Wednesday 2 January 2019

The Impact of the Eton Union Sanitary Authority

Bell Farm at the edge of the Parish of Eton
Nineteenth-century reform took another turn locally in 1849 with the formation of the Eton Urban Sanitary Authority, or Local Health Board as it was also known. Eton Wick was not included and thus the village was not subject to the Authority's new by-laws or supervision by its new officials and committees the Inspector of Nuisances, the Medical Officer, Street Committee and others. Perhaps the villagers were relieved that they were outside this control, but of course they did not benefit from the steady improvements in sanitary conditions which were the aim of the Board - an increase in privies for cottages, the removal of manure heaps and pigsties from close proximity to houses and laying of new drains.  For another sixty years or more the village had to manage with bucket toilets and cesspits while the Eton Sewage Farm lay at their backdoor.

Bell Farm was bought from William Goddard in 1870 for the sewage farm, and the land freed from lammas rights in the early months of the following year. Compensation for this loss of rights was negotiated by a committee appointed at a meeting of persons entitled to commonable rights and included George Lillywhite of Manor Farm. However, it was to be six years before Mr Tough took up his appointment as manager.  Perhaps this was the remaining length of the lease of Mr Aldridge, farmer of Cippenham Court and tenant of Bell Farm. Not all the land was needed for the disposal of sewage, and year after year in the Minute Books of the Authority an inventory of produce, livestock and implements is given.

In earlier years after the initial purchase, some of the land was sold, but under the management of Mr Tough the farm prospered and more land was leased. The farm continued to give employment to workers from the village and indeed treated them well, as judged by a decision of 1881 to pay a man who broke his ankle at work the then princely sum of 8s 6d a week while he was off sick.

Perhaps the achievement of the Board which must have given rise to the most bitter feelings in the village was the building of the Cottage  Hospital. The story began with a young man of Meadow Lane who had the misfortune to catch smallpox, but who was determined to not be considered a pauper and so be sent to the Workhouse Infirmary at Slough. There was nowhere in the parish where he could be isolated and treated. Medical help could be obtained from the Windsor Dispensary, thus putting at risk other patients. The disease did spread, not in Windsor, but in Eton itself.  It was not yet possible to prevent such outbreaks, but it was now understood how they could be contained by isolating the patients. The need for an Infectious Diseases Hospital was now obvious to members of the Board.

Plans were drawn up, sites inspected and central authorities consulted; so much is clear from the Minute Books, but underneath the meagre statements is the hint of conflict between the Board and the village. Plans for converting the Bell Farm Cottages into a room for the nurses and living quarters for a caretaker were well ahead and negotiations were progressing towards the purchase of the adjoining land, when suddenly there was a change of mind and suggestions of the inadvisability of building a hospital so near the village.  An alternative site was found on the Board's own land between Bell Farm and Saddocks, quite isolated from other houses.  By 1883 the building was completed and its first matron, a Mrs Sarah Hopkins, was engaged at £40 per annum. A brougham was bought to do duty as ambulance and the latest disinfecting    apparatus in-stalled. By May, 1884 the first patients were accepted, a mother and her three children, all suffering from smallpox.- Did they recover ? We do not know.  

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