hospitals for Infectious Diseases”, submitted by the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board, gave considerable space to Aldbury’s isolation hospital, which he rated highly.  It is said (A Short History of Berkhamsted, Percy Birtchnell, p.65) that the plans were regarded as so good that they were borrowed by several other sanitary authorities.

The entry for Berkhamsted Rural District estimates a population of 11,000; the (then) number of beds as eight, or 0.7 per 1,000 of population; the floorspace per bed as 144 sq ft; the ward capacity per bed as 2,000 cu ft; the cost of the hospital, excluding the site, as £2,162; and the cost per bed (ex cost of the site) as £270. “The addition of the second pavilion will increase the number of beds to 16, the administrative building sufficing for the requirements of the increased accommodation, and the cost per bed will then amount to somewhat under £180."

The Hospital Buildings

The report deals in detail with the construction work.  The architect for the project was Mr. John Ladds, of Chapel Street, Bedford Row in London.  As originally designed, the buildings consisted of “two detached ward pavilions of eight beds each, communicating with an administrative block by means of a corrugated iron way; and also of two detached buildings, one containing a wash-house, an ironing room, an ambulance shed, a disinfecting room and a store-room for dry earth [to be used in the ‘earth closets’]; the other being a mortuary”.

White stock bricks, with red brick strings and window heads, were planned for the earlier buildings (although yellow stocks or local Slapton bricks can be seen to have been used) and the result was modern and decorative — far more so than the homes of most of the eventual inmates.  The roofs were enlivened with brick patterns, the ridges neatly tiled, the doors panelled, the partly tile-hung gables unusually smart and the sash windows had single large panes on the bottom half, with six small ones above.

Each of the two ward pavilions, one of which was built at a later date, was designed in three bays.  The nurse’s room occupied the centre bay, a ward for beds on either side; and at the extremities of the block were two small lobbies, each containing a sink and an earth closet.  The ground floor of the administrative block, which was also the home of the manager and his wife, contained a surgery, matron’s room and kitchen quarters, with coal house and earth closet.  The sleeping accommodation was upstairs.  This later became known the Matron’s house, the last Matron being Mrs. Starkis.  The lodge adjoining the road, originally designed as a porter’s lodge, was said to have been later used to house the night nurses.

Water was pumped from a 50-foot well into the chalk at the north end of the grounds, with a cesspool 350 feet to the south, . . the flow of springs in the chalk being from north to south.

Fittings and Equipment

Newcastle-upon-Tyne isolation hospital ambulance (1898)

Floors throughout the wards were to be tongued and grooved.  Investigation proves that the tongues were of metal, and the floors were suspended well above the ground level.  The sash windows were designed for maximum ventilation, and openings in the ceiling (estimated to have been 15 feet high) were fitted with “Boyle’s ventilators”.  These uninsulated buildings, on an exposed site, must have been like an ice-box, despite the effons of the “Galton stoves with warm air shafts behind”.

At the outset, no ambulance was provided for the hospital, although a temporary vehicle was later housed at the Workhouse in Berkhamsted.  In general terms, it was to be “such that the patient can lie full length in it; and the bedframe and bed should be movable, so that the patient can be arranged upon the bed before being taken out of his house . . . If intended for journeys of not more than a mile, it may be made so as to be carried between two people, or it may be on wheels and be drawn by hand. if . . . above a mile, the ambulance should be drawn by a horse.”  It is doubtful whether the local ambulance was ever as grand as the one illustrated, designed for Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

At a later date, a splendid fold-up carrying chair made by Leveson and Sons of New Oxford Street, London, was donated to Aldbury’s hospital.  The stout frame was of oak and the back and seat were of woven cane.  Two pairs of handles were provided behind the patient, and one pair in front.

The End of the Aflair

The last entries in the Admission and Discharge Book were made in 1948, when the hospital was declared redundant.  Applications to change the buildings into dwellings were later granted for the lodge, the original ward block and the administrative block, but attempts to adapt the second ward pavilion were unsuccessful.  This was subsequently pulled down, as were the covered ways; and, at a later date, a new access was provided to the two lower buildings.

Now the lodge, which acquired an adjacent paddock of some four acres, has doubled its size and it was described, in estate agents’ jargon, as “a magnificent country house”.  The other two major buildings have been made into attractive homes.

Ward block - former Aldbury Isolation Hospital as it is today.

The surviving ward pavilion, enhanced by a new bay window, a new porch and many internal improvements — including a lowered ceiling, solid floors and other devices to retain the warmth — would be unrecognizable to former inmates.  The garden which surrounds it, and constitutes the whole of the end of the plot, includes the washhouse block, now used as a garage, and the mortuary, which houses gardening paraphernalia.  A comer of the site provides a paddock for a smart grey horse, whose primary function is to pull a trap for its owners.  The foundations of the demolished pavilion form the basis of a splendid pool and rock garden, while trees, shrubs, lawns, herbaceous borders, a sunken garden and tubs of flowers raised in the greenhouse provide a landscape visited mainly by badgers and rabbits — undreamed of by the earlier occupants, yet isolated still, as they were, from other human habitation.

Patients and Epidemics

The number of patients in the hospital fluctuated greatly.  Council records show that the number of bed-days of occupation in 1899 was 12,950; in 1903 it was 24; and in 1904 it was nil, partly explained by the fact that, from January 1902 to May 1905, the hospital was reserved for smallpox cases in the Committee’s own district and Tring RDC, all fever cases from both districts being treated in the new fever hospital at Tring.

The most detailed information, however, appeared in the Admission and Discharge Book for the Aldbury hospital, jealously guarded by the late owner of one of the remaining buildings (now private houses) until his death some years ago, when it was removed from the premises.

The record covered the years 1899 to 1942 (with one or two pages probably missing) and shows that patients suffered from five major illnesses: diphtheria (417 cases - 24 deaths); typhoid (46 cases - 6 deaths); scarlet fever (1,575 cases - 6 deaths); meningitis (3 cases - 1 death); and smallpox (1 case).  Other admissions were for erisypelas (4 cases - 1 death); measles (13 cases); paratyphoid (4 cases); gastritis (2 cases); chicken pox (1 case); mumps (1 case) and whooping cough (1 case).

The average stay in the hospital in the last few years before the hospital closed in 1948 was about 40 days, and those still alive who stayed there (some more than once) describe their families coming and peering through the iron gates, waving and calling as they were not allowed to come any nearer.

During the first world war, a number of diphtheria patients were sent from service hospitals at Tring and Halton; in the second world war they came from Ashridge hospital, set in the grounds of Ashridge College.  Evacuees provided another source of patients, as well as those from the Workhouse, and the “Foundling Hospital” in Berkhamsted after 1936.

Comparison between the Admission Book and the Log Book for Aldbury School shows that sometimes a very small proportion of cases were serious enough to reach the hospital.  For example, in the measles epidemic of 1901, when school attendance was cut from 110 to 16, no cases were sent to the wards; and in four years when the school was completely closed with measles, no admission to the hospital were considered necessary, although there was at least one death.

Further examination of the Admission Book highlights the areas where disease was prevalent, such as the “yards” and the clusters of farm cottages.  When such large families were crowded into too few rooms, germs were hard to escape and the progress of an epidemic of, say, scarlet fever, could be traced as, one by one, the children who comprised a very high proportion of the hospital inmates were attacked.

In 1914, an epidemic of diphtheria, in which altogether 29 patients were admitted and two died, started at 11 New Street, Berkhamsted on 1st April, when William Gilbert aged eleven was admitted.  Over a 2½-year period, a succession of 13 children and young people were admitted from New Street and Bridge Street near the canal.  The last was May Gilbert, aged 13, probably a sister of the first admission, though six other families were involved during the course of the epidemic.

A similar outbreak occurred in the Shrublands/Gossoms End area of Berkhamsted, again covering a period of 2½ years.

The average age of the Aldbury invalids was just over ten, the oldest being Mr. Dale, the village schoolmaster, who died of typhoid in 1928 at the age of 55.  Ironically, considering his everyday contact with the children, there was apparently no other case in the village that year.

Among other adults who were isolated with diphtheria were two of the Miss Craufurds of Brightwood, aged 24 and 25, together with another adult from that address, perhaps one of the staff.  Captain R. Q. Craufurd was also isolated, with scarlet fever, in 1908 at the age of 30.



1.    Turnpike trusts were bodies set up by individual acts of Parliament to improve the standard of principal roads.  These Acts gave them powers to collect tolls from road users, the money so raised being used to maintain the roads under their care, which became known as ‘turnpike roads’, or simply ‘turnpikes’.  Turnpike trusts came into existence towards the end of the 17th century, proliferated during the 18th century, and were gradually replaced by local or central government administration in the later years of the 19th century.

2.    The reservoir referred to was never built, at least not in the location described.

3.    Private Acts applying to public infrastructure projects came to the fore during the early 18th century, first with the construction of turnpike roads, each of which had its own private Act of Parliament (see fn. 1 above).  The turnpike Acts were followed by similar private legislation applying to the construction of canals, railways, and public gas, water and drainage utilities.

4.    The Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway Company, located in Buckinghamshire, operated between Aylesbury and Verney Junction.  The company was incorporated in 1860 and opened on 23rd September 1868. It served intermediate stations at Waddesdon Manor, Quainton Road, Grandborough, and Winslow Road, but never reached Buckingham.

5.    ‘Local boards’ or ‘local boards of health’ were local authorities in urban areas of England and Wales from 1848 to 1894.  They were formed in response to cholera epidemics and were given powers to control sewers, clean the streets, regulate environmental health risks including slaughterhouses and ensure the proper supply of water to their districts.  Local boards were eventually merged with the corporations of municipal boroughs in 1873, or became urban districts in 1894.

6.    Samuel Collett Homersham (1816–86) was an English hydraulic engineer and hydrologist. He studied rainfall patterns and subterranean water in various parts of England, impurities in water, and the effects of softening water supplies.

7.    Clark’s process is a type of water treatment used for softening water on a large scale.   A calculated amount of lime water [Ca(OH)2] is added to tanks containing hard water.  The bicarbonates of calcium and magnesium present in the water are converted into soluble carbonates that settle at the bottom and the soft water is then drained off.

8.    A description of the wells sunk at Dancers’ End appears in A Treatise on Waterworks for the Supply of Cities and Towns, by Samuel Hughes FGS, Civil Engineer, 1875: 

“These works are of considerable magnitude, and consist of three wells, each 236 feet deep, with adits 541 feet in length, and five borings of 7 inches diameter, each about 55 feet deep.  The surface of the wells is 562 feet above sea-level, and the water line is 178 feet below this, or 384 feet above mean sea level.

The three wells are respectively 4½, 5. and 6 feet in diameter, and are wholly sunk in chalk.  The adits are 5½ feet wide and 7 feet high, and are driven at 226 feet below top of wells. The average quantity of water pumped per day is about 400,000 gallons.”

9.    It was not apparent at first that lime could be obtained on the site ― this became clear later, as is apparent from the report of the 1872 company general meeting, when it was stated that: 

“The works were in a very satisfactory state, both with respect to the machinery and plant; they now burned their own lime, as has been stated, and it was a marvellous thing that their great engineer who had backed up their case, although he had finally laid them on their tacks, should have overlooked that fact, and they had gone scouring the neighbourhood for lime when they had the very best that could be obtained for the purpose on their own premises.” 

The wording rather suggests the directors and their engineer, S. C. Homersham, parted on a sour note.

Well being sunk.

10.    In this context an adit is a horizontal or nearly horizontal tunnel or shaft extending outwards from the main vertical shaft of the well - see diagram.

11.    The 1866 cholera epidemic was mostly confined to the East End of London, where it claimed 5,596 lives. By then the mechanism of contagion was more clearly understood and modern sewerage was functioning in the large cities. At the time London was completing its major sewage and water treatment systems, but the East End section was incomplete.  Epidemiologist William Farr used the work of John Snow and others to identify drinking water supplied by the East London Water Company as the source of the contamination, and quick action prevented further deaths. In the same year, the use of contaminated canal water in local water works caused a minor outbreak at Ystalyfera in South Wales leading to 119 deaths.  Although cholera swept across the European continent in the 1870s and 1890s, it did not cross the Channel in epidemic force.

12.    A capital project is a long-term investment requiring relatively large sums of money to acquire, develop, improve, and/or maintain a capital asset (in this case the Dancer’s End waterworks and pipeline network).  Generally speaking, income from which to pay dividends to the shareholders in such a project can be delayed for many years, depending not only on the progress of construction but on the amount of interest due on additional money borrowed to help finance the venture. In the case of the CHSWC, business commenced in 1867 but its shareholders received nothing for the first six years of operation, revenue being absorbed by capital and operating costs.  In 1874, a dividend of 2% was declared; in 1875, 3%; in 1876 3.5%; in 1877, 4%; in 1878, 4%; in 1879, 4.5%; between 1880 and 1883, 5% (a 5% dividend was not paid again until 1899); and in 1884 and 1885, 4%.

13.    For many years after its supply became available, people preferred to save money by drawing their water from public and private wells, thus reducing the company’s projected revenue.

14.     Reports were produced each year by the Medical Officer of Health of a district and set out the work done by his public health and sanitary officers. The reports provided vital data on birth and death rates, infant mortality, incidence of infectious and other diseases, and a general statement on the health of the population.

15.    Charles Edward Saunders (1843-1904) M.D.Aberd., M.R.C.P.Lond., D.P.H.Camb. Commenced training at St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1861 and took the M.D. Aberdeen with honours five years later. He later held the post of Surgical Registrar at St. Thomas’s, Medical Officer of Health for certain combined districts of Hertfordshire and Middlesex, and Superintendent of the Sussex County Asylum at Haywards Heath.

16.    District Medical Officers of Health published annual reports setting out the work done by his public health and sanitary officers. These reports provided vital data on birth and death rates, infant mortality, incidence of infectious and other diseases, and a general statement on the health of the population. They often highlighted the prevailing standards of public health in particular localities, such as Tring.

17.    Under the provisions of the Local Government Act (1894), an Urban District Council of 12 members was formed in 1894 to govern the parish of Tring. This new body superseded the Tring Local Board of Health, which had been established in February 1859 to improve standards of public health in the town. Under the same Act, Tring was divided into two civil parishes, ‘Urban’ and ‘Rural’, the latter having a Parish Council of 7 members. Tring Urban District Council first met on 3rd January 1895 and continued in being until April 1974 when Tring became part of the new Dacorum District.

18.     The Silk Mill Pond was used to gather and store the water that drove a large waterwheel (which still exists) in the Silk Mill; this wheel originally powered the Mill’s machinery, but was later replaced by a steam engine.  The Silk Mill Pond still exists, although it is now much reduced in size and obscured by modern housing, but in 1867 it extended from the site of today’s fire station down to the Silk Mill, and occupied an area of some 3 acres.

19.    John Bailey Denton (1814–1893): surveyor and civil engineer, and a specialist in land drainage and sanitary engineering.

.   The Local Government Board was created under the Local Government Board Act (1871) to supervise local administration in England and Wales. It existed until 1919 when it was replaced by the new Ministry of Health.

.    The Public Health Act (1875) aimed to combat filthy urban living conditions, which caused various public health threats including the spread of many diseases such as cholera and typhus. Reformers wanted to resolve sanitary problems, including a lack of effective sewage disposal. The Act required all new residential construction to include running water and an internal drainage system, and led to the government prohibiting the construction of shoddy housing. It also required every public health authority to have a medical officer and a sanitary inspector, to ensure the laws on food, housing, water and hygiene were carried out. Towns also had to have paved and lighted streets.

22.    Under drainage: the drainage of agricultural lands and removal of excess water by drains buried beneath the surface.

23.    William Henry Corfield was an expert in the treatment and utilisation of sewage and afterwards became known as an exponent of land filtration and sewage farms. He was ahead of his time in accounting for the causation and spread of acute infectious diseases and was responsible for many practical measures afterwards justified by bacteriological discoveries. He was likewise in advance of his contemporaries in advocating healthy living conditions for the populace. He wrote and lectured widely on these subjects, and his Laws of Health, first published in 1880, reached a ninth edition in 1896.

24.     Thomas Mead owned the land on which the previous sewage farm stood, and operated it ― for which the Council paid him £100 p.a. ― until it had to be abandoned by direction of the Local Government Board. It was replaced by the new sewage farm, built on the opposite side of the Wendover Arm canal to the Tring Flour Mill, which Mead owned and where he and his family lived.

25.   Joseph Edward Willcox (1857-1941) was a sanitary engineer and partner in the firm of  Willcox & Raikes, Civil Engineers, Temple Row, Birmingham.

26a.    Aldbury Isolation Hospital was built in 1871 by the Berkhamsted Sanitary Authorities for the use of the inmates of the Berkhamsted Union.  It had 16 beds in 1871 although by 1948 that number had increased to 24.  The hospital was situated in Newground Road.  On 13th June 1898 the Aldbury Hospital Joint Committee took responsibility for the Hospital.  It held its first meeting on 13th June 1898, and consisted of three members of Berkhamsted Rural District Council, three members of Great Berkhamsted Urban District Council and 3 members of Tring Urban District Council.  In 1902 Tring Isolation Hospital and Aldbury combined services, with Tring taking all the smallpox cases and Aldbury all the scarlet fever cases.  It was used during the First World War as a military hospital.  In 1948 when the National Health Service was created the future of Aldbury Hospital was uncertain; however, in September 1948 the hospital was closed.

The two hospitals appear to have coordinated their activities, as is illustrated from this report on the Berkhamsted diphtheria outbreak of 1935:

All cases and contacts [of diphtheria] were admitted to the Aldbury Isolation Hospital where rapid steps were taken to devote all wards to diphtheria - a few cases of scarlet fever being evacuated to Tring Isolation Hospital and a case of Paratyphoid fever fortunately being just fit to return home.  This turnover involved much detailed work and a considerably augmented nursing staff was installed to nurse the cases of diphtheria, some of which were of a severe type.  At one time there were 22 cases and 4 carriers in the Hospital.  There were altogether received into this Hospital during the outbreak 34 cases and 6 carriers.

From the Annual Report South Herts Sanitary District 1935.

26b.    Poor law unions existed in England and Wales from 1834 to 1930 to administer poor relief. Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), the administration of the English Poor Laws was the responsibility of the vestries of individual parishes, which varied widely in their size, populations, financial resources, rateable values and requirements. From 1834 the parishes were grouped into unions, jointly responsible for the administration of poor relief in their areas. Each was governed by a ‘board of guardians’. Tring came under the Berkhamsted Poor Law Union, which was formed in June, 1835. It comprised the parishes of Aldbury, Berkhamsted, Little Gaddesden, Nettleden, Northchurch, Puttenham, Long Marston, Wigginton, Marsworth and Pitstone, the latter two villages being in Buckinghamshire.

27.    “By the Public Health (Interments) Act, 1879, it is provided that any local authority may acquire, construct, and maintain a cemetery; and for that purpose all the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1875, as to a place to be provided by the local authority for the reception of the dead before interment, therein called a mortuary, shall extend to such cemetery. The cemetery may be either within or without the district of the local authority (S. 2); and the local authority may accept a donation of land for the purpose of a cemetery, or of money or other property for enabling them to acquire, construct, or maintain a cemetery (S. 3).” ― From The Law of Burial by James Brook Little, B.A. (1902)

28.    The graveyard extension was cleared of most of its stones in 1973, when adjacent area of slum housing was redeveloped to provide the awful Dolphin Square shopping centre and the Frogmore Street car parks.

29.    In England, in its day, the Parish Vestry was an important element of local government. The parish vestry committee was equivalent to the modern parochial church council, but with responsibilities for secular parish business ― now the responsibility of a parish council ― and other activities, such as local administration of the poor law.

By the late 19th century, the proliferation of local government bodies led to a confusing fragmentation of responsibilities and this became a driver for large scale local government reform. The result was the Local Government Act 1894. Under the Act, secular and ecclesiastical duties were separated with the introduction of a system of elected rural parish and urban district councils. Secular matters were removed from the parish vestries and transferred to these newly bodies, leaving parish vestries with the management of church affairs. In 1921 ― under the Parochial Church Councils (Powers) Measure 1921 Act ― parochial church councils were established to succeed parish vestries, and since then the only remnant of the vestry has been the annual meeting of parishioners convened solely for the election of churchwardens of the ecclesiastical parish.

30.    The decision on a new cemetery for Tring was taken at the end of the period in which the parish vestry still played a role ― albeit of diminishing importance ― in local government, as is evidenced by the Tring Vestry
deliberations on the need for a new cemetery, which were reported at length in the local press.  This article is reproduced for historical interest at APPENDIX VI.



a.    Of the 30,000 Londoners who contracted cholera in 1849, 15,000 died as a result.

b.    John Snow demonstrated a clear understanding of germ theory in his writings before germ theory had been generally accepted by the medical profession.  He first published his theory on cholera in his 1849 essay On the Mode of Communication of Cholera.  In it he suggested (correctly) that the fecal-oral route was the mode of communication and that the disease replicated itself in the lower intestines.  He later proposed that the structure of cholera was that of a cell.  However, more formal experiments establishing the relationship between germ and disease were carried out in France during the early 1860s by Louis Pasteur, whose medical discoveries provided direct support for the germ theory of disease and its application in clinical medicine.

c.    William Budd (1811-80) recognised that the “poisons” involved in infectious diseases such as cholera and typhoid multiplied in the intestines of the sick, were present in their excretions, and could then be transmitted to the healthy through their consumption of contaminated water.